House soiling is high on the list of reasons for cat adopters to book consultations. A cat never stops using the litter box for no reason; soiling can have many causes but is never done out of spite or revenge. Here are the mistakes to avoid to stop your cat from peeing or pooping outside the litter box.
Error 1: Not consulting the veterinarian
The first step when your cat urinates outside its litter box is to rule out any medical cause by seeing your veterinarian as soon as possible. Some health problems can lead to inappropriate elimination and must be diagnosed and treated properly. Otherwise, no matter what you do, your cat will continue to do its business where it shouldn’t. Even marking – or spraying – problems can be linked to a disease. Cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered (male or female) are prone to marking and fixing them should solve the problem. Either way, a visit to the veterinarian is in order!
Error 2: Having only one litter box
There is only one easy rule to remember: one bin more than the number of cats in your home! You have one cat? You need two litter boxes. You have two cats? You need three litter boxes and so on! There are several reasons for this, a main one being that some cats don’t like to use a dirty litter box. Others prefer to use one box for pooping and another for peeing. Having that extra box could prevent elimination problems.
Should several cats share a litter box, one may ‘guard’ it and keep the other cats from using it, the litter box being a resource. A cat could also be waiting for another to finish doing its business and tackle or chase it, causing the ‘victim’ to either finish elsewhere in the house or stop using the litter box altogether.
Error 3: Placing all litter boxes in one location
Having two, three or four bins lined up next to each other in the same room is no different than having a single large litter box. Make sure that the bins are located in different rooms. If you live in a multistory house, there should be one (or more) bins per floor in different rooms.
Error 4: Litter box being too small
The size of the litter box is essential. A cat should be able to stand in it entirely, tail included. Don’t use your kitten as a reference, because it will get bigger! The ideal box is an 80L clear Rubbermaid TM bin, without a cover. Clear sides allow the cat to look around and therefore feel safe in the box.
Error 5: Having an automatic/self-cleaning litter box
This seemingly good idea is actually pretty bad. While a self-cleaning litter box has undeniable appeal, only humans benefit from it. These boxes are too small, prevent the cat from seeing outside, and the mechanical sounds may spook cats.
Toilet-training kits can be purchased to teach your cat to use the toilet. This may be a neat party trick, but should also be avoided, because there’s nothing natural for a cat or kitten to pee or poop in the toilet. Imagine having to stand on the side of an above-ground swimming pool to relieve yourself.
Error 6: Having a lid on the litter box
Cats generally prefer uncovered litter boxes, which provide more room and a better view, as well as an easy way out should another cat block the sole exit.
Error 7: Letting the litter box get dirty
The cleanliness of the litter boxes is a must. Removal of stool and urine should be done at least once a day, ideally two, especially in a multi-cat home. Complete substrate replacement and litter box cleaning should be done approximately once a month (or more depending on the type of substrate used).
Error 8: Cleaning the tray with deodorants, disinfectants or odour eliminators
What products should you use to clean a litter box? Dish soap and hot water are your best options. Steer clear of disinfectants, deodorizers or so-called odour eliminators, the smell of which is often too strong for a cat’s sensitive nose. A strong smell could prevent the cat from using the litter box. However, some baking soda can be safely added to the litter to help control the smell. Clean objects and surfaces soiled by feces or urine with odour neutralizers (enzymatic products, Uri Clean TM, K.O.E. TM, etc.) to remove odours from the floor, carpet, mattress or couch. If the cat peed on the bed, make sure the urine hasn’t seeped all the way through the mattress. Clothes, bed sheets and other fabrics can be cleaned in the washing machine with regular detergent. Don’t use enzymatic products to clean litter boxes.
Error 9: Choosing an unsuitable cat litter (substrate)
The type of substrate used is of the utmost importance. If you have to remember one thing when you find yourself in front of the wall of substrate bags at the pet store, it’s this: soft and comfortable. Clay is usually the substrate to prioritize. Choose a substrate that is unscented and low dust, as strong smells are unpleasant and dust can irritate the cat’s nose and eyes when it scratches to bury its business. Try to avoid silica litter, which is very uncomfortable for cats’ paws. Some biodegradable and compostable substrates are also available on the market and may be very suitable for your cat. Keep in mind that the substrate you choose should be soft and comfortable!
Error 10: Saving on the amount of litter
There needs to be enough substrate in the bin so the cat can scratch, dig a “hole” and bury its business afterwards. Three to four inches deep is recommended. This means adding a bit of litter in the litter box after daily cleaning, if necessary.
Error 11: concealing the litter box
Unfortunately, as humans, we often tend to hide litter boxes in very dark areas of the house, such as the cold laundry room, at the end of the dim, narrow hallway in the unfinished basement. However, what we consider appropriate doesn’t suit the cat at all. Picture yourself having to use a backhouse in winter at -10 degrees in the middle of the night, and suddenly hearing a loud ‘bang’. Not very appealing, is it?
Litter boxes should be placed in rooms frequented by the family and cats, without being too busy (the living room or office, for example, but not the playroom). Avoid hiding the box behind a piece of furniture; if a cat’s view of its surroundings is hindered, it may refuse to use the litter box. Food and water shouldn’t be anywhere near litter boxes, as cats, like us, would rather not eat in the restroom. If you have a dog, litter boxes should be out of reach (on a chest of drawers, cabinet or shelf, behind a baby gate) to keep the dog from disturbing the cat.
Error 12: reprimanding your cat
Do not punish or reprimand your cat for peeing or pooping outside of the litter box. Reprimand (insérer lien réprimande) seldom works and, in the rare occasion when it does, is often at the detriment of your relationship with your cat; it will be scared and the trust between the two of you will be affected. Reprimand usually takes place long after the cat has had an ‘accident’, and it won’t understand why it’s being scolded. Remember that cats soil for a reason, which is never to defy you or seek revenge (lien émotions complexes). Something is preventing your cat from using its litter box, and you must figure out what it is and address it.
The first thing you should do when your cat pees or poops outside of its litter box is to have it examined by the veterinarian to rule out any medical cause to the behaviour. Then, ask yourself the following: how many litter boxes do you have? Are they self-cleaning? Are you using a toilet-training kit? Are the boxes covered? When and how do you clean them? What type of litter are you using? Is there enough? Too much? Where are the litter boxes? Have you traumatized the cat into avoiding the litter box by punishing it? Your answers should point you in the right direction. By applying the advice provided in this column, keeping your cat from soiling the house should be a breeze. Should the problem continue, contact us for targeted advice.
Translated and adapted from French by Elen Dupuis, Cat Educator and Biologist
French written by Kym Lecault, Cat Educator and Animal Health Technician