Inappropriate Elimination

The recommended number of litter boxes in a house is one litter box per cat plus one extra. For example, if you have three cats living in your house, one litter box per cat equals three boxes plus one is four litter boxes. You want to give your cats plenty of room to go multiple times without stepping in any waste. Some cats prefer to urinate in one box and defecate in a second box. Scoop each box once daily. If you do not have enough space for the appropriate number of boxes then you will need to scoop multiple times per day. The litter box is like our toilet. If you have, for example, two cats using one litter box scooped once daily, that is the equivalent of two humans using one toilet flushed once daily—Yuk!

There are many types of litter available. In the wild cats dig in soft soil or sand to urinate/defecate so they are naturally drawn to litter as a substitute. If the litter box is too dirty, smelly, near the food bowl or in a busy area, they may choose another soft location such as a bed, clothing on the floor or a rug. If your cat is going right next to the litter box, your cat wants to use the box but doesn’t like something about the box. Soft scoopable unscented litter appears to appeal to the most cats. Clay litter, corn cob, newspaper pellets, and crystal litter are available and can be less tracking, less dust and more environmentally friendly than scoopable litter but some cats object if it is harder on their feet to dig a hole for the waste. Cats who like their litter box spend more time digging in the litter.

If your cat has been using the litter box its entire life and suddenly starts to urinate elsewhere and you have not changed types of litter, added a new cat or forgot to clean the box, then your cat should be checked for a medical problem such as infection or bladder stones. Urinating in the wrong spot may be the only sign of a medical problem. Stress and weather changes/ storms may increase the risk of medical problems.

Protocol for retraining cats with elimination problems

  • 1. If necessary, start by confining the cat to one area, restricting its access to most areas. Then, after the cat has consistently used a litter box (or boxes) for 2-3 weeks, slowly start to expand the area to which it has free range. At first, supervise constantly.
  • 2. Clean all affected areas with “Equalizer” or “Elimin-Odor”; allow to dry, and repeat. Clean all wood and wood floors with “Murphy’s Oil Soap.”
  • 3. Make sure you have more litter boxes than you have cats. Place boxes in a variety of places – on different floors, in the basement, bathrooms, etc…Don’t put them all in one spot.
  • 4. Scoop out the litter boxes at least daily. Wash boxes once a week. Replace boxes when they are deeply scratched and soiled.
  • 5. Try a variety of litters and offer the cat a choice: playground sand; potting soil; shredded newspaper or toweling; sawdust; wood chips (not strong smelling ones like cedar); soft, plain clay litter without deodorant (Pine Fresh; Fresh & Sweet [A&P Brand]; Yesterday’s News). Try the newer recyclable kitty litters (Ever-Clean). Try different depths of litter.
  • 6. Take the cat to the litter box frequently and wait with it; if the cat scratches or uses the litter box, praise it.
  • 7. Bell the cat so you know where he or she is: spy on him or her. If you see the cat squat outside the litter box, scare him or her: use a foghorn, water pistol, air canister, loud whistle, or alarm. Do not take the animal to the soiled area and rub its nose in the area. To be effective, you must either interrupt the animal in the act or as it starts to eliminate. This means interrupting the first of the elimination behaviors – sniffing, circling, and scratching.