Thinking inside the box: What to do when your cat isn’t using the litter box properly

THOROUGHLY VETTED

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Thinking inside the box: What to do when your cat isn’t using the litter box properly

Question: My cat can’t seem to figure out how to use her litterbox. She pees in it just fine, but poops on the floor next to it. Any ideas?

Most cats are really easy to litter train. In most cases, it’s just a matter of giving them a litter box and letting them figure out the rest. Unlike dogs, you don’t typically need to spend weeks and months teaching them right and wrong. Why? I have no idea. But when it comes to bathroom habits, cats are pretty much plug and play.

Except, of course, when they aren’t. And then the frustration begins.

One of the most common problems is litter aversion. Some cats just don’t like the litter you’re using. They might find it completely appropriate for urinating, but would prefer to take their number two elsewhere. Strange? Sure. But when have cats ever been anything but strange?

Experimenting with your cat’s litter might be the first step. There is an impossible variety of cat litter available. Some of them clump, and some of them don’t. Some are scented, while others are au naturel. Clay, crystals, wheat, corn, newspaper… it never ends. “Mountain Fresh” and “Autumn Rain” might test well with human shoppers, but your cat may find the smell objectionable. Or maybe she just doesn’t like the litter’s texture between her toes when she does her post-business digging.

If you’ve already tried a broad selection of litter, it may be time to turn attention to the box itself. Some cats like the seclusion offered by a covered box, but others prefer the open-air freedom of a flat pan. The fancy electronic self-cleaning box might make your life easier, but its whirring and clanking may have scared your cat and created a permanent phobia. Or maybe the box is positioned next to a noisy household appliance like a clothes dryer. All it takes is one loud buzz at the wrong moment to teach a cat that this might not be the best place to poop. And if you have more than one cat, it may be time to invest in a few more boxes. Behavioral experts frequently recommend that you have one box per cat, plus one more for good measure. Nobody likes to have litterboxes all over the house, but it’s preferable to having cat poop on the stairs.

If none of these things are working, it may be time to visit your veterinarian. Cats can be cryptic animals, alerting us to stress and illness in strange ways. Perhaps she’s had a few rounds of constipation, and mistakenly associated the discomfort with her box. Maybe an anal sac impaction is making the process painful for her. It’s worth getting a clean bill of health to ensure that some unexpected health problem isn’t flying below radar.

Litterbox troubles can leave cat owners feeling like there’s no solution. Luckily, more often than not, a few simple tweaks can get most issues under control.

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