My six-year-old cat has recently started to have accidents around the house rather than using her litter tray. What could be the reason?
It’s a good idea to get your cat checked to ensure there is nothing physically wrong. Next, you will need to look at your hygiene routine. Cats are fastidious animals: if a litter box is dirty, they look elsewhere for a place to go. Think of how you felt the last time you were faced with a dirty restroom, and you can probably empathise! So how clean is the litter box? Is it something you ‘get around to’ every few days, or maybe just on the weekend? Do you wait until you can’t stand the smell of it, or the lumpy-clumpy sight of it, before you clean? And even then, do you really clean it, or do you simply half-heartedly fish out a few stools or clumps and add more litter? If you don’t keep the litter box clean, you can’t expect your cat to use it.
You need to start with a clean box and keep it clean. Even if the box you bought is brand new, give it a good scrubbing with hot water and soap, rinse well, and let it air dry. Cats have a much better sense of smell than we do, and they may be put off by the odour a new box has picked up through its manufacturing, shipping and storage. If the box has been used before, follow the soap-and-water scrub with a bleach soak (half a cup to about 4ℓ of water will do), and then rinse, rinse, rinse and allow to air dry. Diluted bleach is a safe disinfectant, but other types of disinfectant shouldn’t be used – their lingering scent may cause more harm than good. Ammonia, for example, shares some chemical properties with urine and can make a clean box smell dirty to a cat.
All the scrubbing in the world isn’t going to help if you offer your cat a clean box and then don’t bother to keep it that way. Some cats are so fussy that a box that has been used even once may be unsuitable. If you can’t scoop immediately – and honestly, not many of us can – try to scoop twice a day, or daily at least. You can almost always offer your cat a clean bathroom if you provide two litter boxes, placed side by side. Some cats even prefer the two-box system: they urinate in one and defecate in the other. Don’t forget that even when you’re very good about scooping frequently, you’ll still have to scrub out and disinfect the litter box completely on a regular basis. When in doubt, clean it out!
Small animal veterinarian