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Litter Box Issues –Environmental and Social Stress Factors
Part One - Environmental
Litter box issues generally arise because of a behavioral issue or health issue. When taking kitty to the vet you’ll often be given the frustrating answer that;
“There’s no obvious physical problem, its likely stress.”
Cat owners will often, out of frustration with the situation, be tempted to try one of the “feline antidepressants” to quickly resolve the situation. But antidepressants can often make the situation much worse, causing possible long term physical problems and/or emotional issues that will affect the bond between you.
Some thought, effort and time applied to the problem can frequently result in a solution that leaves everyone (especially kitty!) happy.
Behavioral litter box issues crop up because of two factors; environmental stress, or social stress. Today I will deal with the possible environmental stressors.
Environmental stress issues can come from a number of factors. Finding the solution can sometimes be exhaustive and time consuming, but the result of a happier feline is well worth the effort.
Firstly; pin down the exact date when the problem began. Then very carefully THINK about what changed around that time. Generally, I start small, beginning with the litter box itself. Have you made a change in litter? Cats will often object to a change in litter. Has the box been replaced recently? Litter boxes should be thrown away and replaced regularly, they’re made of plastic, which absorbs odor. How would you feel if your toilet was made of plastic? I certainly wouldn’t care to use it after a few months!
Be sure the box is of sufficient size. A litter pan should be larger than your cat. Also, be sure the pan itself isn’t too deep or too shallow. Covered boxes are generally a bad idea. Cats need a certain amount of space to feel comfortable and a covered pan cuts down on that dramatically.
Next do an evaluation of usage of household products. Has there been an introduction of a new cleaning material into your routine? You have to remember, cats groom by licking their fur. This means that EVERYTHING you use in the house will likely end up ingested by your cat.
Are you storing anything new in the immediate area of the litter box? Anything new right next to your cat’s box, especially if it is plastic, can be confusing, possibly causing kitty to blur its perception of where the acceptable toilet area ends. Generally it is best to keep a clear space of a foot or two around the litter box (on any side that isn’t against a wall).
Have you recently moved the litter box? If so, that can absolutely cause your cat to misunderstand the new rules. To avoid this problem, place a new box in the old location and move the older box to the new location. Over time you should be able to remove the old litter box without difficulty. It may be necessary to “stage down the box”, placing litter pans of smaller size over time in the old area to take advantage of your cat’s natural dislike for an inadequate box to help the situation along.
A cleaning product, a perfume, any of these can have an adverse affect on your cat, causing kitty to feel “off and unwell”. Unfortunately, some of these toxicities can take time to build up. If you suspect a product induced problem, my advice is to switch to bio/pet-safe products for a few weeks, and see if there’s any change. Then if need be, gradually reintroduce the products over time, watching carefully for any change.
Next do an aural evaluation. Cats are sensitive to loud sounds, as well as a high and low frequencies that humans aren’t as susceptible to.
Is there an individual in the home who is particularly loud in voice or action? This could be scaring kitty. Scared, frightened cats often change patterns based on instinct, even if the reaction doesn’t seem logical to a human. An animal is in a vulnerable position when doing its toilet. It’s possible that instinct is telling your cat “It’s safer to do my toilet here on the sofa.” Or perhaps kitty is objecting to your choice of music or, more likely, the volume you’re playing it at!
It’s a good idea to take notice if you’ve got loud neighbors or there’s any construction in the neighborhood. Subsonic vibration from construction projects can put your cat into a frantic state. Unfortunately, dealing with the latter and the former can be difficult. Explaining to a neighbor or foreman that their actions are upsetting your cat generally doesn’t go over too well.
I should also mention that if you’re at a loss you might check if any of your neighbors have taken advantage of the recent sonic pest control devices. I’ve run into a few incidences where a neighbor has installed one of these devices and caused the neighboring cats a fair amount of misery.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, it is crucial that you clean any area which your cat has used for his/ her toilet with an enzyme-type product such as “Nature’s Miracle”. Regular household products will NOT remove the trace smells from the site. These traces will still be detectable by kitty who will use them as a recognition marker to let kitty know that “this is one of my toilet spots!” effectively reminding kitty over and over again that your brand new loveseat is, in fact, an alternate option to the litter box.
And we don’t want that, now do we?
(Next week: social factors and stressors between cat-human and cat-cat leading to litter box toilet issues).