For all you cat owners out there, let’s ring in the New Year properly: with well-trafficked litterboxes, clean houses, happy cats and a happy you! I’ve been practicing veterinary medicine in Bernardsville for over 20 years and the single biggest behavioral problem for which cat owners seek my help is “inappropriate elimination” (or simply, elimination outside of the litterbox) by their cats. Some owners are embarrassed to volunteer this information and I have to tease it out of them! The good news is that in the majority of cases, the prognosis for resolution is great. The focus of this article is how to help you prepare and manage your cat toilets to avoid the problem altogether. Proper setup and maintenance of your cat’s toileting environment from the start greatly increases your chances of living in loving harmony with your cat-friend for much longer. Here’s my “Top 10 List” of guidelines for helping you ensure that your cats’ poop and pee lands in their designated boxes and NOT atop your bed, rug or laundry:
1. IF IT'S NOT BROKEN, DON'T FIX IT. If all is well and your cats are using their boxes 100% of the time, DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING.
2. SPAY/NEUTER YOUR CAT. This removes hormonal drives for eliminating around the house.
3. CAT-TO-BOX RATIO. Follow the industry’s rule of thumb: # of cats + 1 = # of boxes.
4. LOCATION, LOCATION. Each box needs its own separate location. Having 3 boxes lined up next to each other is like one giant toilet to a cat. Similarly, 3 boxes placed in the corners of 1 room is like having 1 bathroom with 3 toilets. Size and number of toilets make no difference if Fluffy dislikes the bathroom. That’s when elimination takes place elsewhere. If you have a multi-level house, ideally you should have a box on at least two of those floors.
5. ROOM, WITH A VIEW. Cats prefer open, uncovered boxes large enough for free and easy movement (not the cramped quarters of a small, dark and smelly cave). They want to dig in a layer of litter at least 2-3” deep. In nature, cats eliminate in open areas with a 360° view and easy escape route, if needed. Shallow plastic storage boxes work well.
6. QUIET, PLEASE. The box should be in a relatively quiet/peaceful area. Avoid areas with loud or cycling noises (dryers, furnaces, etc.) that may frighten your cat. Being spooked while using the box can lead to box aversion.
7. FRESH AND FEELING FINE. The word in the alley is: the finer the better, clumping is best. Litter should be the sandy, granular, NON-deodorized kind. Scoop out the waste DAILY. Avoid box liners if possible. If you need something around the box to catch the stray litter (pardon the pun) that spills over, use newspapers or a cheap rubberized, washable bath mat. Replace ALL litter in the box at least once a month. Wash the box with a hot water/dilute bleach solution. No perfume-y detergents!
8. A LITTLE HELP, PLEASE. If your cat is >10 years old and possibly arthritic, jumping over the lip of the box may be challenging. Get a box with a lower entry cut out or cut the plastic yourself to ease entry/exit for your aging feline.
9. FULL ACCESS. Make sure no doors or gates block your cat’s access to the room where the box(es) are located. Ever.
10. SAFE HIDEAWAY. If you have a multi-cat household, make sure you correctly identify who your lowest ranking cat is and make sure that cat has a safe and accessible litter box for his safe use.
There are at least a dozen other reasons why cats lapse in their elimination behavior, but those reasons are beyond the scope of this writing. However, if you proactively follow these 10 guidelines, you’ll be well ahead of the curve in preventing elimination lapses. If they happen nonetheless…well, then it’s time to come see me in the office for some Sherlock Holmes investigating. Happy and Healthy Mew-Year!