Thinking outside the litterbox—housesoiling (Proceedings)


Thinking outside the litterbox—housesoiling (Proceedings)

Nov 01, 2010

Free ranging cats have the freedom to choose their preferred elimination location. They would prefer to avoid eliminating in a spot another cat has used (unless they are marking it). Free ranging cats will not urinate and defecate in the same area, and they do not like to eliminate in public places or cave-like settings. Few households are able to provide that level of choice to their feline family members. In spite of this, house cats are surprisingly reliable in the use of the litter box. A breakdown of this appropriate litter box use may have many reasons: an aversion to the box, the location, or substrate; a preference for a particular surface not provided by the box, a preference for a particular location where there is no box, or a combination of all three.

The reason the litter box problem initially started may not be the same reason it's continuing. For instance, the cat may have urinated outside the box due to a urinary tract infection. Subsequently, the cat has associated the litter box with pain, developed a substrate preference for carpet, and a location preference under the desk in the guest bed room – a secluded area in a room that you hardly ever use. In this case, the successful treatment has to include all three factors (the box aversion, the location preference, and the substrate preference).

Medical problems play a role in 60% of house soiling problems in cats. The minimum data base for cats who present with this behavioral problem is a UA (by cysto) and abdominal radiographs (including the caudal portions of the pelvis). While antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed medication for cats with urinary tract disease, the vast majority of problems are idiopathic or due to uroliths.

Reasons that make a litter box an unpleasant place include:The box is not clean enough ('standards' may vary from cat to cat and even throughout a cat's life). The cat has experienced painful urination or defecation in the box due to a medical problem. The cat has been startled or scared while using the box. The cat has been disturbed while in the box (another cat, a child, a dog, or by you, if you were attempting to catch him/her for some reason). The cat associates the box with punishment (someone punished him/her for eliminating outside the box, then placed him/her in the box).

Recommendations include: Scoop at least twice daily and change the litter completely every week. This will vary according to how many cats are in the household, how many litter boxes you have, and how large the cats are that are using the box or boxes.
If owners smell the box, they can be sure it's offensive to the cat. Optimize the litter box set-up, litter, and location. Run a preference test (see below). Make sure that the litter box isn't near an appliance that makes noise or in an area of the house that your cat doesn't frequent. Offer more than one exit from the litter box to avoid the cat feeling trapped or ambushed.

Animals develop preferences for a particular surface on which they like to eliminate at an early age (2-7 weeks of age). These preferences can change overnight for reasons that we don't always understand. A surface preference (primary or secondary) is found if:

The cat eliminates on a particular texture. For example, soft-textured surfaces, such as carpet, bedding or clothing, or slick-textured surfaces, such as tile, cement, bathtubs or sinks. The cat scratches on this texture after elimination (covering up), even if she eliminates in the litter box. The cat was never trained to use a box (e.g. outdoor cats).

If the cat is eliminating on soft surfaces have owners use fine grain, scoop-able litter.

If the cat is eliminating on slick, smooth surfaces, have them try putting just a very thin layer of litter at one end of the box, leaving the other end bare, and put the box on a hard floor.

If the cat has a history of being outdoors, have owners add some soil or sod to the litter box or start training using gardening soil. Ask them to add 10% more litter to the soil each week.

Make the areas that the cat soiled previously aversive (cover them with aluminum foil or plastic).

The cat may have a location preference if she uses the same area to eliminate – but not the box.