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Norwich Bulletin - 1/15/2006

Why I Don't Like My Litter

One of the most frustrating problems for us cat lovers is when one of our kitties decides it no longer likes using litter and we have no idea why. When all of a sudden a good cat “goes bad”, we have to try and figure out what kind of emotional turmoil our pet is going through. The following suggestions are for cats who are NOT declawed and are having litter box issues. Declawed cats have a whole other set of problems when they stop using litter.

The very first thing that needs to be checked is to make sure there is not an undiagnosed medical problem and that means a vet visit for some lab work. It a medical problem is not found, then reasons for the behavior need to be found in order to be modified.

The easy steps to start with would be to increase the frequency and thoroughness of cleaning the litter box. Oftentimes scooping the litter at least twice a day removes odors and encourages your cat to use a clean box. You also need to consider if you have changed litter brands lately. Just because you have decided a new brand of litter is better than the old one, does not necessarily mean that your cat will agree with you.

Your cat might have been totally satisfied with the old brand of litter and is telling you without a doubt that the new smells you think are so great, aren’t. So if you have changed your litter and all of a sudden have the problem of your cat eliminating outside the box, change back. Then, once things are back to normal, slowly transform the litter to what you want to use. Put a little in the box with the old litter, gradually increasing more and more until you have completely replaced the old litter – without having any problems.

If you have recently gotten another cat, remember the rule of thumb is one litterbox per cat in the household, plus one extra. If your cat has an accident, clean it immediately with an enzymatic cleaner and then follow up with an odor neutralizer like X-O or Nok-Out. Also, try different types of litter in the different litterboxes since not all litters fit all cats. Place multiple boxes near each other with different types of litter – clumping, processed paper, wheat, pine, corn, or old fashioned clay – and see what cats are drawn to what types of litter.

Do not place your litterbox next to the food and water dishes. No cat wants to eliminate near where it eats. Also, don’t put the litterbox in high traffic areas or near noisy appliances. Cats like privacy and will probably find their own hidden spots if you don’t find it for them.

Overcrowding can cause litterbox problems. If two cats want to claim the same litterbox as their own, and only theirs, it can cause cat fights and non use of the litter by one or both of the cats. Since we love our pets and giving up one of our cats is generally not a good (or acceptable) option, increase the number of litterboxes, and the number of resources for the cats. More play, more attention, private resting places, etc. will increase the level of harmony in the house.

Praising the cat for using the litter box can also be a positive reinforcement. Cats love verbal praise, even though they seldom acknowledge they hear us give it!

Now, if your cat is declawed, you have all sorts of different types of problems. Depending on the age of the cat or when it was declawed, your cat is in pain and/or developing arthritis. When you declaw, you take bone, ligaments and tendons along with the claw, causing serious discomfort and often cats will have ghost pains, similar to that of human amputees. When they dig in the litter, it causes pain and the cats will avoid that pain by searching out anything soft – i.e. clothes, towels, rugs, couches, bedding and mattresses. Your only options are to find a litter that their paws can tolerate, or confine them to one room without a lot of furniture.

It’s sad but true – declawed cats often get thrown away because they don’t use the litter and the cause of their behavior problem is actually the fault of the owner who loves them and didn’t know any better when they had the procedure done. There are a few options, the first being to see if your cat will use Feline Pine or Yesterday’s News. If that fails, you can use Cat Attract (which you can get from your vet) or shredded newspaper. The newspaper usually ends up being your best bet because it does not hurt when the cat digs through it.

If this does not work, then the cat needs a safe place with a minimum amount of furniture that it can ruin. Giving the cat to a local shelter will not alter the behavior of the declawed cat – in fact, in will often increase the bad behavior, because of the stress of being abandoned by its family.

It is not easy dealing with the litterbox blues, but anyone who has an indoor cat has probably had to face it at one time or another.

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