Cats: Litterbox Training

February 12th, 2013 posted by VirtualVet.com

The most common reason a cat stops using its litterbox is because the box is dirty – from the cat’s viewpoint, not yours. Cats often react to any type of stress by suddenly urinating or defecating outside the litterbox. The stress may be caused by a new cat in the neighborhood; children home on vacation; too many cats in the house; your going away on vacation or a new piece of furniture. Urinary tract problems also cause cats to urinate in places other than the litterbox. Any sudden change in elimination habits should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Prevention

Until your cat is reliably trained, she should not have free run of your home. If your cat continually makes mistakes, the behavior can simply become a habit. Punishing a cat after the fact teaches her to be afraid of you. Scolding and then taking the cat to her box after she has already eliminated teaches her to associate the litterbox with punishment. Basically, punishment doesn’t work with cats: prevention and praise for getting it right are the keys to training. When you leave the house for any length of time, your cat should be confined to a single room, preferably one with non-porous floors, such as a kitchen, bathroom, utility room, basement or garage. Provide your cat with a bowl of water and a warm place to sleep at one end of the room and a freshly cleaned litterbox at the other end. Until the housesoiling has been cured, your cat should have a regular feeding schedule so she will develop a corresponding elimination schedule.

The Box

// Your cat does not simply need a litterbox – she needs a clean box with fresh litter. Your cat will be inhibited from using her box if it smells of urine. Think about it from the cat’s viewpoint. When she soils your dining room carpet, the area is immediately and thoroughly cleaned. Given the choice between a regularly cleaned place and a litterbox that gets changed only once or twice a week, your cat will naturally prefer the carpet. The litterbox must be cleaned daily. The old litter must be discarded and replaced with about 1 1/2 inches of fresh litter. Rinse the litterbox thoroughly with water. Adding a little vinegar or lemon juice to the water will help neutralize the odor of the cat’s urine. Do not use ammonia; this will make the box smell worse. Make sure that the litterbox is in an appropriate place. Cats do not like to soil the areas close to their sleeping or eating areas, so place the box some distance away. However, do not place the box in an area that is too inaccessible. For example, if the box is placed in the bathroom, make sure the door cannot swing shut preventing the cat from getting to it. If the cat is new to your home, she may go into hiding for a few days so place a box close to her hiding place. Some additional factor may be inhibiting your cat from using her box, so put down an extra one in a different location. If there is more than one cat in the house, have several litterboxes available.

Reward

In order to reward your cat for eliminating in her box, you must be there at the time she eliminates. You need to have some idea of when your cat urinates and defecates. Most cats, especially kittens, will eliminate shortly after waking, after eating, and after exercise. To help you predict when your cat will eliminate, feed her at regular times. If the input is on a regular schedule, the output will follow likewise. Before feeding your cat, spend ten to fifteen minutes playing with her. Then put down the food, allow her fifteen minutes to eat and then clear up any leftovers. After your cat has eaten, it is time for another gentle play session. Call her to her litterbox from a variety of places around your house, especially areas where she has soiled. When your cat gets to the box, scratch the litter to get her interested. Similarly, throughout the day, whenever your cat has been asleep for over two hours, wake her up and call her to the litterbox. Encourage your cat to hop into the box, praise her when sho does so. Even if she does not eliminate, she is learning that the box is a great, CLEAN place to be. This is especially important for cats that are now avoiding the box because they assume it is always dirty or because they associate it with being punished. If your cat does eliminate, praise her in a gentle voice. Once she has finished, gently stroke her, give her a treat and take the time to tell her how pleased you are.

Copyright ©1995 Bohnenkamp, Perfect Paws, Inc.

Recommended Reading

: What a fun celebration of life with housecats. Gorgeous, unusual and dynamic photographs accompanied by whimsical text document the daily interactions between housecats and their people. The author has focused on his cats, but they are so like my cats that he has truly struck a universal chord. From eating to sleeping to playing to sunning themselves, this book celebrates our favorite things about our feline friends. A delightful gift for cat lovers. (courtesy: Amazon)

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