I originally wrote this post in November 2011:

Cats are an attractive pet for many people because they tend to be fairly easy to care for. Provide good food, a litter box, affection, interactive play time and you have a ready-made pet. So it’s understandable how frustrating it can be if your cat develops litter box problems.

Now, I love cats and currently have three of my own. But I’m an expert in dog behavior, not cats. So when it comes to litter box problems, I turn to a cat expert. I asked Laurie Penca, cat behavior specialist and owner of Cat’s Eye View Cat Training, to help with this topic.

To start, Laurie suggests you first rule out any medical basis for problems: see your veterinarian for the appropriate exam and tests.

Follow a behavior plan

Assuming your cat is healthy, you will follow a behavior plan to correct the problem. That behavior plan considers the litter box itself, the home environment, and discouraging elimination outside the litter box.

Cats are very particular about their litter boxes, so keep a few basic principles in mind:

  • One litter box for each resident cat, plus one
  • Litter should be kept clean and your cat may have preferences for type of litter and amount in the box
  • Location of the litter box should be free of obstacles and away from anything that could startle your cat

Consider whether anything in the home environment may have changed recently that could coincide with the onset of litter box problems. Cats are very sensitive to change and even small changes can create stress for her. Consulting a professional like Laurie can be very helpful. A trained eye can identify potential causes quickly and get you working on a resolution.

  • Introduction or departure of a cat or dog
  • Introduction or departure of a person
  • Change in the layout of the furniture
  • Construction or other disruptive work in/around the home

Getting your cat to eliminate in the litter box includes discouraging elimination in the alternate place she has chosen. Treat that alternate area with cleaning, a deterrent and by creating positive associations for that area.

Cleaning: Thoroughly clean the area where the cat had been eliminating, using an enzymatic cleaner available from your pet store. Avoid harsh cleaners that are ammonia-based.

Deterrent: Make it difficult or undesirable for the cat to eliminate in that place. Laurie has great ideas for deterrents that don’t harm or scare the cat, including plastic carpet runners with the nubby side up, sticky paper, etc.

Creating positive associations: Cats won’t soil in the area where they eat, sleep and play, so start creating positive associations in the place they used to eliminate. Feed and play with them and put their bed in that area so they come to see it as part of their “nest.”

In Laurie’s experience, with diligence and commitment of the owner, changing a few things around the house, and discouraging elimination outside the litter box, a resolution can be achieved. Remember that the longer the problem has persisted, the longer it will likely take to resolve. So start on resolution as soon as a litter box problem arises. Don’t hesitate to call a cat behavior professional to nip the problem in the bud early.

Skip the fancy stuff

Laurie’s final word on litter boxes is to keep it simple. Despite cute YouTube videos on toilet training your cat, just don’t. And pass up those “self-cleaning” litter boxes. Most cats won’t go near them. If things go wrong, you could have bigger problems than you started with. Go with tried and true methods for the best results.

Resources at your fingertips

Cat’s Eye View Cat Training (Laurie Penca): http://mycatseyeview.com/

Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private in-home training for people and their dogs throughout Geauga County. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at carol@coldnosecompanions.com.

©2011, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC