Cats take to litter boxes like ducks to water.
OK, it's a pathetic metaphor, but it gets the idea across: Most felines are readily and reliably trained to use a litter box. But when cats don't catch on, owners can get more than a little frustrated. If your cat is having litter box "issues," here are some questions to ask yourself:
Did you rule out a medical cause? A trip to the vet should pinpoint underlying conditions such as a urinary-tract infection, cystitis or colitis. If a cat experiences pain while eliminating, she might associate that unpleasant sensation with being in the box.
Do you have more than one cat? In some multicat households, a litter box isn't just a litter box: It's a place where the top cat can push around underlings, who then see the litter box as a trap. Try keeping the bully at bay.
Do you have more than one litter box? To increase your chances of success have several strategically placed boxes. With multiple cats, figure one box each, plus a "spare."
Have you tried an open box? Hooded litter boxes are popular among humans because they camouflage the goings-on within. Some cats, however, would gladly give up that discretion for roomier digs. If a box is too cramped or the cat is uncomfortable maneuvering in tight quarters, she might opt for an open-air latrine.
Are you scooping enough? Keeping a litter box scrupulously clean is important. While you may not have time to change the litter daily, you should be scooping at least twice a day. Washing the entire litter box with a mild detergent at least once a week is important as well. Using white vinegar will neutralize the smell of urine.
Have you changed the brand of litter? Some cats, especially declawed ones, have very sensitive paw pads. If you are using a clay-based litter, try switching to a sand-type brand or one made out of pelleted newspaper, such as Yesterday's News. Also, while you may think scented litter smells nice, your cat may not agree.
Is your cat spayed or neutered? Because unaltered animals use urine and feces to mark territory, you're just asking for trouble.
Does your cat understand the litter box concept? Cats that have been permitted to soil the house or who were given free reign of it too soon may not have quite "gotten" the idea of the litter box. In that case, you need to go back to basics, confining the cat to a smaller space, providing a clean, fresh litter box and supervising.
Are you punishing your cat's "mistakes"? As far as enlightened methodology goes, "rubbing his nose in it" is right up there with leeches and bloodletting. Instead, use positive reinforcement.
Have you considered location, location, location? Litter boxes should not be near a cat's food or water bowls, or close to their sleeping area. High-traffic areas are a bad idea, as are inconspicuous or hard-to-reach spots.
Have you sanitized all the house's "oops" spots? It's not enough to douse a soiled area with some liquid soap and call it a day; you'll need to use an enzymatic cleaner to truly get the scent out.
Has anything changed in your household recently? It doesn't take much to stress out our fuzzy companions: a new addition to the household, remodeling work, even the sight of a neighboring cat out the window. Work to minimize these stresses, or at least desensitize your cat to them.