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How to Get a Cat to Use its Litter Box

Most cats take to their litter boxes naturally, but sometimes, cats refuse to use them.  That, of course, is a problem… but there are solutions to getting your cat re-acquainted with her litter box:

Make sure the litter box is clean and contains fresh litter.  Cats will often not use a box that has not been cleaned.  Litter should be changed or scooped at least once a day, and the box should be washed out regularly.

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Make sure that the litter box has plenty of litter.  Litter a couple of inches deep encourages a cat’s instinct to dig, and therefore makes her more prone to use the box.

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Ensure that the litter box is in a convenient, unobstructed place for the cat.  Some cats prefer that the box be in a discreet location, so you may need to try different locations to see which one your cat prefers.  Once you establish a location, however, avoid changing it.

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Choose a litter box design (open, enclosed, high sides, etc.) that your cat likes.  This might be a “trial and error” process, so observe your cat’s litter box habits to determine which type of box would suit her best.  Pet stores sell a variety of litter box designs.

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If you have multiple cats in your household, make sure that you have more than one litter box.  Ideally, have at least one litter box for each cat, or at least one box per floor of your home.  Some experts recommend following the “cat plus one” rule of having one litter box per cat, plus one extra.

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For most kittens, using a litter box is an instinct.  But for kittens having difficulty learning how to use a box, use a training litter that contains attractants.  These litters are available at most pet shops.  More details on how to litter-train kittens are available here.

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To litter-train a cat that has previously been living outside, put outdoor elements such as dirt or sand in the box.  Then, as the cat becomes accustomed to the box, replace these with ordinary litter.

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Some cats will refuse to use a box with scented litter.  Switch litters to an unscented type.  Again, choosing a litter type that your cat will like may be a “trial and error” process.

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Declawed cats may find regular clay-based litter irritating to their paws, and may be reluctant to use the box as a result.  Try paper-based or grain-based litters, which a declawed cat might find more comfortable.

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To train or re-train a cat to use a litter box, keep the cat in a confined space for awhile, so that she cannot miss her box (and will not “go” in other areas of your house).

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If your cat suddenly stops using the litter box, this could be a sign of a health problem such as a urinary tract infection or a blockage.  Consult your veterinarian, who can prescribe medications and even a special diet to correct the problem.  It could also be a sign of stress or anxiety; in this case, remove the stressor.  Your vet can also prescribe an anti-anxiety medication if necessary.  In extreme cases such as a blockage or urinary tract obstruction, surgery may be required.

TIP:  How to Prevent Litter from Sticking to the Bottom of the Box

Sometimes, clumpable litter will stick to the bottom of a litter box, making it harder to clean.  To prevent this, spray the bottom of the litter box with Pam® or other non-stick cooking spray with a light coating before adding litter.  The clumps of litter will then scoop right out!

DIY “Jumbo” Litter Box

If no litterbox design seems to be working for your cat, you can make your own “jumbo” box that will give the cat plenty of room, contain any “spraying” from a cat who stands up when urinating, and is suitable for multiple cats.  With a little “elbow grease,” you can have the ideal litterbox at a fraction of the cost of a regular box!

To create this box, simply cut a small hole (approximately 8″ x 10″) in the end of a 25-30 gallon plastic storage container, such as those made by Sterilite® or Rubbermaid®.  These containers cost approximately $10 at most discount or home improvement stores.  Use a box cutter or tile cutter with a fresh blade for best results.  Cut the hole high enough from the bottom to contain the litter.  You can leave the lid on or off, based on your cat’s preference.

 
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