Understanding Litter Box Habits

(by Eileen Pickett, Villaroyal Ragdolls…also available on my website at http://ragdollcat.org/litterbox.html )

The basics to help avoid or solve existing litter box problems

It is easier to prevent litter box accidents by being sensitive to the cat's basic needs, than to have to correct an issue created by setting the scene for a messy disaster.

If correct steps are taken from the start, the cat will respond by consistently using the litter box.

LITTER PANS are available in a variety of styles and sizes.  It is best to at least begin with a simple basic pan without the hood.  After the kitten is completely comfortable in the new home and is reliable in his litter box habits, the hood can be placed on the box.

SIZE: A ten to twelve pound cat should have a litter pan at least 18" long x 15" wide. If it is a hooded pan it should be at least 17" high. A larger cat must have the next larger size pan, measuring at least 22" long x 17" wide.  By adoption time, my kittens are using a full size standard pan.

LOCATION, location, location!   Place the litter pan in an easily accessible area, but fairly private, and out of the thoroughfare of people or dogs. Cats are personal beings and like their privacy.

Avoid areas of LOUD SUDDEN NOISE such as door chimes, loud TV etc. An unexpected noise while in the litter box may cause the cat to find an area that is more secluded.

In addition, never place the cat's litter box in the basement, regardless of whether the basement is finished or not, unless at least one additional box is provided upstairs.  Providing solely a basement box almost always leads to litter box issues which are usually impossible to correct by the owner, once the cats habits have been ruined.

CHANGE OF LOCATION should never be taken lightly. Cats are creatures of habit and do not like changes. If it is necessary that the litter box be moved, always place an additional box in the new location, leaving the original in place.  When the cat is faithfully using the new location, the previous box can be removed and if possible, prevent the cat from entering that room for at least a week, preferably a month. This will help reinforce the new and erase the previous habit at the same time

FOOD & WATER should not be located in close proximity of the litter box. Cats like to eat in a clean area and will find another spot to eliminate if the litter box is too close.

 NUMBER OF BOXES:  Have one more box than the number of cats in the home, preferably not side by side. If there are two or more cats, a box must be provided for each cat, PLUS one.  Ideally, the additional boxes should be located in different areas of the home.  Some cats are possessive of their litter box.  Many times a passive cat will not use the box simply because a more dominant cat does not allow him to.  Most often this communication is not visible to humans. There can be an "unspoken word" among cats.


CLEANLINESS:  The litter pan must be kept clean. This is VERY important. If the box is scooped at least once a day, preferably twice a day, the cat will be more likely to use it. Both wet areas and solids should be removed daily. Wash the litter pan and provide a complete change of fresh litter at least every 2 weeks. Cats are fastidious animals and may seek another area if their box contains a previous elimination.  Remember, even if there is only one cat, that cat will appreciate having more than one box.  Over the years, I have repeatedly witnessed many cats that use one box to urinate and then rush to another box to defecate.


RESPECT:  Please don't stand over the cat with the scoop or allow a dog or children to pester the cat while it is in the litter pan. The cat could view this as harassment and may then eliminate wherever it can find privacy.


DISINFECTANTS like bleach or Lysol can leave an objectionable smell in the box and may cause problems. Wash the box once a week with a simple detergent, like Palmolive dishwashing liquid and rinse well, removing all residue. This is adequate. Never use Lysol (or any product containing phenol) to clean any place where the cat has access.  Lysol, which contains phenol is HIGHLY toxic to cats even after you think you have thoroughly rinsed off a surface.

To the contrary, a few people have reported that the use of bleach to clean the SINK or BATHTUB seemed to attract the cat to use these areas for a litter box. The behavior stopped when the use of bleach was discontinued. It is important to remember that like people, no two cats are alike. What works for one may not work for another. Apparently, the use of bleach can cause some cats to adopt this practice because to some cats, bleach smells like urine. If your cat starts this behavior, immediately break the cycle by leaving about 2 or 3 inches of water in the tub or basin which will discourage the cat before it becomes a habit.  The exception to this is....if you see droplets of blood in the urine....cats with urinary problems many times seek cool areas, like tile, the bathtub or the sink. In this case it is important that you seek immediate veterinary assistance.

