How to Pick the Ideal Place for Your Cat’s Litter Box
By Joan Levergood

I could have avoided a great deal of frustration in my own home over the years had I only known how important litter box location is for a cat. As the voice behind the Behavior Hotline, many of the calls that I answer involve litter box problems. When I look at why these cats choose not to use their litter boxes, I am continually amazed at how important the location of the litter box is in most of these cases.

It is instinctual for cats to dig in loose materials and bury their urine and feces. By the age of about four weeks, a kitten will start using a litter box for elimination if one is available.

Cats are natural predators. Like most predators, they feel vulnerable when they are eliminating. This instinct is so strong that even vats who live alone can exhibit this behavior. Cats need to see if another predator is approaching, and they need an escape route in case they sense danger. Their litter box needs to be away from any large or loud appliances, or high traffic areas which may startle them while they are in the box. If the room in which the little box is located is too small the cat will feel trapped and may not want to use the box. If they don’t have a way to escape, they can feel threatened.

So what kind of location is ideal? I recommend a room that is fairly quiet, yet large enough for the cat to have an escape route. It is always best to try to locate the box within view of the door to the room. Look at potential locations for the litter box from your cat’s point of view. Can your cat see if anything coming? Does your cat have time to get out of the box and out of the room if another animal or person is in the area? The goal is to provide a place that fits your cat’s predatory needs so that he will feel the litter box is the best possible place to go to the bathroom.

It is important to remember that location of the litter box is not the answer to all litter box problems. Improper elimination can be an indication of a serious illness and should be checked out immediately with a veterinarian. If your cat has been checked by a vet and still eliminates outside the box, relocation of the box is one possible solution. However, if your cat does not seem to have a problem with the location of the litter box, don’t make any changes. There could be other issues affecting your cat’s behavior and you may want to consult a feline behaviorist for more help.

Stress or a past illness could also be a trigger for a litter box problem. Occasionally a cat that has had a medical problem that caused pain when eliminating may associate the pain with the litter box. Do not ever hit or rub a cat’s nose in urine or feces to discipline it for improper elimination – this will only teach your cat to be afraid of you. Clean any soiled areas with an enzyme based deodorizer available at pet stores to eliminate the smell which could attract future elimination in the area.

Two litter boxes per cat are recommended. The type of litter you use in the litter box can be a contributor to a litter box problem. Unscented, scoopable litter is the best choice: the fine texture of this type of litter is more like what your cat would choose out in the wild. Cats do not like the perfumes in scented litters and can choose to find a more appealing place to eliminate. Each litter box should be scooped out on a daily basis and completely cleaned out once a week. Clean out litter boxes with mild, unscented soap, wash out with a solution of one part bleach to twenty parts water, then rinse thoroughly. For the best results, replace old litter boxes every three months.

Retraining is necessary when the above remedies do not work. To retrain your cat to use the litter box you will need to have a wire mesh cage or kennel that is big enough for food, water, a litter box and a place for the cat to stretch out. Put down some towels so your cat can be comfortable. His is not a place to be used as punishment. It is a comfortable home for your cat while learning to use the litter box. When your cat is consistently using the litter box, let her out for an hour or so. Over a period of weeks or months, gradually increase the amount of free time in the home.

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