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The litter box

Over the edge

Going over the edge

 

If a cat starts to eliminate over the edge of their litter box, it could be an indication of joint pain, either because they are unable to clear the edge of the box or because they are no longer able to squat down. Speak to your vet about joint supplements or pain management.

In more severe cases of this kind, sometimes just a large tray, such as the lid of a large Rubbermaid container, with pee pads protecting the area around it is the best solution to minimise the mess but still allow your cat access to a place to relieve itself.

 

Urinating over the edge is also a sign of territorial marking. It is most often caused by a new addition to the family, such as another cat, but if your cat likes to look out the window, a new outdoor cat in the neighbourhood might cause your cat to start showing signs of becoming territorial.

If your cat has suddenly started territorial marking, it’s always due to some kind of outside influence. If you’ve gotten a new pet or had some change in living situation, treating it as anxiety could help. If the problem is outside the home (the new neighbourhood outdoor cat patrol), keeping blinds closed when you know the other cat is around will help. Set up a camera to seen when this behaviour happens and adjust accordingly.

 

Some cats also just like to pee high. Often this is a dominant behaviour, but regardless, as long as it’s in the litter box, it’s an easy enough problem to manage by simply getting a litter box with a higher side.

Try getting either a top entry box or a litter box with a solid side that reaches at least as high as your cat. It’s best to avoid litter boxes with separate lids as the urine will often leak through the joint between the bottom and the top. If you are unable to find a box high enough, using a large Rubbermaid container and cutting an entrance into the side is a good solution. (Be sure the cover the cut edges with silicone to ensure your cat is protected from any sharp edges.) If you have a bit more money to spend, I find this company to have a good line of products.

In all cases, it’s important that you clean cat urine with an appropriate cleaner that’s been designed for the purpose. Even if you can’t see or smell it, your cat can.

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Missing entirely

Missing entirely

It is important to stress that any litter box issues should be investigated by your vet immediately. Misbehaviour in this area is often the first sign of serious illness. Elimination might be happening anywhere, from right beside the box to the middle of your pillow. The first thing to be done is to take your cat to their vet.

However, once you've done that and you've ruled out anything alarming, the where and when can be a good indication of why it's happening.

For example, a cat that poos right in front of the door is likely demonstrating signs of separation anxiety. A cat that poos in the middle of your bed could be unhappy about a change in your or its routine. A cat that pees in your bed while you're in it is possibly suffering from some complicated form of anxiety.

Solutions to this problem is highly dependent on the cat, its relationship with its human, and the circumstances surrounding the incidences that it's impossible to list all the examples. However, there are a few basic things that can be ruled out before you need to start delving into complex cat mental health issues.

 

What did you change? If it's anything whatsoever to do with their litter box, whether the soap you used to wash it, the litter you put into it, its placement, anything in its general vicinity—that's very likely your issue and is generally easily fixed by simply reversing the change.

 

If you're planning a move, you can prepare for this by saving your cat's old litter and not washing the box beforehand. Replace the whole thing, smelly as it was, as intact as possible in your new home. Start your cat in a single room with all its favourite things and as many of its favourite smells as possible. Once it's become more comfortable, you can open the door and let them explore.

 

It's important that you listen to your cat with this. If they're desperate to get out of the room, don't keep them locked up. The point is to reduce stress, after all. However, be aware of any attempts to escape as your cat may try to get back to their old home.

 

It's equally important not to pander to your cat for too long. A certain amount of anxiety is natural, but if weeks have passed and they're still refusing to get out from under the bed, you may need to intervene.

If you need to change the brand or type of litter, do this slowly in the same way you would if you were changing their food. A simple way to do this is every time you scoop their litter, add a little bit of the new stuff in with the old. For a faster change, layer the new litter at the bottom of a clean, new box, then sprinkle a thin layer of their old litter on top.

 

The speed at which you change litters depends entirely on your cat. If you have a well-adjusted cat, it will likely be fine with a sudden switch, but if you want to be safe, don't throw out the old litter until you're sure.

If your cat has always avoided the litter box, it's possible your cat dislikes the texture or scent of the litter you have chosen. Cats do not like strongly scented litters, so these should be avoided.

 

Dust might also be an issue. A very dusty litter could exacerbate any respiratory issues your cat might have. It should also be noted that in clumping clay litters, the dust is a suspected carcinogen, so for both your health and your cat's, it is best to get a low dust variety.

The problem could also be something completely unrelated that happened while your cat was using the box. If some loud noise went off or they were attacked, startled, or approached while using their box, they could easily become averse to using it again.

 

In this case, changing the location of the box or the litter might actually help them disassociate from this incident and encourage them to use their box again.

 

If you notice that your cat always eliminates in a specific spot, try putting a box in that spot and see if your cat will use it. Once it's back in the habit of using the box, very, very gradually move it a little bit at a time to where you'd like the box to stay. The general rule is about a foot a day, so be prepared for this to take some time.

If you have the box in a noisy or busy place, such as next to the furnace, or in a well-used hallway, your cat might not feel safe using it.

 

If you have multiple cats, especially if one of the cats is dominant or aggressive, it's possible there is a territorial dispute happening and the one cat might be attacking the other cat when it tries to use the box. If this is the case, you will need to add more boxes. Note that boxes should be placed far away from each other (not side by side in the same spot) and where cats can't corner each other.

 

The ideal number of boxes is one per cat, plus one (so if you have two cats you should have three boxes). While it's not usually necessary in a household where the cats have a degree of understanding with one another, in a situation where there's a lot of tension, this is a good rule to follow.

If your litter box is somewhere far from the rest of the household or inconvenient for the cat to get to, it's possible, as your cat gets older, that it simply cannot get to the box on time. If there a number of stairs, such as if you keep the litter box in the corner of your basement, joint pain can also become an issue.

 

This can easily be solved by moving the box somewhere closer and more convenient for them. The inconvenient litter box should be avoided in any case, as a cat that finds it too troublesome to visit the box when they need to use it may end up holding it in, in much the manner of a toddler. And in much the same way, this can lead to health complications further on.

Changes in a cat's life can also affect its litter box behaviour. Even relatively small changes can mean a huge alteration in your cat's happiness. If your schedule has suddenly changed, if you were away on a trip, if someone has moved in or out, if a new child was introduced to the household, if you started seeing someone new, if you changed their food or their schedule—any of these things can trigger distress in your cat.

 

How you work through this is highly dependent on your cat, the people involved, and the individual situation, but making sure you do your best to maintain a routine with your cat and ensuring you take some time to interact with them on a daily basis to lessen any feelings of abandonment is important.

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