If you have any questions or concerns, visit or call San Bruno Pet - your best resource for the health and well-being of your pets.
Shrink yourself down and imagine that you are your cat. You stretch, walk downstairs to the kitchen, sniff the yummy food that your servant/human has placed in your dish and saunter over to your water dish for a few elegant laps. It's all good!
Then "nature calls". Unfortunately, your fellow feline housemate has the same thought and darts ahead of you for the only option in the house. Generally you are cool with this youngster, but lately, his playful stalking has left you on edge.
You decide to keep the peace, walk past the litter box and try to distract yourself while you wait. Finally, he is done!
Okay, back to the litter box. All the while looking over your shoulder in case of a sneak attack from your feline housemate (or anyone else who may interrupt your privacy). As you approach the box, you think, "Ewww, the smell could knock my socks off!" You circle several times wondering if you can hold it any longer. The thought of climbing in is just too much for your fine feline sense of smell. But, you eventually enter, scratch a few times in the used litter, do your business and dart out of there as fast as you can!
What Can Happen if the Cat Is Not Happy with the Litter Box
Let's rewind the above scenario to just before you jump into the box. The smell of urine, the chemical smell of litter deodorant and your housemate's mess all turn you off. But a few steps away is a soft patch of "grass" (your servant/humans step on as they exit their shower, and call it a "bath mat"). You paw and sniff a few times then decide this is much more to your liking, then, not being able to hold it in any longer, you let it flow. Wiping your paws a few more times on the "grass", you mentally make a note to remember this new improved option (which mysteriously is cleaned right away unlike your litter box). It's all very good.
As illustrated above, if the cat is not happy about using the litter box, a natural consequence is that they will seek another place for their elimination. This is extremely common reason for owners to seek behavioral assistance from their veterinarian. When a cat stops using the litter box, the bond between the cat and the owner is severely damaged and greatly increases the likelihood of the cat being surrendered (the majority cats that are surrendered to the humane society are for not using the litter box and, unfortunately, are never removed).
In addition, reluctance to using the litter box can lead to a cat delaying urination and defecation, leading to health concerns like lower urinary tract disease and constipation.
Similar to our feelings about the "Porta-Potty" at the beach, the number one cause of a cat avoiding the litter box is that it is not to their liking. Preventing the "Porta-Potty" syndrome before any issues occur is important for the health of the cat, and for the bond between them and their caregivers.
What Is the Ideal Litter Box for a Cat?
To better understand, let's shift our approach from what is preferable to us, to what is prefereable to our cats.
Lets' look at the history of cats. Cats were originally desert animals. They defecated and urinated in soft sand, away from where they would feed and drink. Since the act of elimination would potentially put them at risk, they would chose an area where they could see the approach of other animals. Based on this, to encourage use, the box should be placed in a quiet area , away from the food and water It should be slightly away from a wall (so the cat has clear line of sight around the box) with adequate soft litter (not coarse "non-tracking litter") or litter that the cat likes. The box should be large enough so that the cat can easily turn around. There should be also be enough litter boxes, located in different to avoid "traffic congestion" between cats.
In addition, the feline sense of smell and touch is far more sensitive than ours. We have about 12 million odor receptors in our noses, and the cat has 125 million. And unlike us, the cat definetely prefers unscented products and doesn't like the smell of "roses" layered over the smell of urine. Studies also show that cats prefer boxes without covers or hoods (most likely because they trap the odors). The use of unscented, clumping litter (which allows easy removal of urine balls once or twice a day) in an uncovered litter box is preferred by most cats.
Researchers at Angel Memorial Veterinary Hospital in Boston Massachusetts, demonstrated that in two weeks, by simply scooping out the box daily and using spray called Zero Odor Litter Spray, there was a 40% - 50% reduction in a eliminating outside of the box.
Dr. Sue Lee, DVM, San Bruno Pet Hospital