Cats normally prefer dumping their wastes in locations with coarse materials like sand, soil, or even rocky areas. This is why cat owners found it effective to put litter boxes in their homes. Most cats easily understand its use and adapt it as part of their habits.
Some cats who simply fail to adjust with litter boxes may have:
(1) experienced something bad while using the box, therefore, avoiding the litter box entirely
(2) a preference for material, other than sand, that’s not in the box, or (3) a more comfortable location in mind where they can do their business without a box.
It’s also important to take note that the original reasons for your litter box problems may not be the same cause that made it a part of their unwanted habits. For one, a cat with a urinary tract infection may stop using the litter box, preferring the carpet or something less loose. Eventually, they’ll prefer carpets for littering even if they don’t have UTI anymore which poses a big problem.
Unlike humans, cats don’t just stop using the litter boxes because they want to get back at you for upsetting them. It’s easy to assume this because we are guilty of this action. Oftentimes, there are medical or behavioral causes behind their soiling problems.
Careful examination of their behavior and environment can help you spot the factors resulting in their litter box issues. These observations are important to determine how to resolve your cats’ litter problems.
Cats littering outside their litter boxes is commonplace for those who are experiencing medical problems. Those who have UTI and are experiencing painful urination, often mistakenly associate the discomfort with the litter box, forcing them to avoid it. When your cat is exhibiting litter problems, take them to your vet to know if it’s a medical condition that’s causing the change in their littering behaviors. It’s hard to spot a sick cat, so it’s better to have them examined for confirmation.
Cause of Litter Box Issues
Several reasons can affect your cat’s behaviors when they choose to dump their waste outside the litter box. Some of the most common causes are:
- A dirty or already full litter box
- Difficulty in urination and defecation associated with severe pain due to a medical condition
- Getting frightened by a loud, surprising noise while they’re dumping in the box
- Feeling of helplessness when they’re taken by surprise by a child, another cat, a dog, or anyone while they’re doing their business
- Associating the box with getting punished. This happens when they’re reprimanded for littering outside the box and then immediately placing them in the box.
- Keep the litter box clean by regularly scooping their litter and replacing the clumping sand at least every 4-5 days. The frequency of cleaning the box depends on the number of cats in your household, their sizes, and their feeding habits. If you can already smell an unpleasant odor coming from the box, it’s safe to conclude your cats can smell it too.
- Your cats won’t get near the old litter box again after they’ve associated it with unpleasant experiences. Just put a new litter box with a new clumping litter in a different location. They won’t have negative associations with it because it’s an altogether different object for them.
- Don’t place the litter box near an appliance or anything that can make startling noises. Also, place it in an area they frequently visit.
- If you’ve enclosed your litter box, make sure there’s more than one exit route they can use so they won’t feel trapped when taken in by surprise.
Inclinations on Surface Texture
Cats have preferences for certain surface textures where they want to remove their wastes. These inclinations may have started when they’re still young and have developed through time, making it easier to spot if they change overnight. You can determine if they have preferences for specific surface textures if:
They eliminate only on a particular surface like the soft-textured surface of carpets, bed sheets, or clothing, or the hard surface of tiles and cement
- After they eliminate on the litter box, they still go to this particular surface to scratch it
- They’re previously outdoor cats who prefer the coarse texture of soil and grass when they litter
- For cats who prefer soft surfaces, use high-quality clumping litter that molds into a solid when they pee or poop on it. Also, put a soft cloth or rug underneath the litter box so they have something to scratch on after they’re done littering
- For those who like hard, smooth surfaces, place a really thin layer of sand or clumping litter at one side of the box and leave the remaining area empty. Also, put the box over something hard and solid
- For outdoor cats, place some sod or soil in the litter box
- Place cat aversives on locations you don’t want them to litter on. Put a carpet runner upside down, or aluminum foil, or citrus-scented cloth or cotton balls over the area you want them to avoid
Cats also have preferences on locations where they want to remove their wastes. They have this if:
- They go to quiet, secluded place like under the desk or inside a closet to do their business
- They litter on areas previously marked by their urine or places where the litter box used to be placed
- They litter on a different floor level in the house away from where the litter box is situated
- Place at least one litter box on every floor level of your house
- Place cat aversives, similar to the ones listed above, on areas you want them to avoid
- Put a litter box where they prefer to eliminate their waste. When they’re consistently using it for about a month, gradually move the box an inch a day to your preferred location.
Other Littering Issues
One of the most infuriating things your cat can do is mark your furniture, couch, or anything by spraying their pee on it.
Fears or phobias also affect cats and these can make them lose control of their excretory system and start defecating in unwanted places. Keep them away from loud noises or other stimuli which may fuel their phobias.
When you catch your cat in the act of defecating in unwanted areas, interrupt them by making a sudden noise that’s not frightening enough to scare them for good. Take them immediately to the litter box and watch them from afar. Applaud them if they successfully littered on the box instead of anywhere else.
If you already find litter on unwanted areas, don’t reprimand your cats. It’s already too late for that. Punishing them won’t do any good and it won’t correct their actions either. You’ll just make them afraid of you for no reason at all.