On any given day, about a third of calls to Marin Humanes Advisor for Cat Behavior are about cats who “think outside the box”. That means relieving yourself in the wrong place.
Fortunately, the vast majority of these cases can be resolved easily. There are a few things you can do:
First, a visit to your veterinarian is appropriate. Although not common, cats get urinary tract infections. If you’ve ever had any of these, you know how uncomfortable you feel. Cats can also develop crystals in their urine and this can quickly become life threatening in male cats. This is a problem that can be easily dealt with once noticed. Diarrhea or constipation can also affect cats’ litter box habits. Kittens have limited options for letting us know something is wrong, and if their minds peeing or pooping in the litter box, they’ll try elsewhere.
If your kitten is given a clean health certificate, consider your litter box. With the increase in the coyote population in Marin, many cats are rightly being kept indoors. Coyotes travel day and night, and cats are easy targets, especially older ones. Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t have to go outside to be happy. They don’t read travel blogs and don’t know what they’re missing. Plus, there are many ways to add to Kitty’s indoor environment these days. In general, domestic cats live two to three times longer than cats that go outside.
How often do you shovel the box? Cats are demanding creatures with sensitive noses. Humans have around 5 million olfactory receptors in our noses; Cats have 65 million, so our cats find the litter box smell gross. Cats generally prefer odorless, clumping waste in an open crate. Scooping the litter box twice a day will usually give you an acceptably clean box. Boxes absorb odors over time, and harsh cleaning products like bleach add their own unpleasant odors. When your boxes are a few years old, replace them one at a time (cats don’t like a lot of change at once). This is a good idea.
Many people like covered boxes because they keep the smell inside. Imagine what a potty smells like, then think of what it would smell like if you had 65 million scent receptors in your nose! If your cat poops particularly badly, changing its diet can improve the situation. Most cats prefer uncovered crates because they won’t suppress the smell and there are many ways to escape.
Clean and close
Cats like their litter boxes as much as we like our bathroom – clean, private and practical. The general rule of thumb is: one litter box per cat plus one more. If possible, boxes should be in different rooms. Some households may be successful at having fewer boxes, but having plenty of litter boxes is critical if there are problems in your home.
• There are some cats who are anxious enough to pee outside the box, but there are medical solutions to successfully treat this, including drugs like Kitty Prozac. Although there are many options to consider beforehand, if other medical and behavioral options don’t work, the problem can be resolved.
Find out more in our upcoming virtual litter box troubleshooting workshop on Thursday. Register at marinhumane.org/oh-behave. And for other kitty puzzles, contact 415-506-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Weil is the Cat Behavior Coordinator at Marin Humane, contributing Tails of Marin articles and welcoming animal-related questions about the people and animals in our community. Go to marinhumane.org, Twitter.com/marinhumane, or email email@example.com.