I owned cats for more than 20 years. I don’t currently own one, because my mini doxy, Taz, is 14 years old and needs Mommy’s complete and total attention (not to mention every spare dime I have to pay for her medical expenses!) When my last cat passed away about three years ago, I decided I wouldn’t get another cat for the time being so I could give Taz the time and attention she needs at this stage of her life.
How to Get a Cat to Use the Litter Box
When a cat won’t use the litter box – either initially (ever) or just stops using it when they’ve always used it in the past, you can bet there is a very specific reason. Cats by nature prefer to pee in a litter box-type environment. They want something to bury their mess in, and they generally prefer a private place to do their business. Most cats will use the litter box. I loved when each of my cats were kittens and I’d put them in the litter box for the first time. Of course the first thing they do is play in it – so Stinky Kitty is how they’d spend those few days or weeks. Then they’d sometimes try to eat the litter (crunch, crunch, crunch). But I was lucky – it never took long for any cat I’ve ever had to learn to use the litter box. “Put them in it often.” That’s it. That was the only thing I had to do to teach them.
But if you have not been as lucky and you need to know how to get your cat to use the litter box, I hope this article will help. If you need to stop your cat from peeing everywhere – if they won’t just instinctively use the litter box – then use these tips to figure out why.
Check for a Medical Problem
The first thing you should do if your cat has always used the litter box but now is refusing, is to have the veterinarian check to see if they’re having a medical problem. My cat Helmet Head (yes, her name was Helmet Head…shut up!) faithfully used the litter box for about 15 years when suddenly she started peeing first on the bathroom mats, then in other places around the house as well. I took her to the vet and it turned out she had a urinary tract infection. And it was cute, really, how the vet described the problem. He said, “She has a urinary tract infection and it hurts when she pees. She doesn’t understand why. She thinks it has something to do with the litter box! So she’s going around the house, trying to find a place where it doesn’t hurt to pee.” That’s so cute to me – that the little sweetie was just trying to figure it out in her little kitty brain. But I felt bad – turns out she was having a problem that needed attention. The vet started her on an antibiotic, the infection cleared up, and she began using the litter box again. So always check with your vet first thing. Urinary tract infections are fairly common in cats, as is kidney failure. So realize it could be a serious issue that needs immediate attention. Incidentally, if you need help paying for your pet’s medical needs, read this article, Help With Vet Bills.
Make Sure the Litter Box is Clean
Other than a medical problem, the litter box being dirty is one of the most common reasons why cats will pee elsewhere. That same cat I told you about, Helmet Head (I said shut up!) would absolutely refuse to use the litter box if it wasn’t kept clean. She’d let me slide a little bit – it could get a few clumps in it, a few wet spots. But if it got too bad she’d simply squat next to it and pee or poop on the floor. She was a sweet, lady-like kitty, and she was meticulous about caring for herself, keeping her fur clean, etc. Why would she want to step into a dirty litter box? Remember you wouldn’t want to use a filthy bathroom – so don’t expect your cat to! I used to keep a plastic bag and scoop next to the litter box. I’d scoop it every day (every two days at most) and put the mess in the plastic bag. At the end of the week I’d toss out the bag, plus throw out the old litter in the box and replace it with fresh litter. If you don’t have time for this or if cleaning the litter box just makes you wanna barf, you might try a Self cleaning litter box.
You may be tempted to use scented cat litter because you think it will mask the smell. Two things: first, it doesn’t mask the smell. All you end up with, is, for example, lavender-scented cat piss. Sorry to be gross, but really. Second, many cats are sensitive to fragrance and perfumes. The smell you think is nice may actually make them want to stay away from the litter box. And remember cats don’t like change. If you’ve adopted an adult cat, use the same litter he’s used to if you know what that is. And don’t change litters all the time. Pick a brand/type and stick with it. I never had any problems with inexpensive, clumping, unscented litter.
I had a really cool litter box that looked like a floor plant (pictured left). The thing sat in my dining room (that’s honestly the only place I had room in my small apartment) and no one ever even knew it was a litter box! Fortunately for me, my cats used it without a problem. However, some cats do not like an enclosed litter box. They can be small, dark, smelly, and especially for larger cats, difficult to move around in. You also have to make sure that the cat can easily step inside the litter box. Think about things like your cat’s size, his age, whether he might have arthritis pain, etc. The litter box should be very easy for your cat to get in and out of, and easy for him to maneuver in.
I had a little sweetie named Miss Abigail who I would sometimes call, “Scrapey.” That’s because she’d get inside the litter box, pee or poop, then scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape…20 minutes later…scrape, scrape, scrape! It was hilarious! She was diligently trying to make absolutely, completely sure the mess was buried. But the funny part is, it never was! Honestly, even after all that scraping, she never actually managed to cover the mess. Precious. PS If you like that floor plant litter box, you can purchase one HERE.
Consider the Location of the Litter Box
Think about things like whether you cat’s litter box is in the basement or on the second floor – can your kitty do stairs easily? Or is he too tiny, too old? Arthritic? Also think about whether the box might be “too private.” Sometimes cat owners are trying so hard to hide the litter box that they…uh…hide the litter box – from the cat! Also consider the distance. Honestly, would you want to walk five miles every time you have to use the bathroom? Make it convenient for your cat. Also, remember if you move your litter box, your cat might keep returning to the old location. If this happens, try moving the litter box a little at a time in the direction where you want it to end up – and let the cat get used to the change slowly.
You Might Need More Than One Litter Box
If you have more than one cat, you might need more than one litter box. Some cats just simply won’t share. And as we’ve talked about, some cats won’t use the litter box if it’s dirty – which is bound to be the case more often if more than one cat is using it. Also, if you have a two-story house, you may need to have a litter box on each floor – again, depending on your cat’s age, physical condition, etc.
Conflicts Between Multiple Cats
If you have more than one cat, consider whether your cats get along. If there’s conflict between them, that might be causing a problem because they won’t cooperate and share the litter box. Also, the introduction of a new cat can also cause inappropriate urination – both because of fighting over the litter box and due to “territory” issues. For more information, read this article, How To Stop Cats From Fighting and How to Break Up a Cat Fight.
Finally – Fix the Problem Quickly and Clean Up Any Messes
You don’t want your cat’s peeing outside of the litter box to become a habit, so take the above steps quickly. If you discover your cat has urinated outside of the litter box, clean the mess up quickly and make sure you’ve eliminated the odor with a Pet Stain & Odor Remover so your cat isn’t tempted to return to the same spot again to do her business.
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