Cats require regular access to an appropriate place for eliminating. Most people supply their cat with a litter box. The cat does not simply need a litter box – it needs a clean box with fresh litter. Cats will be inhibited from using the box if it smells of urine. Cats are VERY fastidious. The litter box must be cleaned at least once each day.
Make sure the litter box is in an appropriate place. Cats do not like to eliminate in the area close to their sleeping or eating areas, so try to locate the box some distance away. However, do not place the box in an area that is too inaccessible. For example, if the litter box is placed in the bathroom, make sure that the door cannot swing shut and prevent the cat from getting to its box. If the cat is new to the house, it may go into hiding for a few days and may not be too keen on investigating the rest of the house, so place the box fairly close to its hiding place. If there is more than one cat in the house, have several litter boxes available; one per cat is a good rule.
The most common reason a cat stops using its litter box is because the box is dirty – from the cat’s point of view – not yours. A variety of other factors might also cause the breakdown of housetraining. There may have been social changes – a new cat in the neighborhood or children home on vacation, as an example. It may be something as simple as you stepped in some cat feces and walked into the house. Your cat could also be spraying or marking its territory with urine. Cats often react to any type of stress by suddenly urinating or defecating outside the litter box. It is VERY important that any sudden change in elimination habits be discussed with your Veterinarian.
Until your cat is fully housetrained, it should not be allowed to have the run of the house. Each time you allow the cat to make a mistake, the behavior is further established as a habit. Punishing your cat after the fact teaches it only to be afraid of you. Never physically reprimand your cat, even if you catch it in the act; it will react very badly. Scolding and then taking the cat to its box after it has already eliminated, teaches the cat to associate the litter box with punishment. Basically, punishment doesn’t work with cats – prevention and praise for getting it right are the keys to training. While “correcting” the problem, when you leave the house for any length of time, you should confine your cat to a single room. Your cat should be provided with a fresh bowl of water and a warm place to sleep at one end of the room and a freshly cleaned litter box at the other end. This confinement is only a TEMPORARY measure until the problem is solved. There are natural enzyme products on the market that work great for clean-up.
In order to reward your cat for eliminating in an appropriate place, you must be there at the time your cat eliminates. Most cats (especially kittens) will want to eliminate immediately after waking. In addition, they will usually defecate and sometimes urinate within half an hour or so after eating and exercise. Call your cat to its litter box from a variety of places around the house. When the cat gets to the box, scratch the litter to get it interested. Do this throughout the day. Encourage your cat to hop into the box and praise it when it does. Even if it does not eliminate, it is learning that the box is a great CLEAN place to be. This is especially important for cats that are now avoiding the litter box because they assume it is always dirty or because they associate it with being punished. Praise your cat, gently stroke it and take the time to tell it how pleased you are.
As a rule, cats are very good about using their litter box. If they stop, there is a reason. You need to find out what that reason is.
When it comes to figuring out why your normally fastidious feline starts doing its business in your Boston fern or on your Berber carpeting, its essential to think inside and outside the box – the litter box, that is. There are many reasons a cat may develop an aversion to its facilities, but spite is not among them. They are trying to tell you something. You just need to determine what that is so peace can be restored.
“Cats don’t stop using their box for no reason,” says Char Bebiak, feline behaviorist and animal trainer for Ralston Purina. “Its instinctive behavior for them from the time they’re 4 weeks old. It’s up to you to find out what’s wrong.”
What’s “wrong” could be physical and it should be your first consideration if something is amiss at the box. While a medical condition may not be the most common reason for bad litter box behavior, its potentially dangerous nature puts it at the top of our list.
- Medical Problem
If your cat starts displaying poor litter box habits, you should take it immediately to your veterinarian and have it checked for a urinary tract problem. It may be associating the box with the pain it feels when it eliminates. While lower urinary tract problems are more common, also diabetes or renal failure can cause excess urination, resulting in a particularly wet box a cat may wish to avoid.
