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Litterbox Tips

If your cat won't use the litterbox, you and the cat indeed have a problem! This isn't acceptable indoor feline behavior!  Before attempting to change this behavior, a trip to the vet to assure that the behavior isn't caused by illness is in order. Once sure there is no illness, you can proceed to help the cat reestablish normal litterbox habits.

As  a preventive measure, it is advised to have the cat spayed/neutered before they are reaching maturity (generally before 6 months). Whether male or female, a cat can feel territorial stresses and cause the cat to spray or mark their territory. There are many rescuers who, based on their experiences in rescuing cats with litterbox problems, firmly  believe that cats might be more prone to having litterbox problems after being declawed, though veterinarians do not generally agree that this is the case. If at all possible, we suggest that you refrain from declawing the cat. There are some things you can do as  alternatives to declawing.

If house soiling is a problem,  the cat will need to first be vetted to make sure there isn't any kind of medical condition. There is a danger of FUS (Feline Uremic Syndrome) which can cause a cat to deteriorate quite quickly and results from urinary tract blockage. After vetting,  the cat needs to be confined to a smaller room in order to retrain. The best room would be one without carpeting, such as a bathroom. Confine the cat to this room while an enzymatic cleaner can be used to clean the areas in the house where the soiling has been a problem. It is a good idea to keep the cat confined to this small area for a week and if there are no problems then gradually increase the amount of space that the cat is allowed to roam making sure to save the troubled rooms for last. If the cat begins the soiling again go back to the confining to the small room and start the process over again. 

Before beginning to allow the cat back out into the whole house, the reason for the soiling will need to be corrected. First check: Are they clean enough (being scooped at least daily)? Some cats are very picky and will not use a box that has anything in it. Is the litter fresh but not to fragrant and of a desirable texture? Are there enough boxes for all the cats in the home? There should be a litterbox for each cat in the home and there should be boxes on all levels of the home that the cat is allowed to roam.

It is also important to observe if there are any stray cats outdoors that are spraying by any windows or doors. Even though this is outdoors, the cat smells this and it may cause the cat to mark their own territory, also.  A multi-cat household may have a compounded problem, but there are some more steps that can be taken to deal with it.

Remember always that the key to proper litterbox habits is keeping the litterbox a pleasurable place to go. Make sure that the litter is scooped daily at least, NOT heavily perfumed and a texture that the cat likes. Generally scoopable and regular clay litters are best. If trying others be sure to leave out the old type and see what the cat prefers to use. The cat may react differently to covered boxes versus uncovered boxes. Many cats won't like to be cornered into a covered litterbox while others prefer the privacy that these boxes offer. Some cats are frightened by the noise made by the "automatic" litterboxes as the clean themselves.

Litter should generally be changed (emptying and cleaning box then refilling with fresh, new litter) twice a week if using clay and once a week if using scoopable. If multiple cats are using the boxes (or seem to prefer one box) this will need to be done more often.

Spraying is a territorial response. If your cat hasn't been neutered and is spraying your first step should be to get him neutered immediately before the spraying becomes a habit. It can take as long as 6 weeks for the hormone level to flush out of the system so be prepared that the spraying won't stop overnight, but the urge to mark territory will gradually disappear.  

If your cat is neutered and suddenly begins to spray it may be caused by the presence (odor, view, or sound) of a free roaming cat outdoors which is triggering a territorial response. Visual contact with an outside intruder, wafting odor, or the sound of cat calling may trigger territorial spraying in some cats. Close the blinds for a few days to prevent visual contact and get some cat repellant from your pet store or nursery to put down around the perimeter of your home to deter the intruder. 

If there is an accidental inappropriate urination

When fresh urine comes out of the body, it is relatively clean,  with little bacteria in the acid state. As the urine dries,  it turns into alkaline salts, in which bacteria flourish and give off an odor. You should first treat an old urine stain with an acid solution (such as vinegar and water), which would offset  the alkaline and bring the stain to a neutral pH. You should  then apply an enzyme treatment to destroy the bacteria and eliminate the smell.

