Litter boxes can quickly become the bane of a cat parent’s existence when kitty decides to misuse them — or not use them at all. These are some of the most common litter box issues I have come across, both in my practice and with my own cats.
Litter box avoidance is the most common issue cat owners experience, and it’s the No. 1 reason people surrender their cats to shelters. There are many simple reasons why cats duck the box, and most of them have easy solutions (see below).
Alpha cats will often demonstrate their dominance by preventing another cat from either entering or exiting the litter box. Our cat BooBoo is our alpha boy, and more than once I have seen him trap our cat Hope as she’s using the box. Litter box bullying can quickly lead to litter box avoidance, so provide boxes in different areas of your home and make sure each area has an easy escape path for bullied cats.
Most common with kittens, I have seen littermates follow each other into the box and turn potty time into playtime. Sometimes this continues into adulthood, often between siblings. But some adult cats play in the litter, too. One of my client’s cats takes her favorite stuffed animal with her everywhere she goes, including into the litter box. My own Abby will often climb into a freshly cleaned and filled litter box and roll around with glee in the unspoiled litter. I don’t pretend to understand that one!
My cat Sunny has this habit of standing on the rim of the litter box on his hind legs while leaning against the adjacent wall with his upper body when he uses the litter box. It’s the oddest way I have ever seen a cat use the box. Sometimes it’s successful. Other times he makes a huge mess, either because he misses the box and goes on the floor or because he loses his balance and tips the box over, dumping its entire contents. I’m often left with a mess to clean up, but I can’t help but laugh every time I see Sunny getting himself “into position.”
Cats are known for being ultraclean and for burying their leavings, but there are times when a cat decides not to bury. Sometimes this happens when a cat doesn’t like the texture and feel of a certain type of litter on his paws; declawed cats will often experience this. Sometimes a cat won’t bury as another way to mark his territory and let everyone know he’s been there. When my BooBoo does this, my Tinkerbelle goes right in there and covers it up for him!
Some cats are so intent on burying that they excavate the box for a long time before they are satisfied. My Tinkerbelle buries everything under a pile of litter so high that it actually looks like a pyramid. It takes her a good five minutes to accomplish this. I once took care of a cat named Wilbur who used to pee on the floor, then he would get into the litter box and scoop all the litter out onto the floor to bury what he did. (He actually needed a larger litter box, and the problem was solved!)
If your beloved kitty is exhibiting odd behaviors in the litter box and medical causes have been ruled out, consult with a cat behaviorist to help find a solution to the bad box behavior. Or, depending on your cat’s particular misbehavior, you might want to just sit back and enjoy the show!
If your new kitten or cat is avoiding the litter box, go through this checklist to solve the problem!
Tell us: What litter box issues have you experienced? What solutions worked for you?
Thumbnail: Photography © AlbinaTiplyashina | Getty Images.
Rita Reimers’ Cat Behavior Coaching has helped many cat owners better understand their feline friends. Visit RitaReimers.com to read her cat behavior blog or book a cat behavior coaching session. Rita is also CEO/owner of JustForCatsPetSitting.com. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter at @TheCatAnalyst.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Kittens, a special issue from Catster magazine. Look for Kittens on a newsstand near you!