- Poor Location
After ruling out health issues, ask yourself the following questions: Is the box in a high-traffic area where your cat might be disturbed during its potty break? Is the box easy to access or does kitty have to hunt for it? Here are a few simple rules with regard to box placement: Make sure the box isn’t wedged in a corner where the cat feels trapped. Avoid playing “musical litter boxes” (moving it too much). And don’t make it hard to find or unpleasant to use. Also make sure another cat is not “lying in wait” to ambush the cat when it is finished with its business. The experts add that when selecting a private, accessible, quiet place for your cat’s box, keep in mind the room’s primary use. If you use a laundry or utility room, don’t put the box near anything that might suddenly make noise and scare the cat, such as water heaters, furnaces or washing machines.
- Unclean Box
The reason for box avoidance could be right under your nose – and kitty’s. Not only is a cat’s sense of smell hundreds of times sharper than ours, their noses are also 20 times closer to a smell’s source, so they should be the final judge of what’s clean enough. Cats would like the litter box cleaned every time they use it. They don’t want to go where they’ve been before. They want the waste gone and buried. A box should be cleaned at least once daily. If a cat smells foulness, he’ll just keep digging to find clean litter.
- Litter Choice
If you’ve recently switched litter brands, your cat may be displaying its displeasure. Changing litters because a new one was on sale or the store around the corner was out of stock may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could be to your cat. Some cats prefer unscented clumping litter – one that does the job without any perfumes or additives to offend a cat’s sensitive nose. Some cats don’t like liners because they snag their claws on it. Some cats have extra-sensitive feet and can develop “litter aversion syndrome” from the discomfort of stepping on certain harder compounds. You need to try litters until you find one your CAT likes, and then stay with it.
- Box Size
The litter box itself may be the culprit. Size here does matter. A small cat or kitten will need a box or pan shallow enough to climb into easily. Expect your box to grow with your cat. The small pan that is perfect for your kitten won’t do the job if he grows up to be a 20-pound adult. Cats need enough “prime real estate” in order to be happy with their boxes. A litter box is not a “one-size-fits-all” scenario. Different cats have different tastes and needs. You may have to try a couple of different kinds of boxes before you find one that works best for you and your cat.
- Privacy Issues
Privacy is an issue for some cats. This could be a problem if the box is located in a high-traffic area. Cats are “evolutionarily programmed” to follow an elimination ritual to cover their scent to protect them from predators. This ritual calls for peace and quiet.
- Litter Box Count
Multi-cat households may not have enough litter boxes available to satisfy each cat’s need. In an ideal world, there would be one box for each cat. The problem is compounded if some cats are particularly territorial or aggressive about usage. There are even cats that simply will not defecate and urinate in the same box, requiring two boxes for just one cat. More cats in the household can introduce more litter box problems. Some cats are able to share one box, whereas others are not. You will have to experiment with the new addition and immediately address specific litter box needs.
- Moving Location
You may think one room is as good as another is; but your cat may think differently. If the box is moved into a family room where the kids’ play video games or the stereo is usually blaring, our cat’s going to have a difficult time relaxing enough to do its duty. If you move the box to a room where an appliance makes a sudden noise, the cat could become afraid of the box by association. Most of your cats’ hearing is tuned in at an ultrasonic level. If a litter box had originally been placed by a snug, protected interior wall and then is moved against an exterior wall where the cat can hear noises from the outside, this can be upsetting to some cats.
- Invaded Territory
Cats feel most vulnerable when they sleep, eat and use the litter box. That is why they like to sleep in elevated places and always keep an eye on what’s going on around them. If a cat is in the litter box and the household’s more aggressive cat confronts it; it will feel stress and may start to avoid the box. The same could happen if the box is located near a window where the cat could see outside “intruder” cats approach the house. The cat figures the strange cat is where its box is located and might decide to avoid the whole situation.
- Punishment Strategies
When a cat doesn’t use the box, some people may try to punish them by rubbing their noses in it, or grab the cat and toss it in the box. The cat will associate the box with punishment and think you are saying “don’t go”. And again, the cat will then use an unacceptable area to relieve itself.
Cats are human after all! There are times when accidents happen. Review the above reasons and try to determine what might be happening. Finding and treating the cause is crucial. First take your cat to the vet to rule out possible urinary tract infection or worms, which is often the reason for a change in litter box etiquette – it is your cats way of letting you know something is not right.
