What to Do if Your Cat is Not Using the Litter Box
Have your cat examined by a veterinarian for a health problem even if there are no obvious symptoms. (Some problems can only be diagnosed through testing.) Be sure to mention their urination and defecation habits to your vet. If a cat’s elimination is painful, it may associate the litter box with pain and choose to eliminate somewhere else hoping it’s not going to be painful. This is the number one reason for litter box avoidance. When the cat is healthy again, a careful reintroduction to the box will be necessary. Retraining the cat to use the litter box will be necessary.
Carefully check the article on “Prevention of Litter Box Problems”. Are you following all of the steps listed? Perhaps the solution is as easy as adding more litter boxes, cleaning more frequently, or changing the brand of litter. Try to accommodate kitty’s preferences for location (by placing litter boxes where the “accidents” occurred) and add boxes whenever possible. Special consideration should be given to declawed cats as paw sensitivity may be the cause for litter box avoidance and kitty may require a box or tray without litter, try shredded newspaper.
Never punish the cat for eliminating outside of its litter box. House soiling occurs when the litter box, its contents, or its location is offensive to the cat or when the cat is stressed by the environment. Punishment only increases the cat’s stress and may worsen the problem. HOUSE SOILING IS NEVER DONE TO SPITE THE OWNER! The cat is trying to communicate to you something is wrong.
If a health issue or aversion to the litter box can be ruled out, consider that the problem could be anxiety related. Has there been a change in the household? Any intrusion on the cat’s territory, whether human, animal, or even a new piece of furniture, can cause a cat to feel threatened, insecure, and stressed. This may result in his need to mark his territory. This is usually accomplished by spraying urine on vertical surfaces, or less frequently, by squatting and urinating or defecating on horizontal surfaces. The more cats in the household, the more likely that one or more of them will spray.
Try to relieve or eliminate the source of the cat’s anxiety. (For example, pull the drapes so that kitty cannot view the antics of the tom cat next door.) If the environmental cause that triggers the territorial behavior cannot be identified or eliminated, consult with an experienced feline behavior counselor.
Whatever the cause of the inappropriate elimination, a brief confinement period may be necessary in order to clean the soiled areas, place deterrents in these spots, and to purchase more litter boxes or new litter. The confinement room should be comfortable and equipped with two litter boxes, fresh food and water (not near the litter boxes!) a bed and toys. They are not in cat jail, just being retrained. Visit them regularly, but don’t let him out until the home environment has been cleaned and the litter box situation has improved. (Please note that extended periods of confinement may be detrimental to the retraining process.)
In order to thoroughly clean the urine soaked area an ultraviolet light may be used to identify the soiled areas. Then a strong enzymatic cleaner such as OxyClean (see the article Eliminating Cat Urine Odor Using Oxycleanto clean and neutralize the area see page #26.) To repel kitty from previously soiled areas, cover them with solid air fresheners (preferable a citrus scent) or a mini-motion detector (available from Radio Shack.) When the carpet is dry, a vinyl carpet runner (spike side up!) can be placed over the problem areas. Cats are very location oriented so deterrents should be left in place for at least six weeks after they have been using the litter box regularly to make sure that old habits have been broken and properly cleaned with no odor present.
Solving house soiling problems is possible with patience, persistence, and a systematic plan for retraining.