An interview with Andrea Tasi, VMD

A cat’s use of the litter box is an ancestral instinct, yet the #1 behavioral reason cats are surrendered to shelters is house soiling. Three major causes for cats eliminating outside their box are: 1) medical conditions, 2) litter box aversions or preferences, and 3) anxiety, stress, and/or territorial issues. 

First, have your cat seen by your veterinarian for a complete health evaluation. Once the cat has been cleared of medical causes, our job is to learn what our cats like and dislike about litter boxes and provide the most attractive environment for elimination.

Litter box preferences:

  • Bigger boxes are better. Most commercial litter boxes are too small for the average or larger cat. Under-the-bed storage containers or deeper storage containers with an entrance cut out make great alternatives.
  • Uncovered boxes are almost universally preferred. Covers concentrate odors and camouflage the need to scoop the box. (Imagine portable sanitation toilets and you might get the picture.) Plus, in multiple cat households covered boxes are prime territory for stalking others.
  • Clean boxes are respectful and essential. Clean with hot, soapy (dish soap) water, rinsed, and dried regularly. If it smells bad after cleaning or is old and scratched, replace it.
  • Unscented litter is mandatory-a cat’s nose is 1000 times more sensitive than a human’s. Not only is a fragrant scent offensive, but it also will never cover a dirty box. Clumping litter is not immortal and should be replaced regularly. Soft textured litter is preferred. New crystal and pellet litters may be uncomfortable.
  • Boxes should be scooped at least once, preferably twice daily. Make it easy: keep scoop and bags/closed container next to the box! If you won’t walk in the box in your bare feet, why expect it of your cat?
  • Placement is crucial with easy access to a clean, quiet, and adequately lit area. Not, in a laundry room or next to appliances such as a furnace that can suddenly make loud noises.
  • Multiple cat households equal multiple locations, with as many boxes as there are cats, plus one. For senior/arthritic cats, a box on every level is mandatory. Food and water bowls should never be near the box – would you want to eat where you eliminate? And, if a cat repetitively soils an area, PUT A BOX THERE!
  • Stress and anxiety may be helped with natural medicines such as flower essences or herbal therapies. Talk with your holistic veterinarian or animal care practitioner to select an appropriate remedy.

Keep in mind, we as cat caregivers provoke house soiling by presuming that what we prefer is what our cats prefer. Respect your cat’s ancestral instinct and preferences for urination and defecation. If a cat is house soiling make sure there are litter box choices so your cats can show you their likes and dislikes. If caught in the act you can interrupt the behavior and then take them to (but not put them in) the box. No punishment, no hollering, no after-the-fact nastiness. There is no moral value of urine or feces in the cat. For more information on Dr. Tasi, check out her website: Just Cats, Naturally

Previously published in PetSage blog.
© Terri Grow, 2020
Terri Grow writes and speaks on pet health and welfare, working with veterinarians, trainers, shelters and manufacturers to empower canine and feline health through diets, herbal therapies, supplements and environmental adjustments.