Proper Cat Litterbox Care

Janet writes:  Dear Doctor, My cat is 19 1/2 years old. He started urinating outside of the litter box approximately 2 weeks ago and was very lethargic. Since he is old and very crabby at the veterinarian, his Dr. decided to give him a Convenia injection (4 days ago).  I’m sure he associates the litter box with pain from his UTI. How long will it take for him to resume going in the litter box? Is there anything I can do to help his anxiety? Thank you !

Janet’s question is a valid one, although difficult to answer exactly because there are so many variables in her situation, most notably the apparent absence of a urinalysis because her kitty is “crabby” (Janet’s words, not mine!). Such situations frequently lead us to symptomatic therapy.

A thorough medical workup, including urinalysis whenever possible, is an important starting point for every litterbox-use problem.

Even sweet, beautiful kitties like Spring Cove may have difficulties in the litterbox.
Even sweet, beautiful kitties like Spring Cove may have difficulties in the litterbox.

One of the reasons for Janet’s cat’s unwillingness to use the litterbox may be the absence of proper litterbox care.

Even though a cat has used the box properly all its life there are commonly situations that change and lead him to change his preferences.

Most common is an increase in fastidiousness, which usually occurs around three years of age. In this scenario a cat who willingly used the litterbox regardless of how often it was cleaned suddenly rebels. He may use it once, then insist that it be cleaned or scooped prior to using it again. How does a cat “insist?” By urinating and/or defecating somewhere other than the box. He may choose to “go” right beside the box or in a distant location. Usually it will be where there is an absorbent surface so that urine is soaked up and seems to him to “disappear.”

It matters not what the age is or that “he just started this” or “she never did that before and I’m still using the same litter/box/cleaning frequency.”  What matters is that he’s doing it now and we must find a way to stop it.

Fastidiousness can extend to substrate preferences, also. A cat who used to like scoopable litter might begin to prefer non-clumping litter. Or, he may like one brand over another. Some cats even develop preferences for urinating in one litter and defecating in another.

Box maintenance is also important. Regardless of the litter type it should be dumped and completely changed at least once every two months. While the box is empty scrub it well with dishwashing soap. Avoid bleach and strong-smelling cleaners. Residual odors may deter your cat from returning to the box.

Remember, his nose is in the litter, much closer than you will ever be.

At least annually the box should be replaced. Plastic is notorious for holding odors and the stench of twelve months of cat urine soaking into the box will build up to a point that is objectionable to most kitties.

All of the above comments assume a one-cat household. If you have two cats, halve the intervals. If you have three cats divide the intervals by three, etc.

Most cats prefer privacy for their bathroom time. Having the litterbox in a high-traffic area such as a hallway may be counterproductive.

Some cats like a covered litterbox. Some feel trapped in one. If your cat used to use a covered box regularly and doesn’t anymore, try removing the top.

Avoid anything negative your cat can associate with the box. Medication, scolding, insulin injections and pesky dogs waiting for a “treat” of “kitty Godiva.”

Because Janet’s kitty is 19½ years old he may have arthritis and/or other abnormalities that make it too much effort to make it to the box. Some older cats may require more than one, or even more than two litterboxes around the house so that they are never very far from one. This concept is especially important for cats in kidney failure and diabetes. Both conditions cause increased thirst, which means the number of trips to the box per day is greatly increased.

If these tips do not help your kitty’s litterbox problem, be sure to ask your pet’s doctor for medical advice.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.





covenia, convina, convinia, covinia

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  1. Dr. Randolph,

    I’m finally back home and am able to address some of our animal bathroom problems. Andy seems to be doing better with going in the house as long as we make sure he goes outside. However, our kitten urinated while he was sleeping next to me in the bed this morning. Could this be a result of him not liking the covered litter box? It think he may have also pooped inside yesterday, i didn’t see it happen so I wasn’t sure who it belonged to. I tried removing the top to the litter box this morning so we’ll see if that helps.

  2. Good Morning, Dr. Randolph,
    We have a puzzling development with our neutered male Rag Doll cat who turned two this month and wonder if we might impose upon you to address the issue.
    We have two other cats with whom he gets along well, we keep three scrupulously clean,large litter (unscented) boxes in different areas and in the past month he has urinated sporadically on the floor right next to a clean box. He does, however, use the box to defecate. He exhibits no signs whatsoever of distress, such as UTI, eats well and does not do it on a daily basis. He has done this a total of three times on2/14, 2/18 and although he urinated in his box during the night and it was emptied at 7:00 a.m. this morning, he used the floor at about 10:25 a.m. again right next to the clean box. We separate the cats at night so he has his own clean litter box and he seems to exhibit this behavior during the day. We are “cat people” and realize that there is a cause for behavioral change but we can’t imagine in this instance what it would be because nothing is different.
    Many thanks for any input you can give us.
    Colleen Paglen

    • Step One in a situation like this is always a thorough examination plus urinalysis and culture & sensitivity. Proper litterbox care is covered in this article. If he has a medical problem, no amount of litterbox changes will fix it. That said, if the medical workup is all completely normal, sometimes you really have to think outside the box (pardon the pun) to do things with the box(es) to accommodate cats with finicky litterbox habits.
      Please let me know if this helps,
      Dr. Randolph

      • Many thanks, Dr. Randolph for your prompt and useful response to our litter box issue. There has been no repeat of our cat’s not using the litter box these past two days. What is so puzzling is the fact there is no pattern for his behavior and no changes in the brand of litter nor box locaion. We will, however, get new plastic boxes and hopefully that will eliminate the problem. So very glad to have you available and very much appreciate your kind interest. Will check back after monitoring him for a while.

        • Please remember STEP ONE is to have an examination and laboratory testing. As urinary tract problems can take a waxing and waning course, just because there have been no SIGNS for a couple of days doesn’t mean there are no PROBLEMS.

  3. I had a problem with rodents chewing on a car’s electric wires, and Arrid Xtra Dry was recommended for that too!! The alum, presumably.

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