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cat avoiding the litter box? it may signal a problem with her health

  • Dr. Nina
  • Posted by Dr. Nina Mantione on
    Staff Veterinarian and Underwriting Support of Petplan

There’s no denying that cats are terrific pets.  They are self-sufficient, quiet and world class cuddlers. Of course they are opinionated, bossy and self centered too! Living with a cat is kind of like living with a cross between a diva and a teddy bear.

There is a dirty little secret about living with cats.  If you live with enough cats for long enough, you may experience what veterinarians call “elimination disorders”, aka – failure to use the litter box.

This is a fairly common problem because there are multiple factors that can contribute to a cat’s sudden distaste for their previously acceptable bathroom accommodations. Whatever the cause, though, it is a highly frustrating problem for cat owners and veterinarians alike. Frustrating, because, until the reason for the problem is determined, carpets, couches, and floors (among other more creative locations) are taking a beating.

There are many reasons why a cat will suddenly refuse to use its litter box, but it basically comes down to either a medical condition or a behavioral issue. Medical conditions can range from urinary tract problems, upset stomachs and even arthritis (when joints hurt too much to climb into the box), while behavior problems can run the gamut of territory marking, anxiety and hierarchy issues with another cat. Sometimes a litter box aversion can start as a medical problem and linger long after the problem has been resolved. (The cat may blame the litter box for the pain of a urinary tract infection and refuse to go into it ever again…feline logic!)

With the help of your veterinarian, there is a lot you can do to resolve the issue.  That isn’t to say it will be an easy road to follow - some cats are stubborn about returning to their litter box, but with some investigation and effort there is a fair chance your feline friend will again find the accommodations satisfactory!

In the meantime, there are a few steps you can take to decrease the chances your cat will ever turn down his litter box.  These are as follows:

1.       Provide one more box than you have cats (this way there are fewer territory issues).
2.       Clean the litter daily.
3.       Enhance the indoor cat environment. For tips on this I recommend the Indoor Cat Initiative website.

Hopefully just these simple steps will keep your cat happy and the whole “elimination problem” will never come up, but if it does, talk to your veterinarian, rule out medical problems, and make some environmental changes to get your cat back on track.

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
vet tip of the week

Visit your vet at least once a year to keep your pet protected from preventable diseases.