Inappropriate elimination issues are the number one behavior-related complaint from cat lovers. And frustrated cat owners may end up looking for a new home for their former feline friends. But without consistent work and a little patience, the outcome for these kitties is grim. 

cat in litterbox

Most cases of inappropriate elimination can be solved if you’re determined to look at things from your cat’s point of view, make a few adjustments, and stay patient.

Although you still need to fix the underlying problems of why your cat isn’t going where he should, some medications may help in the short run. Talk to your veterinarian.

Litter-box avoidance

The first step in getting your cat to use the litter box is to figure out why he or she is not using it. You will need to have your veterinarian help to rule out a medical problem, such as a urinary tract infection, bladder inflammation, urinary crustals as well as diseases like diabetes, hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. All of these issues cause an increased sense of urinary urgency.

But the cats age lets your veterinarian make some educated guesses on the more likely cause. If there is an underlying medical issue, your cat may come to associate the use of the box with these unpleasant sensations felt when they void, and so avoids the box. If that’s the case, you need to retrain your cat, perhaps by changing the box and litter so it “feels” different, but probably by using the safe room approach. (More on that in this section.)

If your cat checks out fine, you need to experiment to make sure that everything about the box is to his liking. The following list describes some things to consider:

Make the area where you cat has had mistakes less attractive by cleaning thoroughly with a pet-odor neutralizer (available in pet-supply stores or catalogs) and covering with foil, plastic sheeting, or plastic carpet runners with the points up to discourage reuse of the area. Enzymatic pet-mess cleaners take time to work, so figure on keeping the area blocked off for at least a couple of weeks.

If this procedure doesn’t clear up the problem, you may need to retrain your cat by keeping him in a small area for a few days. Make sure that the safe room has no good options besides the litter box – no carpet, no pile of dirty laundry. Block off the bathtub; keep an inch of water in it to discourage its use as a place to go. After your cat is reliably using the litter box, let him slowly expand his territory again. As long as you keep up your end of the bargain and keep the litter box appealing, he or she should keep his up, too.

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