Being a house call veterinarian, I am privy to information that many of my colleagues are not aware of when the patient comes to see them in an office. Much of that info is key in aiding my diagnoses. It can also be quite interesting. When cats are urinating inappropriately, their home is a treasure trove of clues. Often, the reasons are straightforward and medical in origin. But quite frequently, there are behavioral reasons at the root, and the very first thing I look for are the litter boxes. I want to know where they are, how large they are and how many cats are sharing them, in the case of multiple cat households. Are they covered, are they easy to access by the cat, and what type of litter is used. Also, how frequently is the litter changed, was the litter switched recently, coinciding with the behavior… You get the picture. The list of questions goes on and on. If you have ever been in a waiting room at the vet, and the doctor is very late for your appointment, odds are good that one of the appointments preceding you was one of these cases. At the risk of promoting mobile vets, here’s a situation where a picture may be, literally, worth a thousand words. I walk into a home, and often, all I need is a quick glance at the litter box situation and have my clues. Below are setups that you should avoid, because they are often the reasons why cats will prefer not to use a litter box and move to another area, or areas, of your home to urinate or defecate.
1. The under-scooped box
I prefer to see the box, as is, during a house call. Cats prefer cleaner litter, and many really insist on daily scooping. If you have a mountain of clumps, causing the cat to perch on the the edge to avoid the used litter, you are going to have a problem. And, if you can smell it, they sure can. Easy enough fix though.
2. More is more
On that note, if they have more options, or locations, in which to void, the better. Multiple cat homes should have a litter box per cat, if possible. One on each level of a home at least is also a good idea. They should not need to travel far to get a box, and preferably a clean one.
3. Homemade, old, sentimental boxes have no place here
I have seen old litter boxes, quite possibly made in woodshop in the 1980’s, that people still hold onto and use. That wood has been absorbing decades worth of urine and ammonia odor. It’s not helping the situation by keeping it.
4. The basement box
You may love the though of a litter box being out of sight and smell, but your cat may not agree. It may not be worth the trip down, and then back up the stairs. Older, arthritic kitties, in particular, really should not be made to trek up and down the stairs, simply to use the potty.
5. The “Where’s Waldo” invisible box
Your efforts to hide or camouflage the box, in a cabinet or closet, are in fact an obstacle to your cat. If you had to climb into a hole or small room, in the dark, in the middle of the night to find a bathroom, you wouldn’t like it. Neither do most cats. Don’t encourage them to find another area to void.
6. The bathroom minibox
So many homes have a litter box wedged between the toilet bowl and the bathtub. If a cat happens to be there while someone is taking a shower or flushing, he is not going to enjoy the experience. It can also make the litter less dry, which is a deterrent. Most cats hate baths, and water, and the sound of it, or splash of it can also drive him out of the area. To add insult to injury, the box often has to be small to fit in these spaces,which translates into too small.
7. The laundry room box
Second in popularity to the bathroom box is that of the laundry room. The downsides of this room are twofold. It is noisy. If it is like my home, that washing machine and dryer are going nearly non-stop (at least when my daughters get home from school and obsessively clean all their clothing in micro loads that take up all the soap, electricity and my patience. I am thinking of installing a take-a-number ticket dispenser like you see at the deli counter to get my turn at the machines. BUT, I DIGRESS…my apologies!) Cats prefer quiet, private areas. Imagine a belt buckle or sneakers banging around in the dryer. Instead, they can just as easily urinate on the nice pile of dirty clothes that smell like you just next to the litter box, and sneak out of the room. Perfect recipe for inappropriate elimination.
8. The snack box
This is a gross, but likely scenario. Dogs and cats that cohabitate often have litter boxes visited twice. First by the cat, then by the dog who views it as a treat. Many dogs may lurk around the box just waiting for their litter “appetizers”, scaring away the cat for future trips to the box. It will inadvertently result in the cat looking for a safer, off limits, spot to defecate. This is not as easy a fix, but once identified, can be dealt with by finding a less accessible to dogs, cat litter box area.
Hope this gives you some food for thought. Look around your home, and if any of these situations apply, think about changing them.