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Is Your Cat Missing the Litter Box?

The most common question about cat ownership concerns the litter box... especially if kitty isn't using it.

But there is a secondary litter box problem that involves other issues, especially when the cat seems unaware of going over the side of the box, onto the floor.

This appears to be as much an annoyance to people as the cat going behind the couch, for some reason. Many owners get the idea that kitty is wreaking some kind of revenge for a perceived mistreatment or situation the cat is upset about.

While it's possible a cat may not appreciate certain conditions at your home, it's not reasonable to believe it's a motivation for getting even. Cats are not emotionally equipped for the human emotion of revenge. They do things we don't like for reasons of their own, which we may never discover.

However, there are things we can do to help kitty do a better job.

1. First and foremost, it's critical to be sure there are no health issues causing the problem. Get a wellness exam with a veterinarian before you get angry with the cat. After all, if you yell at him when he's in pain from a urinary infection, he may decide to avoid the box altogether.

2. One mistake many new cat owners make is to overfill the litter box. Just from a volumetric perspective, there may be so much sand in the box that kitty is standing at the level of the top edge of the box itself. There is no place to paw the sand to cover the wastes or for him to realize he's close to the edge. Use only enough sand to cover the bottom so there is room in the box for kitty to comfortably get into position. Most cats prefer a sand depth of about 2 inches at most, and some do well with just one inch.

3. Another way to help kitty stay within the confines of the box is to use one with high sides. Unless the cat is unable to hop in due to size (tiny or large), advancing age, disease or disability, even an ordinary tote box with 18 inch sides makes a great litter box. Cut out a small "door way" for access if the cat can't hop in but still needs a box with higher sides. And still use only a couple inches of sand.

4. Another option is to use a covered litter box. However, not all cats like being in an enclosed space with wastes and odors, especially if another cat has been contributing to that box, so this may not work. But there are cats who don't mind, so it's worth a try.

5. Be sure the litter box is large enough by length and width, too. Some stores sell less expensive litter trays that are very small. These may work well inside a cage and for temporary use, but for everyday littering, get as large a box as will fit in the space you have and that you can afford.

6. One cat shelter is having great success with round plastic "wash tubs" with a 20-inch diameter across the top. These work well because the sides are 12 inches high with a slight outward angle, and have two handhold slots so they are easy to lift for emptying and washing.

Whatever remedies you use to help your kitty clean up his act, just be careful not to punish him or hurt him, or he may refuse to use any box you provide because it represents a negative experience.

For more information and advice about cat litter box problems, visit

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