6 step to litter box train your cat

The Scoop on Cats and Litter Box Issues


The main reason cats are re-homed or end up at shelters are due to litter box issues. About 10% of all cats have litter box issues. Up to 75% of cats with behavioral problems center on litter box issues. It’s the  #1 one problem I encounter in cat consults. That’s a lot of unhappy cats, unhappy pet owners but many potentially unhappy endings can be avoided with simple education. Using a cat litter box is the most natural thing in the world for cats, until it isn’t. Cats are naturally clean and particular about how and where they do their business. For thousands of years cats have instinctively scratched and dug the ground to urinate and defecate. Their survival originally depended on it. Kittens would watch their mothers do it and follow naturally. Depending on the type of substrate: sand, earth, leaves, pine needles etc. and the size of their territory, they would cover their deposits or not. Modern day cats are still instinctual and closely follow in their ancestor’s footsteps in dealing with their litter box habits. Nothing is more frustrating for pet parents when their cat refuses to use their litter box.  All cats want a safe, quiet, clean litter box space. No cat deliberately or spitefully decides, Oh I think I’ll poo on the rug and spray the curtains today. If a cat is going outside the box, there is a reason. Yelling at a cat or punishing him will not help and likely to reinforce the unwanted behavior. Never rub a cat’s nose in their urine or feces.  


Step 1: The first step is to rule out an underlying medical cause.

That means a trip to the vet. Explain in detail, what the cat is doing or not doing. One of the most surprising things I still encounter are pervasive old myths like: Cats don’t need to see a vet unless they’re sick or my cat looks okay so she must not be sick. Cats are hardwired to hide any symptoms of illness. Their survival as a species over thousands of years depended on it. One year in a cat’s life is about seven human years. Imagine how much your health can change seven years. It makes medical and fiscal sense to provide cats regular check-ups at least once a year. By finding and treating conditions early on, pet owners not only help prolong their beloved pet’s life but save money down the road. The most common medical reasons for not using the litter box are constipation and urinary tract infection or crystals, but there can be many other causes from parasites, kidney stones, IBS, polyps, kidney disease, diabetes, arthritis, impacted anal glands and stress to name a few. Long-haired cats cat get painful mats stuck with excrement. Keep their fur trimmed in the anal area. If a medical cause is ruled out, then the issue is behavioral. Stress can be a huge contributing factor. Cats are creatures of habit. They hate change and thrive on regular schedules and routine. Needless to say they don’t welcome moving, new family members or other changes easily. Using synthetic “feel good” pheromones like Feliway (plug-in or spray) are helpful to reduce stress as is creating an enriched environment with places to perch and cozy places to hide. Providing interactive play sessions once or twice a day are great stress alleviators and can drain excess aggressive energy.    

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Step 2: Location, location, location

Some homes have limited choices for litter box placement but every home can have an improvement location. Study your home as if you were a cat. Crouch down low and notice what they notice. What is near the litter box? Is there carpeting or other material that could retain odor? Is it a busy traffic area not offering peace and quiet? Is it noisy like laundry or furnace room? Does it have a light source and good ventilation? Cats don’t like to feel cornered. Place the box where they can see out and have an escape route from the room. The very young, old and those with mobility issues need close and easy access. The basement is rarely an ideal location. Cats instinctively and in nature don’t eat where they pee and poo. Don’t place a litter box too close to their feeding station or where they sleep.    


Step 3: Think out of the box

We’ve come a long way in terms of cat litter box design. They come in every shape and size, covered and uncovered, low sides and high sides. Most cats prefer the space and open air of an uncovered box some like the privacy of a cover. Vertical peers need high sides. Older cats might need lowers sides but all cats like space. There are automatic cleaning litter boxes which despite their claims don’t work perfectly, and are expensive. The more the merrier. Some cats like a separate box for peeing and one for pooing. Some don’t mind sharing with another cat but some want their own. The rule of one box per cat plus one is ideal but not always practical especially in a small apartment or if there are five or more cats. There should be at least one box per floor of a home depending on the square footage. Many litter box problems can be solved by simply adding another box or two. With multiple boxes, don’t place them side-by-side but scattered throughout the house. For cats that like privacy but not a covered box, place the box under a small end table. Bigger is usually better. If you have a large breed cat like a Maine Coon you may want to make your own box out of large plastic storage containers.    


Step 4: Not all cat litter is created equal

There are so many choices these days from clay, silica, corn, wheat and pine or newspaper pellets in textures from very fine to granular. They are available clumping and unclumping formulas, unscented and scented in natural and synthetic scents. Declawed cats can develop litter box issues because cat litter is painful post-surgery. They need the softest litter possible or better still, don’t declaw. Most cats don’t like scented litters especially the artificially scented ones that are designed to please a human’s nose and not a feline’s. If you are introducing a cat litter, do it gradually. Add a little of the new litter every day over a week until it’s all new litter. Some litters track more dust than others. Place a mat underneath the box extending at least 18 inches in front to keep the area keep. Keep a dustpan and brush handy for clean up.  


Step 5: April Fresh

Cats have a far superior sense of smell than a human’s. If you think a litter box smells bad, imagine how intolerable it is to a cat. There is no reason for stinky boxes. Only fill the box with about an inch and half of litter. Scoop every box at least once a day. Covered boxes should be scooped twice a day. Stay away from litter liners. They’re useless and annoying to cats. Their claws tear holes in the thin plastic allowing leaks. At least once a month, dump the contents of the box out and give it a good scrub with unscented enzymatic cleaners or water and baking soda. If a cat has eliminated directly outside the box or in any other location, clean the soiled area as soon as possible with an ammonia-free enzmatic cleanser like Fizzion to neutralize the odor. Air purifiers like CritterZone work well to clean the air and reduce airborne bacteria and allergens.    


Step 6 Litter Getter brings the outdoors indoors naturally

If you’ve ever watched a cat urinate and defecate outdoors, you’ll know how much they enjoy it. Cats are very scent-oriented. There is room to stretch in the fresh air and natural scents of grasses, woods, leaves and earth entice and attract cats. But most cats are indoor-only. How can we bring the great outdoors indoors? A sprinkling about an ounce of Litter Getter after the daily litter box cleaning and scooping is the ideal finishing touch. The fresh natural scent of Litter Getter is pleasant to humans and acts as an attractant to cats. Cleaning litter boxes is a necessary chore made more positive with this “scent reward”. The end result is a happier human and a happier cat.    



By Layla Morgan Wilde holistic cat behaviorist at www.CatWisdom101.com