Litter Box Etiquette

by catfood

Cats make wonderful pets. Cats are loving, intelligent, and entertaining pets with one important advantage over dogs: they do not require daily exercise in the rain, snow, or freezing cold!

Most cats have rigorous toileting habits and prefer to use their own indoor bathroom, which is called a litter box.


However, at some point in their lives, at least 10% of domestic cats will dirty outside of the litter box. Some cats stop using the litter box totally, while others use it only for urination and others only for faeces, while yet others use the box periodically but also go outside. First, any medical causes of the problem must be evaluated and ruled out. Examine your cat thoroughly with your veterinarian. If the issue isn’t medical, the most likely reason your cat isn’t using the litter box is that she doesn’t like what’s provided – she may dislike the litter, the box, the location, or she simply prefers another choice better.

Some litter box troubles originate as a result of the cat developing a predilection for a specific excretory substrate or surface. Perhaps the cat prefers to take the natural route and eats the dirt from your potted plant. Maybe you put in a nice throw rug in your bathroom that the cat likes.

Making the favorite substrate unavailable (covering the soil in your plant pots with plastic, removing the throw rug, leaving an inch or two of water in your tub, etc.) and providing the cat with a variety of litter types is the best way to deal with a substrate preference. Set up a series of boxes with different types of clay, clumping, coarse, fine, and so on. In a standard option test, most cats preferred clumping over a variety of litters, so include at least one clumping option. They also preferred litter that was coarse-grained and smooth.


A substrate aversion means the cat dislikes the litter you’ve provided. Cats who are prone to litter aversion exhibit early warning signs such as failing to “cover” their urine and feces, failing to scratch at the litter prior to elimination, scratching outside the box rather than inside, perching with their feet on the edge of the box, racing out of the box, or shaking their feet as if disgusted by the feel of the litter. If your cat demonstrates any of these characteristics, offer a variety of litters before you have a problem so your cat may tell you what she prefers.

Cats, like humans, are fascinated by boxes. The majority of cats prefer a large, easy-to-enter box with little or no litter. They normally despise a covered box; after all, who wants to be locked in a little chamber smelling like urine and feces?

A clean litter box is appreciated by cats. You should scoop at least once a day if you have a picky cat. Avoid using detergent to clean the container because the smell may repel the cat. Water that is tepid to warm is ideal. Once a week, completely replace the litter. A cat’s sense of smell is very powerful, so avoid placing the box near her food, drink, favorite napping locations, or room deodorizers, no matter how clean you keep it. In fact, placing food dishes, toys, and beds in filthy areas is an excellent strategy to deter a cat from thereforeiling in certain areas.


The location of the litter box can have a significant impact on a cat’s desire to use it. Cats want a box that is peaceful but not in a “cornered” situation. Cats prefer to be able to see if somebody is approaching, and they prefer to have more than one route for racing out of the box to escape, so closets and unused shower stalls are not ideal.

If your cat is elderly, she may grow hesitant to climb a flight of stairs to use a litter box, so have a low-sided box on each floor. If you believe your cat is soiling because she prefers a different location, consider placing a package there. If she uses it, keep it there if possible; if not, leave it for a few weeks and then gradually, inch by inch, transfer it to a more appropriate location nearby.

Cats might also develop a dread of the place where the litter box is positioned. If the cat has been constipated, she may link the pain of feces with the environment surrounding the litter box. Similarly, a diarrheal cat may get feces on her feet or tail and associate that unpleasantness with the location. Scolding your cat near the litter box may drive it to avoid the area.

I’ve even heard of a cat who stopped using her litter box, which was next to the toilet, because the family’s teenage son kept “splashing” in it! If you have a timid cat, keep in mind that she will not want to eliminate in a box located in a busy room or hallway, close to the washer/dryer, or in a noisy basement workshop.


Conflict between cats in the home can sometimes lead to an elimination problem. Fussy cats may refuse to use a box that has already been used by another cat. To enhance the likelihood of finding a clean box, always have more litter boxes than cats. A decent rule of thumb is that the number of boxes should be equal to the number of cats in the house plus one (i.e. two cats = three packagees). If one cat harasses and intimidates another, the victim may be too terrified to approach the litter box.

Occasionally, an angry cat would wait in the box and attack the victim. Lying in wait can also occur when one cat, usually the younger, is clearly trying to encourage the other cat to play, but the prey may see the ambush as a traumatic experience and avoid the box as a result. If you have numerous cats and are unsure which one is soiling, talk to your veterinarian about giving one of the cats fluorescein, a nontoxic dye. The dye does not stain carpeting, but it causes urine to glow blue for 24 hours when exposed to ultraviolet light. Cats can also be confined one at a time to determine which one is soiling.

Whatever the reason, make sure you thoroughly clean contaminated areas with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize the stink. DO NOT use an ammonia-based deep cleanser to clean. Urine includes ammonia, and washing with ammonia may entice the cat to urinate in the same location again.

Wondering about Safeguarding Plants From Cats? Check it out on our latest post!


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