Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Wisdom of the Litter Box

We don't really want to talk about the litter box, but we're going to anyway.  Let us indulge in a bit of cat scatology, for the greater good.

Yes, the litter box is to a cat what a toilet is to a human being.  At least that is the hoped for situation.  Cats are fastidious about their personal habits.  Once they learn to "go" in the box they don't forget.  When a cat suddenly stops using the box or misses the target, something is going on that must be addressed.

Why is Kitty failing to observe proper elimination protocol?

There are a number of reasons.  Here are the most likely culprits:


While not an illness, there may be age related issues such as arthritis, at play.  Stiff joints make for less dexterity.  A different style box with lower sides may help the older cat maintain accuracy.

Other physical reasons for missing the target are illnesses such as bladder stones, urinary tract infection or diabetes.  Your veterinarian can help you sort that out.

Negative Association

Perhaps the litter box is in the laundry room.  One day, Socks is minding his own business taking care of business, when the spin cycle starts.  The rugs inside the washer gravitate to one side of the cylinder; thump thump thump.  Suddenly, the litter box is a scary place to be.

Maybe the weekend guests caused Tabby angst.  Remember that strange youngster in the group?  The one who seemed to vanish at intervals, you'd see him only in the periphery, lurking, furtively poking around?  Let's not speculate too deeply into what the little weirdo may have done in and around the litter box.

Stressful Changes

A new cat joined the household and suddenly Fluffy must share the litter box.  Your best bet is to offer enough litter boxes for everyone.

That different brand of litter that you tried because it was on sale?  It could be that Tigger doesn't like the smell or the texture or your audacity in making a change without consulting him.  New litter is best introduced slowly, little by little, beginning with adding about ten percent to the total mass of the old familar litter.

Other problems in litter box routine may be due to negligent clean up.  If there are too many clumps in the box, Mr. Boots may decide there isn't room for his latest effort.  Scoop frequently.  (You flush every time you go, right?)


A cat looking for love may use marking (squirting urine around) to spread the word, so to speak, of his or her availability.  This is something in the hormones and arguably not bad cat behavior, just natural desire.  Spaying or neutering usually puts the kibosh on lust and with it the urge to mark.

Other reasons for marking involve territory.  An indoor cat may see a cat outside the window and want to establish his domain.  A dash of urine on the living room drapes is one way of expressing ownership.

Sometimes when a new cat or dog or person has joined the household, a cat may pee on the carpet to relieve the unpleasant feelings of insecurity.  You might say, he snaps.  In time, he will, most likely, grow accustomed to these new resident critters and return to correct potty habits.

Adding a scratching post or two can help Puss Puss blow off a little steam while engaging in a more appropriate style of marking.

And, just because, buy him a new toy.  Play with him.  Pass the Cat Nip.

PetSitters World, September/October 2011
Warren Animal Clinic, Warren, MI


  1. Nicely said! I like your line about our audacity at making a change without consulting the cat... and since they are, after all, superior life forms, they must be consulted in all things...

  2. Or, he or she is really pissed at you over something. Boo kitty was known to piss on your stuff when she was mad at you. She'd get a look in her eye and off she'd go to find something you liked, like your bed pillow.

  3. Not a cat person, but very informative!