Cats are extraordinarily fussy and tend to go to the toilet outdoors in relatively open and unused areas. Unless they are spraying or marking (deliberately leaving their scent as a territorial marking for other cats), cats carefully cover their waste and move on.
Asking cats to use a litter tray is asking them to go against their instincts. So it’s hardly surprising that the most common problem reported by owners concerns their pets not using the tray.
It is important not to give your cat any reason to avoid using the litter box. Keep the box clean and place it where your cat prefers to use it. You may even need to add more litter boxes, including one at the target location.
• Most kittens are litter-trained by the time you get them – they learn to use a litter tray by copying their mother. Kittens that sniff, scratch, or crouch in a corner, should be gently lifted onto the litter tray.
• Choose a litter box that is easy for your kitten to use. If necessary, improvise for the first few weeks with a shallow, disposable container.
• Supply at least one box plus one for every cat in your household. Place each one in a quiet, low-traffic corner with easy access.
• Keep the litter tray away from your cat’s food, in an easily accessible but private area. Avoid damp, dark basements, distant bedrooms, or areas with noisy washing machines, close to traffic etc.
• Choose a litter tray that is deep enough to keep cats from scattering litter when they dig, and large enough so they can make a complete turn.
• You can use an open tray, but for cats who want more privacy choose a hooded litter tray with a carbon filter to minimise unpleasant smells and litter spill.
• Cats prefer clumping, ‘scoopable’ litters to other types. Remove the soiled litter with a scoop, leaving the rest of the litter fresh and dry.
• If your cat has come to you from another home, find out what litter they used there. Some cats refuse to use a litter type they don’t like.
• Fill the tray to the depth recommended by the manufacturers of the litter and place the litter tray on an easy clean surface. If you change from one type of litter to another, recheck the depth recommendation as it varies between the different types.
• Remove soiled litter at least daily. Once a week, empty the tray completely and wash it with hot water and detergent. Avoid disinfectants as some are toxic to cats.
• If you’re pregnant, never handle soiled litter because of the risk of toxoplasmosis.
• Never leave your cat indoors without a litter tray. If your cat holds their urine in for long periods, bacteria will breed in the bladder, causing cystitis.
• House soiling can also be due to a physical problem such as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), a painful and potentially fatal problem if the flow of urine is blocked.
• Frequent trips to the litter box, straining, dark-coloured or reddish urine, house soiling, distress calls, and excessive grooming near the groin can be signs of FLUTD. Always contact your vet if you suspect any health problems.
Rescued cats or cats that are messing in the house
Some rescued cats can be very unsettled when they go to a new environment and may have accidents.
Prepare a quiet room (not a bedroom as some like to use the bed!) with your new cats bed, bowls, food, water, toys and litter tray before you get your cat home.
When you first get your cat home don’t let your cat out into the house straight away, put the carrier in the room you have set up for him and open the carrier door. Leave him alone to come out in his own time and never force him to let you stroke, pick up or cuddle him.
If over time he is messing in the house he needs to be confined to the room (as above) for a few days so he gets used to using the litter tray-follow instructions above titled Avoiding Problems. Always visit and let him come to you for strokes and fussing.
If he messes on the floor put the poo in his litter tray so it has his scent.
Then when he’s been using the litter tray for a while you can let him out to roam the house but keep all doors to bedrooms closed. You can put a couple of litter trays about the house to ensure the chances of him using them.
If he has messed again put it in the litter trays so he gets to understand that’s where he should toilet.
There are sprays that can remove the scent of toileting that can be purchased from pet shops.
Rescued cats need to stay in the house for a fair few weeks before being allowed out and some of these cats are probably not used to using a litter tray, so eventually when they can go out it’s highly likely they will not mess in the house and do all their toilets outside the natural way.
If all else fails after all of this has been tried then take your cat to the vet for an examination as there could be a medical reason for it.
NEVER EVER punish your cat. Some cats are just unsettled and nervous. Some cats just need time and understanding, afterall we are dealing with cats that have undoubtedly experienced trauma at some point in their lives.