Your cat pees on your bed. She leaves tootsie rolls just outside the litter box. Or, you see the urine on your pile of fresh, clean clothes. What’s happening? Is kitty mad at you? The answer is no.
Might be a medical issue According to Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of Ryan Hospital’s Companion Behavior Medicine Service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, when a cat isn’t using the litter box it’s a sign there are medical issues, anxiety-based problems or your litter box setup just isn’t right.
“The very first thing you should do is visit your veterinarian, “Dr. Siracusa says. Cats often don’t use the litter box because they are in pain. Urinary tract infections, feline lower urinary tract disease, feline interstitial cystitis (when their bladder is painful but not infected) or bladder stones or blockage, are just a few of the ailments that can cause inappropriate urination. “There are many cases where the cat just stops using the litter box simply because it associates the litter box with pain. Then they go to places like your bed or fluffy rug, because it feels better for them to relieve themselves there.”
The ACVD board-certified behaviorist says if your cat stops using the litter box at an older age, sometimes metabolic diseases like hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can be to blame. Gastrointestinal problems may also lead to painful defecation in the litter box. To know if your kitty has issues, veterinarians use urine samples and blood work to help diagnose problems.
Dr. Siracusa says once all medical conditions have been ruled out, it’s time to determine the relationship your cat has with his litter box and litter. “Cats have very passive coping strategies, they don’t fight back and they internalize everything. A quiet cat can easily be stressed.” The professor also believes the litter box you choose, where it’s placed and the kind of litter you use can have an impact on inappropriate elimination. He says that some cat products, including litter boxes and litter, may be designed to appeal to cat owners more than the cat.
He says, “It’s your job to make sure your cat has as few challenges as possible to use the litter box.”
Your litter box needs to be sized adequately based on how large or small your kitty is. Dr. Siracusa recommends that it be at least oneand-a-half times longer than the length of your cat from nose to tail. He also believes a regular plastic litter box sized appropriately is generally best for most felines.
As to whether a litter box should be uncovered or covered, he believes that most cats prefer using an uncovered box. If your cat will use a covered litter box, he believes you should remove the door.
Dr. Siracusa has concerns about top-entering litter boxes for older cats or those with arthritis. “You need to make going to the bathroom as easy as possible. Your cat should not have to go through hurdles to do its business.”
When it comes to litter, the behaviorist personally prefers seedbased litter, like corn or wheat litter, because it’s natural and more akin to the soil outside. Most cats will use clay litter just fine, but he does believe clay may be hard on cats who have been declawed, because their paws are more sensitive.
Of course, cleaning your litter box daily is imperative, and some cats simply will not use a soiled one. The dirty deed needs to be part of your daily regimen.
The location of your litter box is also key. “When you have multiple pets, sometimes another dog or cat can prohibit your kitty from using the litter box, due to its location in your home,” he says. “Territorial issues can be a big factor in multi-animal households. If your kitty doesn’t feel safe at your designated spot, they will find somewhere else to go. The cat’s box needs to be in a place where they feel secure.”
Dr. Siracusa believes the common saying of “revenge pottying” is simply not accurate. “Cats have needs and preferences just like people do. It’s your job to figure out what they need, for everyone to have a happy, healthy, stress-free life.”
“It’s your job to make sure your cat has as few challenges as possible to use the litter box.” — Dr. Siracusa
©Nataliia Pyzhova; Voren1 | Getty Images
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