Should an accident occur, you will want to both clean the spot and stop the cycle of repeat accidents. There are many effective enzymatic cleaners on the market, such as Nature’s Miracle, etc. It is important to get the odor out so the cat won’t be drawn back to the same area. You can also move food and water bowls or the cat’s bed to the area your cat soiled because a cat does not like to eliminate in the place where it sleeps or eats. To discourage a repeat performance, you may also want to try an aversion technique. Motion detector alarms deter cats by emitting a noise when it walks by the area, and the smell of mothballs or citrusy items also repel cats. Note that some of these techniques may not be suitable if you are dealing with a particularly shy or skittish cat, or a new addition that may just be trying to settle into the household. After treating the spot, you may also try covering the area with plastic wrap to allow the products to penetrate. Then place foil or wax paper over the area to keep kitty away; cats don’t like the crinkly feel underfoot.
Please remember, there IS A REASON if your cat is not using the litter box. It is not being “bad” – it is trying to tell you something. You just need to figure out what that is so you can resolve it. Animal communicators can be helpful also. Like most things in life – it is in the end, resolved by communication.
If your cat has taken a liking to your favorite sofa, don’t despair – it’s not too late to change its behavior for the better.
Scratching is a normal and necessary behavior for cats – it tones muscles in the paws and forearms, helps remove the outer sheath of the nail and relaxes frustrated felines.
PROVIDE APPROPRIATE OUTLET
Your cat NEEDS to scratch and climb. These activities are part of the essence of being a cat. Provide your cat with a variety of scratching posts – one in each room is ideal. Since most cats scratch immediately after waking, along with a variety of different stretching exercises, place at least one scratching post close to its sleeping area. You can make these feline furnishings more attractive to your cat by scenting them with fresh catnip, placing toys on them, or putting an occasional food treat there. Carpeted scratching posts may encourage your cat to scratch on carpeted surfaces. Either rewrap the carpet inside out and restaple, or purchase sisal rope scratching posts. If you use carpeted posts, check that there are no loops in the carpeting that could snag your cat’s claws.
REWARD APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR
In addition to providing your cat with a number of scratching posts, take time to teach it that this particular structure is intended as the sole site of its indoor scratching and climbing activities. As soon as your cat wakes up from a nap, call it to its post. Scratch the post at a point a couple of feet off the ground. Most cats will reach up and stretch with their front paws on the post. Praise your cat profusely, especially if it make scratching motions. Don’t try to physically force your cat to scratch by holding its paws; it will resist and even dislike the post. Make the post enjoyable for your cat.
REPRIMAND INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR
Once your cat clearly understands that you are overcome with joy when it claws or climbs its scratching post, it is time to teach it not to scratch the drapes or the furniture. You must teach what is right BEFORE teaching what is wrong.
How can you steer your favorite feline away from the rug or couch? By “interrupt and redirect” training. Whenever you see your cat scratching inappropriately, interrupt the behavior and redirect it to the scratching post. A squirt gun that produces a gentle stream of water can be an effective “interrupt” tool, as can shouting “NO”. Your squirt gun should be used only when you actually see your cat scratching inappropriately (interrupt). Then immediately take your cat to a scratching post, place its paws on the post and gently help it make that scratching movement. Now praise generously (redirect). Never squirt your cat if you haven’t “caught it in the act” – and never hit your cat.
If your cat has a single favorite scratching site that you do not approve of, try some of the following ideas. Protect it temporarily by covering it with some netting or loosely woven fabric since cats do not like to snag their claws. Another effective method is to purchase clear plastic in a yardage store, cut it to size, and pin it onto the area your cat is scratching (upholstery pins work best for this). You can also try placing double-sided tape on or near the area where kitty scratches. While double-sided tape isn’t harmful, cats don’t like to tread on sticky surfaces. You can temporarily cover tempting areas with furniture covers, sheets or garbage bags to make them less inviting. You can also booby-trap forbidden articles. Drape a piece of netting over the cat’s favorite scratching targets. Tie a couple of bells to the netting. Whenever the bells ring, shout “NO!”, then gently call or entice kitty over to its scratching post. Always profusely praise and reward your cat for using its post.
“Interrupt and redirect” training, combined with regular nail trimming, will make for a happier cat and a happier you. If you aren’t sure how to trim your cat’s nails, ask your Veterinarian to show you how. Declawing is painful and debilitating surgery can have sad and lifelong consequences.
Patience is the key to working with your cat. Like anything worthwhile, patience pays off. Happy scratching!
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