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Inappropriate elimination is the most common behavior problem seen in cats — when cats urinate or defecate outside of the litter box, it makes for a very unhappy home, indeed! But often, the problem — and the solution — requires pet parents to think inside the box, literally. (Don’t forget, a visit to the vet should be your first step to rule out any medical problems.)

For a practically paw-fect potty, check off these tips:

litter to love: Studies have shown that most cats prefer unscented clumping clay or sand litters at a depth of 1.5 to 2 inches. But your cat is an individual, so you may want to try a few varieties of litter to learn which one your feline friend prefers. 

comfy commode: It turns out that not all boxes are considered equal. Consider a litter box with low sides for kittens or senior cats, who may have trouble climbing into the box. If you have a cat on the larger side, a larger box will make her life easier. No one likes feeling cramped in the bathroom!

put a lid on it? Litter box covers make our lives easier because they allow for less litter mess around the box, but covered boxes may make your cat feel vulnerable or trapped. Try one week with the cover on followed by one week off to learn how much privacy your cat needs.

location, location, location: Put litter boxes in private, easily accessible locations. Make sure your cat can see in all directions (but against a wall is fine). Avoid placing litter boxes next to appliances. While a laundry room seems like a perfectly logical place for us to put a box, imagine your cat’s distress at being caught in the box when the washer goes off balance or the dryer buzzes loudly. These things turn a beautiful box into a seriously scary place.

multiply and conquer: Your home should have one litter box per cat, plus one. (Example: For 3 cats, you should have at least 4 boxes.) Don’t put them all in a row, though — if you have a multi-level home, place at least one box on each level. Nobody likes having to run up multiple flights of stairs when nature calls — especially older, arthritic kitties. 

exit plan: Particularly in multi-cat homes, make sure there is more than one entrance or exit to the box. Family cat dynamics don’t always gel, and your cat doesn’t want to feel trapped in her box. If she is the victim of a sneak attack, she needs to be able to escape unscathed. 

clean sweep: This is no one’s favorite job, but it’s a necessary evil to avoiding litter box aversion. Scoop the box at least once a day. Every day. Once litter box aversion or inappropriate elimination behavior starts, it can be tough to find a solution. If you’ve tried all of these tips and your feline friend’s problem persists, talk to your veterinarian.

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