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Solving Problematic Litter Box Issues in Your Cat

Updated on November 2, 2016
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Jessica has over a decade of experience in dog training, behavior, animal sciences, veterinary medicine, and shelter care.

Another Accident?

Maybe your cat is getting older. Maybe you’ve started to see accidents outside of or near the litter box. Perhaps your cat is suddenly acting strangely. Litter box issues can certainly signal that something isn’t right with your feline friend. Here are some ways to spot potential issues, what they may mean, and how to solve them!

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Signs of Litter Box Problems

One of the easiest to spot signs of litter box problems is an increase in accidents near or around your cat’s litter box. There may be stool next to it but not in it, or you may see your cat squatting and urinating on your rugs, carpet or bedding instead! Other signs can include frequent trips to the litter box, straining at the box without success, or an increase in vocalization or pain symptoms in your cat.

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Could it be Health Related?

Litter box habits can certainly be related to health issues. Bladder infections are the most common cause of a change in habits, and can include bacteria or crystals in the urine. Your cat may go frequently, have accidents or dribble urine. In more serious cases such as urinary blockages, your cat may strain to go without results, or may be very vocal and painful- a medical emergency!

Nerve and muscle problems such as arthritis, injury or illness can also affect bowel and urinary habits. Older cats, those with GI upset or constipation, or cats that are ill may have accidents or be unable to get into the box in time.

Could it be Behavior Related?

Litter box problems can also be behaviorally related. Stress from another cat in the household, sharing of a single litter box, spay/neuter status and more can all cause behavioral changes. Your cat may spray surfaces with urine to mark his territory, may be too stressed to use the box, or may be pushed out of the box by another cat, making him reluctant to use it.

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How to Fix Litter Box Issues

The first step is always to bring your cat to the vet for a complete exam. Checking for health problems is a great first step as you can quickly begin treatment to help your cat feel better. Most cats will improve with medications to treat the cause, or changes in diet to prevent recurrence of infection. Your vet may also recommend changing the box height or location to help older or arthritic cats. In serious situations, such as blockage, your vet may need to perform surgery to remove it.

If you cat is healthy, looking toward behavioral issues is next. Placing pheromone diffusers to decrease household stress or territorial disputes can help, as can making sure you have at least one litter box for each cat in the household to prevent fighting over locations. Spaying or neutering your cat may also help with territorial behaviors and urine spraying. If these don’t resolve the issue, talking to your vet or an animal behaviorist may help you find the underlying problem.

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Keep it Clean!

With any accident, a good enzymatic cleaner is useful for removing leftover urine and stool particles and odor, and can reduce your cat’s desire to go there again. Litter box issues don’t need to be an ongoing issue. With the proper attention to your cat, care, and treatment, you can help keep your household cleaner, and cat happier.

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