As a cat owner, you’ve probably been there before. No matter how seasoned your cat may be at using her litter box, sometimes the inevitable just occurs — accidents. “There are two main reasons that cats come down with litter box issues: physical or behavioral,” says Dr. Rebecca Jackson, staff veterinarian with Petplan pet insurance.
Before you can figure out which reason is causing your own cat to misbehave, consider taking him to the vet for a check-up. “Something may be irritating your kitty’s bladder, such as a urinary tract infection, or something could be causing her to drink more, such as diabetes or kidney disease,” said Dr. Jackson. “If diarrhea is present, it could indicate anything from inflammatory bowel disease to certain types of cancer. Early detection is key to successful treatment, so take your cat in for a checkup at the first sign of unusual bathroom habits.”
If the results of your vet visit come back all clear, you likely have a behavioral or situational problem on your hands. Common examples, according to Dr. Jackson, include:
- Your cat simply may not like her litter box, or might have developed a negative association with it. Maybe she was startled there once, or maybe she had a condition that made urination painful. If this turns out to be the case, you might need to move the box, or change it altogether (start with trying a different litter, first) to remedy the situation.
- The box may not be big enough for him (urine or feces ‘leaking’ outside of the box might be an indicator that he needs a bigger commode). The general rule is to have as many litter boxes as you do cats, plus one extra. Each of these boxes should be one and one-half times as large as your largest cat.
- If the box is the right size, consider whether it’s clean enough. Twice-daily cleanings should be enough for even the cleanest of kitties.
- Finally, conflicts with other cats, sudden changes in household routines or the addition of a new housemate (two- or four-legged!) might be throwing him off. Be sure to discuss any situational changes that have occurred with your vet to see if they might be the underlying cause of your cat’s litter box issues.
Behavioral litter box issues can be very frustrating and difficult for both you and your furry friend. Be sure to stay in communication with your vet about what’s working and what isn’t. Sometimes a solution can be as simple as changing litter or adding another litter box. Other times medications and/or significant behavioral modification are required. Your vet is your best source for recommendations.
Cheryl Lock is an editor at Studio One. Her work has appeared online at Petside and Pet360, as well as in print in publications like Parents, Family Circle and Runner’s World. She lives in New York with her adorable rescue cat, Penny, and a rabbit named Nugget.