A study was conducted a few years ago that investigated the top 10 reasons why animals were surrendered to shelters. For cats, one of those reasons was (and still is) house soiling.
What the study doesn't say, and what many people don't seem to be aware of, is that the vast majority of house soiling behaviors that result in cats being dumped at shelters or killed are caused by a medical problem (usually a urinary tract infection) or the failure of the owner to take care of the litterbox properly.
Being aware of your cat's health and paying attention to the litterbox are extremely important parts of cat care. There are many medical and behavior issues that can cause a cat to go outside of the box and since they can't talk to us, it's up to us to figure out what's wrong. Often the problem is with the litterbox itself. There are some basic steps petowners can take to keep the litterbox attractive and in pristine condition, which will result in happy cats and happy people!
1. How many boxes?
The general rule of thumb is one litterbox per cat plus one extra. Some cats will not share a box. There are also many cats that prefer to poop in one box and pee in another.
2. Size matters!
Choose litterboxes large enough that the cat has room to move around comfortably. Using a box that is too small often results in the cat hanging his bottom over the side and I don't think I have to explain in detail what happens next! For cats that dig to China, or pee standing up. choosing a high-sided or covered litterbox can be helpful in minimizing mess.
There are cats that don't like covered boxes, but some brands of this type of box have sides high enough that the cover can be left off and achieve the same results. Another option is to cut off the very top of the cover so there is an open feel to the box without losing the benefit of the higher sides. I have done this myself and it works quite well. For older (and arthritic) cats a lower sided box is preferable as they can get in and out of the box easily.
3. Location, location, location!
Cats prefer privacy, and litterboxes should be in a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Putting litterboxes in different areas is wise if one has multiple cats as there is sometimes the possibility that one cat might try to bother another one when it is using a particular box, and this will give the cat an alternative place to go.
Maintaining a litterbox on every floor of multi-level homes is another good idea. This is especially true in homes with kittens or senior cats. Young kittens often can't make it to a litterbox in time when it's two or three levels away. Older cats often start to slow down or develop arthritis and managing stairs becomes difficult.
4. Type of litter.
There are many types of litter available today. Unfortunately, a lot of these litters are marketed with people in mind and the needs of cats are completely ignored. The best litter for a cat is one that is clumping and has a soft, sandy texture. This type of litter is usually made from clay, wheat, or corn. I don't recommend using plain non-clumping litter because, even if you scoop the poop out every day, the urine remains in the box. Ick.
With clumping litter, both poop and pee can be scooped from the box and it will stay cleaner and much more attractive to the cat. It's also important to make sure the litter is unscented. Cats have a sense of smell 200 times greater than a human's. The perfumes used in many litters are overpowering and in some cases will cause the cats to go elsewhere.
These heavy scents also have an unfortunate effect of partially covering up urine smell. While this might be good for our noses, it will mask the most obvious clue that the litter needs changing, and it will not be enough to make that smell undetectable to the cat. A properly maintained litterbox should not smell.
Litters that I recommend include World's Best Cat Litter, Swheat Scoop, Everclean (unscented),
Scoop Away (unscented). and Cat Attract.
5. Keep the litterbox *immaculate.*
Most of us at one time or another have used a public restroom and walked into a stall only to find the toilet hadn't been flushed by the previous user. The usual reaction is to gross out, then find somewhere else to go! It's no different for cats.
Cats by nature are very fastidious creatures, and having to wade through a dirty litterbox is the reason many cats choose to go elsewhere.
Scooping the litterbox twice a day is a must, and the one or two minutes it takes is a lot less time spent than it takes cleaning up accidents!
Washing and disinfecting litterboxes at least every few weeks and completely replacing old litter with new litter on a regular basis is the final step in a simple maintenance plan that will keep the litterbox fresh, clean and "the place to go."