Photo: M Oben|Pexels

Contrary to what most people think, there is not much training needed, as long as the litter box meets all the basic requirements. However, should for some reason your cat takes displeasure to it, there may be some rationale behind his behaviour.

For example, it could be a way to alert you to its own physical or psychological discomfort. Peeing outside the box may be a way to communicate to you ‒ certainly not to spite you.

Some cats may be experiencing health issues that need to be addressed by a vet. Others may be going through a difficult time, such as when ageing or health issues crop up.

Each cat has a personality of its own. While some may be fussier, others are more anxious or less confident naturally. For the more sensitive cats, their environment must feel safe and conducive to reduce the stress level.

Becoming aware of your cat’s perspective towards the litter box will help prevent and also address problems that may lie ahead.

Avoiding Accidents

To avoid “accidents” around the house, consider the following six pointers:

1. Size Matters
*Don’t buy a litter box that just fits a kitten. Buy a larger box that fits the total length of a grown cat standing.

*Cats don’t like to squeeze in and step over their own/other cat’s pee and poo. As such, be generous in terms of size when selecting a cat litter box.  A litter box size is generally 55cm in length, by 40cm in width and 15 cm in depth. The caveat here is:  The bigger the better!

*Don’t buy a box that is too shallow unless you have an ageing cat that has difficulties getting in the box. 

2. Litter Substrate
*There are different types of litter substrates with different attributes. While some are made of clay, others are manufactured using soya or even paper. Your cat may have a preference for one over another. Some cats are even fussy with even the size and texture of pellets.

*In general, cats like a good thick layering inside the box. 

*Try not to change the type and texture of litter substrate too suddenly. It’s best to introduce the new kitty litter by mixing 1 part of it with 1 part of the old substrate. Alternatively, have a separate box with the new litter substrate, placed beside the old box.

* Preferably continue the same litter substrate that your cat was already accustomed too before you adopted him.

3. Cleanliness
* Keep the litter box clean.  When a litter box is out of sight, hard to reach, or comes with an added cover on top of the box, there are fewer chances that the box will stay clean.

* Scoop twice a day or more depending on the number of felines in the home. While some cats will cover their handiwork after they’re done, some cats won’t.

* Remember cats don’t like to step on their pee and poo, or, on their friend’s pee and poo either.

* Don’t use plastic bags inside the litter box.  Clean your litter box with a bio pet-friendly product.

4. Number Of Boxes
* Cats are generally fine sharing cat litter boxes with their cat mates. If you have more than one cat, the rule of thumb is 2 + 1.  For example, three cats should have four litter boxes.

* Always have a minimum of two litter boxes even if you have just one cat. Even if the additional box is used only on an occasional basis, it provides your cat with an alternative option.

5. Open Concept
* It’s preferable to get a litter box without an added cover. A cat likes to see all around him when he goes about his daily business. They don’t like the notion that they may get ambushed by another cat/dog.  This is especially so when you are introducing a new companion animal into the environment or have multiple cats. Moods and relationships between cats can change daily and over time. It’s best to have no cover.

* The concentrated poo and urine smell into a covered box also makes the box less attractive for a cat.

* If you insist on getting one with a cover, start with the cover off, and if all goes well, then place the cover back on after a couple of months of successful introduction.
*When you introduce a new cat, keep the lids off for the same period of time and gradually put the tops back on, one at a time, monitoring the most popular boxes.

*If you have a cover, removed the door of the litter box permanently to keep the box more open, circulate air better and lower the feeling of being trapped.

* If your cat misses the box, your first step is to remove the cover immediately.

* Some cats are more anxious and the trip to the box may prove stressful to them. Sudden noises, visiting guests, noisy children, travelling paw parent and even new furniture may trigger the onset of anxiety for a cat heading to the litter box. This is where having more than one litter box would help a nervous cat.

* It’s important to note that electric self-cleaning litter boxes are not advisable for certain types of cats and situations. It is an enclosed litter box type and it makes noise and movement when operating.

 6. Location
*A cat litter box should be placed in an open and easily accessible location. It is not advisable to choose a dead-end corner in the toilet or utility room, even for that matter purpose-built furniture.    

* By having multiple locations and multiple boxes, your cat can choose what he feels is ideal for him in any given situation. That gives you the flexibility to have one box in an enclosed bathroom, and another, in a more open location.

* Do not put all your litter boxes in the same location. While it may be convenient for the paw parent, it certainly defeats the purpose of having an extra litter box.

* Noisy areas (eg: a box placed next to a washing machine, playful children) might not be the most ideal location for an already nervous cat.

* Should you choose to train your cat to do it on the human toilet, your cat may not be thrilled to jump and balance precariously – especially when age and sickness catch up with him. Be prepared to change and adapt back to a more conventional litter box concept. 

Finally, it’s best to let your cat make the right decision right at the onset. Consider your cat’s best interest when it comes to selecting the substrate, size, type and placement of the litter box.

Should your feline companion develop behavioural issues with the litter box, don’t wait to act.  The longer the problem persists, the harder it will be to correct it. Consider contacting a cat behavioural expert after ruling out any underlying medical issues with your vet.

About Helen Papillion…

Helene Papillon is a Canadian residing in Singapore for more than two decades. She has more than 40 years of experience handling cats. Her love and passion for felines became a business some four years ago.

She now provides behavioural advice, cat safety and catification services through her behavioural consultancy service, City Zen Cats.