Q & A: Detesting the litterbox

Q: I’ve recently rescued an older cat, but she doesn’t use the litterbox provided. What can I do?

A: As she is an older cat, the very first step is a thorough vet check. It’s quite common for cats to have difficulties using a litterbox when they’re not well. Bladder and kidney issues are common culprits, and in older cats, stiff joints might make getting into the box uncomfortable. If your vet gives her the all-clear, then you need to look at the situation and type of litterbox, as well as the type of litter. Cats are very particular about toileting!

The best option is to have the litterbox in a quiet area as cats are private in their habits and are easily disturbed. If you find she’s regularly toileting in a certain area, such as the bathroom, this may be a good place to keep the box. A litterbox with low sides is ideal so that getting in and out is easily managed. I’m not a huge fan of closed boxes with doors as they contain scent so thoroughly it can be highly unpleasant for the cat to go inside. Many cats also feel vulnerable trapped inside the box while toileting.

The type of litter you use is possibly the most important factor. Cats have very sensitive paws, and a rough litter may be too prickly. I usually advise starting off with a very fine litter, and if you do want to switch to something else – perhaps a biodegradable litter, which is better for the environment – it could be very gradually mixed in with the fine litter. Garden soil is a great option, as most cats are very happy to dig in soil. If you’re not sure what type of litter she may like, try a few options!

The general rule is one litterbox per cat plus one, so make sure to have at least two for her. Keeping the box clean is essential – scoop it out daily and thoroughly wash it once a week.

Katherine Brown, behaviourist

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