Since fresh urine is acid, adding vinegar doesn't help: It actually sets the stain in an acid state. In essence, you have given the urine more power to turn into alkaline state and smell. Once in alkaline state, the stain will attract moisture out of the air, activating salts and bacteria and smelling again and again.

Never add vinegar to a fresh urine spill. Instead, blot with  warm water and a towel several times. Follow with a mild dish detergent, one teaspoon per quart of water, and continue to rinse and dry. Finally, add an enzyme treatment to eat any bacteria that may be present. Enzyme treatments are manufactured under many different names and are available in pet supply stores and catalogs. A remarkable product that appears to work is called "Kritter Spritz" - it isn't enzymatic and works on by biodegrading with safe normal bacteria.

Cats will return to previous marked areas where they pick up their own scent so it is important to locate and eliminate every single stain. Ordinary housecleaners won't eliminate the smell to a cat's nose, even if humans can't smell it. You will need to use a specific enzyme cleaner. Follow directions carefully, saturate the area and allow to air dry. The stain will smell noticeably worse when it's damp, but as it dries out the enzymes deal with the source of odor. If the stains have occurred on carpet, you will need to saturate the area thoroughly to get into the carpet padding.  You may also need to get a flourescent blacklight to find all the urine stains. Cat urine glows under a blacklight in a darkened room making it easier to find every stain. A lot of other things also glow, but when in doubt treat the area in question!

Dr. Susan Little provides an excellent article: 

Other Suggested Online Reading:

Everywhere but the litterbox
Litterbox Management
Spraying: How to treat this bad habit
Urinary Tract Infections Urinary Tract Infections - Understanding Urinary Tract Disease and it's role in causing litterbox problems. Note the articles on Idiopathic Cystitis, thought to be misdiagnosed as a behavior problem. Litterbox Problems & Solutions Planet Urine - This is the definitive Encyclo-Pee-dia! This site covers almost any litterbox problem including litter aversion, covered vs not covered, location and surface preferences.
Living Better With Your Cat
- A terrific article from Larry Lachman, an animal behavioralist
When Good Cats Go Bad -
Dr. Roen, DVM
Managing Behavioral Disorders
- By Karen L. Overall, VMD, PH.D., Dip. ACVB
Litterbox Problems -
Dr. Mike Richards, DVM
Litter pan or Elimination Problems
- Dr. Mike Richards, DVM
Litterbox Problem Explanations & Solutions -
from an Animal Behavioralist
Litterbox Problems in Multi-Cat Households -
From Cat Fanciers Association
Caring For Cats With Litter Box Problems
Inappropriate Elimination
- Dr. Newman, DVM
LitterBox Woes Often Due to Change in Routine - G
reat article from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
Inappropriate Elimination
- From Dr. Petra Drake, DVM
When Good Cats Do Bad Things
- From MarVista Veterinary Clinic
Litterbox Problems in Cats
- From Indian Hills Animal Clinic
Inappropriate Elimination in Cats
Feline Housesoiling
- The Feline Advisory Bureau of the UK
Spraying Indoor Spraying Problems from the Feline Advisory Board What is the difference between spraying and urinating, and how do you deal with it? Urine Spraying
Territorial Marking - From Dr. Mike Richards, DVM
Spraying or Squatting? What's the Difference?
What is Territorial Spraying?
Territorial Spraying: A Case History
How to Control Urine Spraying
Feline Marking Behaviors
- An excellent article that explains why cats mark, the different kinds of marking patterns (spraying versus peeing) and how to correct the problem.
  Prescription Options Buspar use in Cats - by Dr. Petra Drake, DVM
- From the Internet Vet
Elavil (Amitriptyline)
Behavior & Medications
- By Karen L. Overall, VMD, Ph.D., dip. ACVB
- Some interesting cautions about using this medication long term from Dr. Gary Norsworth, DVM
Ovaban Side Effects
- Dr. Mike Richards


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