Cats outside the box
Cats quite naturally seek materials that allow them to bury their
urine and feces. Kittens require little training to learn to use a
litter box. Even outdoor cats moved indoors readily learn to
use a litterbox. Nevertheless, there are times when a cat, who
otherwise uses the litterbox reliably, goes outside of the box. One
likely reason is medical, and you should see your veterinarian if you
notice any of the following symptoms: straining, traces of blood in the
stool or urine, moaning or crying while using the litterbox, a profound
increase in water consumption, or regular diarrhea. Even if you note
none of these symptoms, if your cat suddenly quits using the litterbox,
a trip to your veterinarian to rule out a medical cause is wise. If no
medical problem is diagnosed, here are some things we know about cats
that should help you solve the problem:
Cats are clean freaks. A dirty litterbox
is not likely to be used, so be sure to clean the litterbox at least
once a day.
The location of
the litterbox is important. Most cats want some privacy for their
bathroom behavior, so choose a low-traffic area in a quiet part of the
house for the litterbox. If you have more than one cat, don't put all
the litterboxes in one place. First, one cat may guard the boxes
preventing the others from using them. Second, one cat may harrass
another while he or she is using the box.
There should be
one more litterbox than there are cats in the house. Again, remember
that they should be in different locations.
Cats have a
profoundly sensitive sense of smell. Avoid cleaning litterboxes with
bleach, avoid scented litters -- we may like them but many cats don't
--and keep room deodorizers away from litterboxes.
litterbox design preferred by your cat. Experiment -- some cats like
hooded boxes while others do not. Hooded boxes tend to hold the odor
within the box, which is offensive to some cats. On the other hand,
open boxes may make some cats feel vulnerable, especially if the box is
in a higher traffic area. Make sure too that the litterbox fits the
size of your cat. A big cat requires a substantial litterbox.
From your cat's
point of view, not all litters are created equal. There are many types
of litters available -- clay, clumping, pearls, recycled paper pellets
-- but cats can be pretty picky about their litter. Some recent
research indicated that the test cats preferred clay and clumping
litters over others. Again, experiment. Use a couple of different
litters in different litterboxes and see which get used. Then stick
with that type.
outside-the-box areas: If your cat is going outside the box in one
place, move the litterbox to that location. Your cat may be trying to
tell you that place is preferable. If he or she is going around rather
randomly, put double-sided tape or a plastic stair runner turned upside
down on those areas. Use a citrus spray, which is repellant to cats, on
those areas. Or, simply block access to the area (s) the cat has
creatures of routine: Adding a new companion animal to your home, house
guests, a new baby, a move to a new home, a change in your work habits
or lifestyle are changes that may put your cat (s) off their usual good
If your well-behaved cat suddenly stops using her litterbox there is
likely a good reason, at least from her point of view. Play detective,
and try to see the world as your cat does. That, and the above
suggestions, should help you solve and resolve the problem.
City of Bloomington, IN
Last updated: Sept 14, 2009
"Cats - a standing rebuke to behavioural scientists . . . least human of all creatures."