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Litter Box Woes

Litter Box Woes

Litter box avoidance is undoubtedly the most common feline behavioral problem that can cause a cat to lose her home. Fortunately, feline behaviorists and behavioral clinics, such the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (Grafton, Massachusetts), are putting the word out that this is not an insurmountable problem. Experts have identified several possible causes for this behavioral problem and ways to deal with them. So, once the reason for such behavior has been identified, an owner can easily put into effect a plan to fix the behavior and the cat can sleep securely in her own home.

Medical Causes

If your cat is displaying this behavioral problem, begin to address it with a trip to the veterinarian, who will examine her to make sure you aren't dealing with a medical issue such as a bladder infection or bladder stones. (Signs of a medical problem include straining or crying out while urinating, passing small amounts of urine, or blood in urine.) If your cat does show signs of illness, the veterinarian can start treatment right away. If she does not, don't think of it as a wasted trip. You had to begin by eliminating the most serious possibility from your list of likely causes.

Other Causes

Once you eliminate medical causes, consider a few other possibilities. Here are the most common and ways the handle them:

Litter box placement:

Bad (from a cat's view) placement of the litter box can be a cause. Cats like privacy for their litter box duties and are often spooked if the box is put in a high-traffic area in the house. The box needs to be in an area where cats won't feel they can be ambushed or cornered by another cat; they need to be able to see the whole room and possibly even through a doorway. The worst places for a litter box include under a staircase, in semi-enclosed cupboards, and in small restrooms.

Cleanliness of box:

Cats are very clean animals and expect to find their litter box the same way. Thus, a dirty box may be a cause for them to look elsewhere in the home to do their business. Boxes must be scooped at least once a day, possibly more times in a day if multiple cats tend to gravitate to a particular box. How often you change the litter depends on the type you use. Crystals will last longer than newspaper pellets.

Number and type of boxes:

Ideally, in multiple-cat households, there should be a litter box for each cat even if the cats don't use one box exclusively. Some behaviorists actually say you should have an additional box to the number of cats. For example, two cats, three boxes and so on. The type of litter box may also play a role. If its sides are too high, an elderly cat may have trouble entering and exiting. There are litter box ramps and numerous litter box styles that would solve this problem. Make sure that the box is not too small. Enclosed boxes offer a smaller space than they appear to.

Type of litter:

Some cats even object to the type of litter in the box. When switching to a different kind, do it gradually, changing the ratio of old litter to new over a period of a couple of weeks.

Paw issues:

Sometimes cats who have been declawed develop litter box issues. Declawing is amputative surgery, and often cats find it painful to scratch in the litter box, especially immediately after the procedure, because the litter hurts their paws. You may have to use puppy pee pads to line the box until the cat has healed. (Cats need their claws and this surgery should never be an option.)

Barring Access to Plants

As previously discussed in chapter 11 (Feeding Your Cat), some cats love to nibble on houseplants. This can be a problem for two reasons: First and most important, many plants are toxic to cats; find out what plants are on the toxic list and remove them before you even bring your cat home. Second, not all plants look good with nibble marks on them; if you wish to keep up the decorative appearance of plants, sprinkle pepper on the soil and the leaves. After a few sneezes. the cat will get the message. Alternatively, you can put decorative pebbles on the surface of the soil to make it more difficult for the cat to get to certain plants. This will is also prevent your cat from using your bigger potted plants as additional toilets.

If your cat stops using her litter box, the issue is likely to be medical, not behavioral.

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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