Training cats to use the litter box is not rocket science. You can easily find free instructions on the internet. Nevertheless, the training process is not free from trouble. Inexperienced cat owners can sometimes face unexpected problems. Here is a list of five common problems which you may well face.
1. Kitty absolutely refuses to use the litter box (or doesn't use the box regularly)
Assuming you have followed instructions for litter training your cat, here are seven major reasons why your cat does not want to use his litter box:
- The litter box is the wrong size/shape - too small, too deep, kitty doesn't like enclosed boxes, kitty doesn't like open litter boxes.
- Wrong type of litter. Like the size and shape of the box, sometimes you just need to experiment a little. Try different brands of clay litter, different brands of clumping, crystal or organic litter. Some companies (like Dr Elsey's) sell a product which attracts some cats to their litter box.
- Most cats don't like to do their business near where they eat. Make sure you aren't feeding kitty near his litter box.
- Do you clean the box regularly? Normally, you should scoop the litter daily, and completely replace it weekly.
- Not enough boxes - many trainers recommend that you place one more box than the number of cats you own, i.e. if you have 2 cats, you need 3 boxes.
- Wrong placement - if kitty likes to do his business in that corner behind your sofa, then that is where you should place his litter box (at least during his initial training). The point is to make it natural and convenient for him. You can slowly move his box when he gets used to it.
- No privacy - Remember that he also needs privacy and security. Like you, he isn't going to go potty in public where everyone is walking around all day long.
The above list is not exhaustive but should make a good starting point.
2. Cat urine smell
You have successfully litter trained your little tiger, but your house still smells of cat urine.
- The first step is to get rid of the old stains from his accidents. While these old stains may be dried, they can still cause quite a stench. Use a black light (UV lamp) to detect the old dried stains. After that, clean up with an enzymatic cleaner like Nature's Miracle. Note that regular soap and water can't completely clean up cat urine stains.
- Step two is to switch to crystal litter (also known as silica gel litter). Silica gel is exceptionally good at soaking up cat pee, and will not release the smell. The main problem is that kitty may not like it. Another problem is that you need to monitor the litter box closely - once the crystal litter becomes saturated, cat pee will start pooling in the box. This stuff is also more expensive than regular clay, but lasts longer.
- If you have the budget, another option is to use an automatic (or self cleaning) litter box. There are many different types. You'll need one which scoops up the litter into an air-tight container. Unfortunately, not only are these boxes expensive, they also tend to be noisy. In addition, while some cats really like them, others really hate them. It is really a hit or miss affair. Only buy these contraptions from shops with a return policy. You don't want to spend $100 only to find that kitty absolutely hates it.
The most common reason is that the box is too small or too shallow. Remember that you are not limited to the sizes your local pet shop offers. If need be, go look in your local hardware store or local baking/cooking goods store. Make your own litter box, or get it made for you, if necessary.
4. Your hubby/wife/kids (basically the official owner of the cat) becomes too lazy to clean the litter box
- These days, you can find new brands of litter which claim to need less maintenance. Some of them even work as advertised! You'll just have to try them out yourself until you find one which works for you.
- Another option is to switch to an automatic litter box.
- The most extreme option is to train kitty to use the toilet. You can find toilet training instructions on the web, and there are also commercial cat toilet training kits. Google and Amazon are your best friends here.
Take him to the vet for a check-up. This is a common symptom of some illness like a urinary tract infection. If the vet rules out a medical reason, then you'll need to look into stress or some other environmental condition. There are many possibilities, and your vet can help you to investigate. The main reason is some change in the home environment - like a new pet, a new family member, a missing family member, your neighbor has a new dog, new construction started across the street, etc.
If you can't get rid of the stressor, your vet can usually prescribe a form of cat Prozac until he gets used to the change. Another way is to spend more time with kitty - playing, grooming - any kind of activity which re-affirms he is number one in your affection.
The above are just five problems you may face when training cats to use the litter box. You can easily find the basic instructions for litter training your cats, and these instructions work for many people. But sometimes you can run into problems. The fastest way to solve your problem is to look at an exhaustive reference on cat behavior. Another option is to check with your vet (if he is a cat specialist).