Keeping Furry Felines in their Forever Homes – Inappropriate Elimination

It’s our mission to keep dogs and cats in their forever homes through training and education.  While cats don’t join us in group classes, we do a number of in-home private sessions to help cats adjust to a new dog in the home or vice versa.  However, there are a number of behavioral issues families experience with cats (outside of interactions with a dog) that can be prevented or modified with a little knowledge so cats aren’t relinquished to shelters.  At Cold Nose College we like to prevent problems.  Preventing is so much easier than retraining or modifying unwanted behaviors.

 Six Areas of Preventing Cat Behavior Problems:

  • Creating the perfect litter box (preventing elimination problems)
  • Creating the perfect scratching post (preventing scratching problems)
  • Play and play-motivated aggression
  • Creating friendly cats:  Socialization, handling and introduction to the new home/family
  • Introducing cats to other family cats
  • Introducing cats to dogs

In this post, I’ll address preventing inappropriate elimination, since this is an unwanted behavior that none of us want and is probably the number one reason cats are returned to shelters or lose their lives.

Cats choose their elimination areas different than dogs. As kittens, there’s a tendency to play and dig in any loose particulate matter.  Kittens will seek out loose matter to eliminate in (you don’t have to teach this).  The type of litter is important!  It’s best to start out with the type of litter you expect your kitten to use as an adult.

Like dogs, if you’ll minimize a new cat‘s environment during first few days, they will more easily learn to use a litter box.  If you have a multi-cat household, you should have one litter box for each cat, plus one (i.e., if you have 2 cats, you’ll need 3 litter boxes.

Type of litter is important.  Most cats prefer fine-grained material (clumping litter is finer than clay) and most don’t like deep litter, so keep the depth to 1 to 2 inches.  Please use unscented litter.  One research study found that cats with litter box problems were more likely to have scented litter in the box.

Type of litter box.   A large cat will need a large box.  Kittens and older cats will need a box with lower sides.  It’s preferable not to use a cover.  Cats will need to adjust to a cover because they’re generally reticent about a dark, confined area because they’re unable to monitor their surroundings while in the vulnerable position of eliminating.

Location of the box.  Cats like privacy, so place the litter box away from high traffic areas in your home, but not so out of the way that it’s apart from the cat’s general living area.  Keep the box away from noisy appliances, place multiple boxes away from one another and position the box so there’s more than one exit route from the box.

Cleaning is important!  Would you want to go to the bathroom in a toilet that hadn’t been flushed for a whole day? And heaven forbid….a week?  Scoop daily – the cleaner the better!  Change the litter frequently so that it always looks dry and clean and has no detectable odor.  Wash the box before replacing the litter.  Though liners can be used, know that some cats don’t have a tolerance for liners.

If you’ll follow these easy to implement recommendations, your cat will love you for it!

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a dog*tec Professional Dog Walking Academy Instructor, a Peaceable Paws Canine Behavior & Training Academy Instructor and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina.  She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S.


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