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Dr. Karing
Dr. Karing, Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 429
Experience:  General veterinarian with a special interest in internal medicine and emphasis on individualized care.
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My cat refuses to go to the bathroom in the litter box. I

Customer Question

my cat refuses to go to the bathroom in the litter box. I have tried all kinds of litter.
she has been banned to the garage.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Karing replied 2 years ago.
Hi there,
I'm sorry about the problem you are having with your cat Pepper. I do advise that Pepper is examined by your vet to help rule out any medical cause of her problem. This should include a physical exam (i.e. particular attention to the paws, vulva and anal area), routine lab work (chemistry profile, complete blood count, urinalysis, fecal test and thyroid test as well as a feline leukemia/FIV viral tests if not done recently). You should bring a sample of feces to the vet for your vet to look at. This advise is in part because medical problems are easier to resolve than behavioral ones.
For the purpose of the remainder of my answer, I will focus on behavioral causes of refusal to use the litter box. I will say that it is fortunate that you are being proactive in resolving this because the quicker you take action the less likely it is that the problem becomes worse. Also, you will probably be successful in getting Pepper to use the box all the time in a month or so if you follow these steps.
For all cats with this problem, I recommend the following:
1. Use of Cat Attract Litter
2. Use of Feliway Pheromone diffuser (preferred instead of collars)
3. Use of large uncovered litter (storage boxes)
4. When there is a very specific spot your cat chooses instead of the litter box, putting food and/or water dishes there usually stops them from going in that spot.
There are many other possible adjustments that may need to be made in your home as well. Please read all this information and consider how it may apply to your cat/home.
Behavioral problems can be frustrating but generally cats will consistently use their litter box after time, patience, and appropriate actions are taken.
It is important to consider litter box dissatisfaction as the cause of the problem:
Your cat considers the box as not clean enough.
Your cat may not like the type of box: It's too big, too small, too high, too low, it has a hood, doesn't have a hood, too hard to get into, and so on.
Your cat may not like the litter substrate: it's clay, it's clumping, scented, too hard, too soft, doesn't like litter at all, there's too much litter in the box, not enough, etc.
Your cat may not like the location of the litter box: It's out in the open, too hard to get to, next to a noisy appliance, in the basement, etc.
Your cat may find the box is too far away from wherever he/she is when they need to go to the box.
Your cat may have fear of the box because he/she was startled by something or someone or "ambushed" by another pet while he/she was in it.
There aren't enough boxes for the number of cats you have. The rule of thumb is to have one more box than the total number of cats in the house. If there is a problem, adding another box is always a good idea.
Something in the environment or routine has changed that is making your cat anxious/stressed. Going outside the box can be a marking behavior (e.g. spraying) or an expression of discontent in general if your cat just squats outside the box.
Your cat may associate the box with punishment if someone punished him/her for eliminating outside the box.
Your cat may have stopped using the litter box because of a urinary tract infection; the infection is gone, but he/she now prefers the carpet or the bedroom closet.
MINIMUM Litter Box Care for Treatment of Elimination Problems
Provide 1 box per cat in the household plus 1 extra.
· Provide boxes that are at least 1.5x the length of the largest cat's body. (try sweater boxes, storage containers, small dog litter pans.)
Place boxes in multiple private, quiet, and safe locations with at least 2 ways for cats to enter and exit each box.
Offer at least one box with fine-grained, unscented (clumping) litter which is preferred by most cats. Cat Attract by Dr. Elsey's is advised.
Scoop boxes 2 times daily.
Change clumping litter completely at least once weekly & clay litter every other day.
Wash boxes with warm, soapy water and dry well before you replace litter.
It is also important to clean the soiled areas well. Animals are highly motivated to continue soiling an area that smells like urine or feces. A cat's sense of smell is much stronger than a human’s, so it's important to clean the soiled areas thoroughly and properly.
I recommend enzymatic cleaners made especially for pet odors, available at pet supply stores. I like Equalizer Spray:
You may have to clean the area several times to remove the odor completely, even treating the carpet padding and subflooring underneath. Clean the area thoroughly before steam cleaning to avoid "locking in" the odor.
You must methodically work through the possibilities for the problem Allow 7-10 days to assess response if you make a change in the environment (i.e. to the box, position of box, etc.). If your cat was just fine with her litter box situation, but is now unhappy because you've changed something about it, by all means, change it back! It's better for you to be inconvenienced than the cat.
Box Location: If your cat always eliminates in quiet, protected places, such as under a desk, beneath a staircase, in a corner, or in a closet; she eliminates in an area where the litter box was previously kept or where there are urine odors; or she eliminates on a different level of the home, here are some solutions.
· Put a litter box in the location where your cat’s been eliminating if possible. When she has consistently used this box for at least one month, you may gradually move it to a more convenient location at a rate of an inch—seriously!—per day.
· To make the spots where she's been eliminating less appealing to your cat, cover them with upside-down carpet runner or aluminum foil, place citrus-scented cotton balls over the areas, or place water bowls or food dishes there (because cats often don't like to eliminate near where they eat or drink).
All animals develop preferences for a particular surface on which they like to eliminate. These preferences may be established early in life, but they may also change overnight for reasons that we don't always understand. Your cat may have a surface preference if she consistently eliminates on a particular texture—for example, soft things like carpeting, bedding, or clothing, or smooth surfaces such as tile, cement, bathtubs, or sinks. Or maybe she frequently scratches on this same texture after elimination, even if she eliminates in the litter box sometimes. Previously outdoor-only cats may prefer to eliminate on grass or soil.
If your cat's eliminating on soft surfaces, try using a soft litter made of pine or paper shavings. You could also try shredded newspaper, or even a piece of carpet in the box (you'll have to change it often, of course). Try to convert her to litter by sprinkling it over the carpet, gradually adding more if she doesn't object. If your cat's eliminating on slick, smooth surfaces, try giving her an empty box or putting a very thin layer of litter at one end of the box. Leave the other end bare, and put the box on a hard floor.
If your cat has a history of being outdoors, use dirt and/or pine straw.
Feliway is a synthetic pheromone that mimics the scent that cats leave behind when they rub their faces on furniture, corners, etc. The scent provides them with a sense of well being in their home. This product may be helpful for cats with litter box aversion. A plug‑in Feliway diffuser is available as well and it treats 800 square feet for about one month.
Stress is well established as a cause of litter box problems. Some cats become stressed because of lack of resources in a multi-cat household or because of boredom. It is important for cats in multi-cat households to have multiple feeding areas, litter box choices, sleeping options and perches of different vertical heights. Such options will aide to eliminate competition between cats for these needs.
It is also important to develop a routine of playing with and grooming your cats. All cats have different preferences about play but most prefer playing when it involves the interaction with their human friends. An example are wand type toys that are a favorite of many cats but some cats may prefer to have you throw a ball or mouse. Many cats enjoy grooming and it helps prevent hairballs especially in long-haired cats. Other cats like grooming but only when you avoid their off-limit areas.
I hope that the information I provided has been helpful. Please remember to select REPLY TO EXPERT if you have more questions or would like additional information. It is my goal to provide you with the most complete information possible prior to you leaving a feedback rating. If you received all the information you needed, then kindly submit a rating.
Sincerely, Customer
Expert:  Dr. Karing replied 2 years ago.
Hi there,
I wanted to see if you received my response and found it helpful. Please let me know if you have other questions regarding this matter. If not, the kindness of an accept and positive rating for my answer would be much appreciated.
Thank you, Customer
Expert:  Dr. Karing replied 2 years ago.

I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?

Dr. Karing