Litter box blues

If you have a cat at home eliminating outside the litter box, you know the struggle. The horrible smell, the long cleanup, the frustration of not knowing why it’s happening, or how to fix it. It can drive a person nuts. But don’t despair. Our expert on feline behaviour, Dr. Jacklyn Ellis, has some simple and relatively inexpensive steps to help.

You bought them that shiny new litter box. It’s got a sleek design, it’s the perfect size, and you’re pretty sure it’s in their favourite colour. You fill it up with the finest, freshest cat litter on the market, and can’t wait to see your cat notice their fancy new restroom. If only you knew what’s waiting for you in the corner of your bedroom.

Out of box elimination can be incredibly stressful for any pet parent. The horrible smell, the long cleanup, the frustration at not knowing the why, or the how to make it stop. It’s for these reasons that out‐of‐box elimination is, sadly, the number one behavioral reason cats are surrendered to shelters.

But there are some simple and relatively inexpensive steps owners can take that can help eliminate this problem in the vast majority of cases. Here are some things to consider from our expert on feline behaviour, Dr. Jacklyn Ellis.

Your pet’s health
There is a long list of medical conditions that can result in out-of-box elimination (urine or feces). Cats tend to hide illness or injury, so out-of-box elimination might be a crucial indication there is something wrong. Early examination and diagnosis is often key to successful treatment of many ailments." Getting your cat checked out by a veterinarian should be your first point of action.

Litter boxes should be scooped at least once per day, and litter should be totally changed every 3-4 weeks (depending on the size of your cat). Research has shown that physical obstructions, rather than odor, is the number one reason that cats prefer a clean litter box to a dirty one. Removing waste daily is the most important thing you can do to ensure regular litter box use.

Number of boxes
If your cat is going outside of the box consider adding an additional box. For multi-cat households, there should be at least 1 box per cat plus 1 (e.g., 2 cats=3 litter boxes). It is also important to keep these boxes in different rooms of the house, so one cat cannot prevent another from using it.

Litter Boxes should always be at least 1.5 x the length of your cat, and 2x the width, but research shows the bigger the better when it comes to cat preferences. Some use an underbed storage tote, because they find that most litter boxes on the market are simply too small.

Substrate preference
There are many types of litter substrate on the market (clay, walnut, wheat, pine, etc.). In preference tests, cats tend to prefer regular weight, unscented, clumping, clay litter. Feel free to experiment to find your cat’s specific preference by offering two litterboxes with different litters and allowing your cat to tell you which he prefers.

Litter box accessories
Some cats are deterred by litter box hoods, automatic cleaners, tracking mats, and litter box liners. If your cat is going out of box, try eliminating these from their litter box environment.

Keeping a litter box near an appliance such as the washer, dryer, or furnace means it is possible for the appliance to kick on while your cat is using the box. This might be enough to scare him away from the box for good. If your cat is choosing to eliminate on a raised surface, try providing a litterbox up off the ground floor.

If you are able to identify and eliminate any sources of stress in your cat's environment, this might be the key to resolving the behaviour. Cats thrive on routine, so feed and play with your cat at the same time every day. Finally ensure that your house offers your cat plenty of opportunities to hide, perch, and play.

Make sure that you clean any soiled areas with a product specifically designed for cleaning pet waste. Hopefully one of these techniques will work for you, but whatever you do, make sure that you are not punishing your cat for this behaviour. This is unlikely to influence their litterbox behaviour, and may only weaken the bond you have with your cat.