Educational Material / Litter Box Issues and Answers

Litter Box Issues and Answers

This is information that may save the life of any cat you know! Please save this information should you need it or to pass along to anyone who's at their "wits end" with litter box problems. Soiling "outside the box" is the #1 reason cats are abandoned or put down so this information could save a cat's life!

Last week I attended a lecture by Dr. Andrea Tasi of Kingstown Cat Clinic on "Litter box Blues" and learned some very useful information. You can print out more information about preventing Litter box Blues at:


Dr. Tasi said that over the course of her practice she has found that medical problems are the #1 reason cats stop using the box. So she encourages cat people to always rule that out first. (I had urine withdrawn externally with a needle from my 14-year-old cat last month. It really wasn't that bad and was over in about 3 seconds; the cost was under $30 and was well-worth doing.) Cats are "associative beings." That means that if they associate the cat box, or type of litter, with painful urination or defecation, even after curing the infection, they will "still associate" pain with the litter box. Therefore, in order to break the "associative disorder" it's advised to buy a NEW box and perhaps a new litter type, and go from there. REMEMBER: Cats aren't trying to get back at you by soiling, they are doing it for perfectly logical reasons -- you need to think like a cat in order to change your cat's behavior. Never, ever punish your cat as you will not change the behavior, but only make your cat fear you.


As we all know, cats originated as desert animals and, as such, they truly prefer SOFT, sandy textures. Dr. Tasi said AVOID the new crystal products, and coarse litters, as they are painful to the tender pads of many cats, and "just don't feel right." Dr. Tasi generally recommends clumping litters, except for kittens under 4 weeks, who can inhale or ingest the clumping substance and develop health problems, sometimes fatal. She especially likes a product called "Dr. Elsey's (unscented) Precious Cat Litter." Dr. Elsey also makes another product called "Cat Attract" that attracts them to the box. You can take a look at his products at:, or call toll free at: 877-311 CATS (2287). If you want a clay free litter product, try "World's Best" which is made with corn. Dr. Tasia recommends filling the box 2-3" with litter.


She said that cats NEVER go into dark, enclosed spaces to eliminate because that puts them in a very vulnerable position. So if a cat is avoiding a hooded box, take the hood off or don't use one in the first place! It is another "turn off" to cats and will often make them go elsewhere. Dr. Tasi said that our cats' noses are 1000% more sensitive than ours and hoods trap the odors and dust. Also, "out of sight, out of mind," may make us forget to scoop the box as often as we should (at least twice a day). Would you want to go to the bathroom in a dirty toilet? Your cat doesn't either! Cats also find the smells of roses and cheap perfumes in the litter repulsive, so always choose unscented litter. Try mixing about 1/2 cup baking soda into the box if odor is a problem to your nostrils.


Especially for those overweight cats, or cats whose urine sprays outside the box; go to Home Depot, Wal-Mart, etc. and buy a BIG Rubbermaid or plastic storage box. If she or he is a sprayer, get one that's very high and cut out an oval entrance in front. If she or he has arthritis, put a little ramp up to the entrance. If they kick litter all over the place, buy one of those large plastic washing machine liners and put your "box or boxes" into it. It's much cheaper to buy these items at a department store than from a pet store.


Best scoopers are flat metal utensils with little holes or slits -- I've found the best ones at the dollar store!


Please put a box on EACH LEVEL of your house in a quiet, out of the way location, that's not next to a heater, washing machine or appliance that could suddenly start up and frighten your cat. Be mindful of older cats that may suffer from arthritis and bladder problems and might find a long trip to the basement painful and difficult (put a ramp or phone book in front of the box entrance to help them step up). Though cats see better than us in low light, CATS CAN'T SEE IN THE DARK, so please don't put their box in a pitch dark basement. Also, the general rule of thumb is to have one box for each cat and put each box in a different location so they aren't competing for the box. And don't place them next to their food or water. Would you want to eat next to your toilet?


Again, back to that 1000% nose, look at the box itself next time you clean it. After scrubbing it with soap and water and perhaps a bit of bleach, rinse it out thoroughly. You may want to place it in the sun to dry as sunshine is a natural disinfectant. Then put your nose into the box and take a deep sniff. If there's a lingering odor or it's covered in scratches and discoloration, throw it out and buy a nice new one at Wal-Mart or Home Depot.


You've got to use an enzymatic cleaner to get rid of those stains and odors. Remember your cat's 1000% nose will bring him back to previous elimination spots and she or he will pee/poop there again. There are some great products available, including "Simple Solution" Stain & Odor Remover. Dr. Tasi's favorite product is "Anti-Icky-Poo" in Veterinary Practice strength (she doesn't like it in "regular" strength). Check your vet's office for it or order online at: Dr. Tasi said you must first SATURATE the spot with solution and KEEP IT WET for 24 hours, covering it with plastic & spraying it several times. Remember that the urine soaked in deeply and then spread horizontally throughout the fibers, so you must get the product deeply into whatever is stained or smells. DO NOT USE ANYTHING THAT IS AMMONIA-BASED, because of its "urine-like" scent to a cat.


Dr. Tasi also recommends another product called "Feliway": this smells like friendly pheromones to a cat and when sprayed in a cat's environment, it creates a comforting, reassuring feeling that reduces the impulse to urine mark or scratch. (A cat's pheromones are between his eye and ear; when she or he rubs his head against you, they are putting friendly pheromones on you.)


Dr. Tasi says that many elimination problems stem from boredom. Cats are designed to be hunters and become incredibly bored and frustrated when they are denied the opportunity. She says to spend at least 15 minutes each day playing with your cat. Toys like "da bird" are excellent (ask for it at your local pet store); anything interactive that makes your cat run and chase. Dr. Tasi says laser toys are OK -- NEVER shine in your cat's eyes -- but can frustrate the cat as they are never able to catch anything. Be sure your cat has plenty of toys to stalk and chase. Here's a great site for toys: You might also want to consider acquiring another cat or two so your pet has somebody to play with. CAUTION:

Do not leave string toys lying around as your cat can choke to death on string or it can end up wrapped around his internal organs and intestines.


Apart from "Introducing a Cat to a New Home" instructions which are another topic in itself, I learned this simple new tip: While keeping the cats separated in different rooms, try wiping each cat's fur with a separate towel daily. Then place each cat's food dish on top of the other cat's towel. They will associate each other's scent with the positive experience of being fed, and grow tolerant of each other quickly!



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