WHEN YOU ACQUIRE A NEW CAT OR KITTEN, the first week is the most important time for reinforcing good litter box habits.  Most cats are frightened when they enter a new environment.  A frightened cat will not seek out the litter box. Confinement to a very small area approximately the size of a master bathroom is an intelligent and kind action on the part of the new owner that will ensure a non-eventful and successful adjustment.  Please note that kittens cannot be confined by the use of a baby gate. They are quite capable and will quickly climb over. When the kitten is comfortable with its room, is responding favorably to visits and is no longer afraid, begin introduction to the home gradually.  At first, allow short visits out of the "safe" room and only under strict supervision.  When you are not home or cannot watch closely, the cat should be returned to the room. A bit of patience and gentle guidance will be time well spent.

IN CLOSING, while some of the above may seem trivial to human beings, rest assured that each and every one of these tips are very important to a cat. Granted, there are cats that tolerate any litter box conditions. In spite of the stress that it puts upon them, they will still use the litter box.  However, those hardy souls are few and far between.

Inappropriate elimination is the number one reason that cats are turned into shelters. Most of those poor creatures are not bad cats. They needed a toilet area that met their most basic needs. When one wasn't provided, they did what their natural instincts told them to do; find another location. As animals who want to be clean, they had no choice.

As people, we do have choices. Mine was to write this article for the sake of those cats whose lives end in a shelter for no other reason than the absence of suitable toilet accommodations. I hope those who read it will also make a choice, will take a realistic look at their home environment and lifestyle before deciding to share their lives with a cat. An honest assessment of whether there is the space and time to meet a cat's basic needs can make the most important difference there can be for a cat. The difference between a long, happy life in a loving home and a short frightened one in a shelter.

There is rarely a litter box issue that is a cat issue. Please be considerate of their needs.  Give them a chance to live with you in harmony. They want to be clean, please allow them to be.

The following is from: TBOTWFCB TEAM


"As with any behavior problem, the reason why the cat is not using the litter box must be determined before attempting to resolve the problem. Medical causes should always be ruled out first. Trying things at random, or because they worked for someone else may actually make the problem worse unless we understand the reason for the behavior. This is determined by obtaining a behavioral history and by observations of the cat and the environment.

The most common reasons we see for litter box problems are changes in the cat's surface and location preferences for elimination. In these cases, cats often do not cover their waste, they may "hang off" the edge of the box and be reluctant to step inside, or they may go right next to the box. If the cat is eliminating on soft surfaces such as carpet and furniture, try changing to a clumping litter which has a softer feel than clay litter. If the cat is using slick, smooth surfaces such as sinks and tile floors, try barely covering the bottom of the box with litter. In general the litter should not be very deep - not more than 1-2 inches. The litter box may have become unacceptable because it is not kept clean. Feces should be scooped out daily, as should clumps of litter if you are using a clumping litter. The litter should be changed often enough so that the litter looks mostly dry and there is no noticeable odor. The frequency will vary with the number of boxes and the number of cats in the house but should be at least once a week.

Cats may also develop litter box aversions because they associate "bad things" with the box. Perhaps they have been "ambushed" there by another cat. Try adding a box and making sure there is more than one escape route in and from each box. There should be at least as many boxes as there are cats, and in general it is best to have them in different locations so one cat cannot guard all the litter boxes. Large cats may not like a covered box because it is difficult for them to find a comfortable position if they are restricted by the cover. Try taking the cover off. If the box is located in a high traffic area or next to household appliances such as a washer, dryer or furnace which makes startling noises, the cat may have been frightened while in the box and will then refuse to use it. Move the box to a more private area. Most cats are repelled by the smell of strong room deodorizers. Do not place any of these near the litter box. If the boxes are kept clean, odor should not be a problem.

Soiled areas can be made less attractive by covering them with a vinyl carpet runner, pointy-side up, or with strips of double-sided sticky tape. Commercial products such as Scat Mats are also effective. But do not use these things in the vicinity of the litter box. This approach alone will not resolve the problem unless the litter box is made more attractive - otherwise the cat will go right next to the "booby-traps". Some problems require assistance from a certified behaviorist to resolve."


Home ] About RFW ] Flophouse Photos ] Breeding Ragdoll Cats ] FAQ ] Available Kittens ] Join  RFW ] Adult Ragdolls ] Genetics ] Show Results ] Breeder Directory ] RFW Banner ] In The News ] Colors and Patterns ] Membership ] New on RFW ]

For further information e-mail RFW Club

Graphic design and website creation by Mindy Ferreira.
Questions or problems regarding this web site should be directed to GBM.
Copyright © December 14, 2002 through present... All rights reserved by the authors.