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Your Cat, the Litter box and You

November 15, 2011

Cats, by their nature, are clean creatures. Recent studies suggest they spend as much as 15% of their time grooming. Cats also like to be hygienic when it comes to their toiletry habits. Most kittens learn to use a litter box when very young and happily use one the rest of their lives.

Sometimes though, a cat will stop using its litter box. It can be very frustrating when seemingly out of the blue, your cat starts using the bathtub, the rug, or worse yet the furniture,  as its litter box. When this happens, you need to take a deep breath and realize that cats don’t urinate or defecate outside of the litter box out of spite. You need to play detective and figure out what is going on with your cat.

The first course of action is a trip to the vet to rule out a medical problem. A bladder infection is the most likely cause for a cat to start urinating outside of his litter box. Bladder infections can be very painful, and the cat may associate the litter box with the pain. Your kitty is trying to find somewhere to go where it won’t hurt ‘to go’. Until you get the infection under control, your cat will continue to be in pain and discomfort. Once the infection is treated, most cats will start using their box again. Occasionally a cat will need to be retrained to using their box.

Bladder infections can also be caused by bladder stones. One of the potential dangers of bladder stones besides litter box issues are the cat becoming plugged, or unable to urinate. This is an emergency situation and your cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible as it is fatal if not treated.

Infected or impacted anal glands are one medical reason a cat may be defecating or sometimes urinating outside of their box. Again, they come to associate the pain with the litter box and are looking for somewhere where it won’t hurt to go. Once the anal glands are expressed or the infection treated, most cats will start reusing their box.

If your vet has ruled out these and other medical issues which may be causing the problem, then you may have a behavioral issue. Cats, just like people, are susceptible to stress, and will sometimes stop using their litter boxes due to stress. This is where you have to play detective to figure out what is causing your kitty to stress out.

Some common causes of stress in cats are:

A new pet in the household or a pet leaving the household

A new person in the household or a person moving out of the household

Cats hanging around outside your home



There are other factors which can cause stress for your pet. Unlike people, they can’t tell you what they’re upset about, so it’s up to you, the owner, to try and find out what the cause is. There are ways to help your kitty deal with her stress and your veterinary office can often help you out.

The other main reason besides medical issues and stress for a cat to stop using the litter box, has to do with the box itself. Cats like to have a nice clean litter box to use. Boxes that aren’t cleaned often enough, having to share a box with other cats and scented litters are just a few of the issues that can cause a cat to not want to use its litter box. Just as you probably wouldn’t want to use a toilet that hadn’t been flushed for a couple of days, a cat doesn’t want to use a box that hasn’t been cleaned in a couple of days.

Hopefully your cat will never develop any litter box issues over the course of her life. If she does though, it’s good to know there are steps you can take to help solve the issue and make both you and your cat feel better.

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