The Litter box and the “Port-o-Potty”

By January 3, 2017 Uncategorized
Dr. Zach Jones

The Litter box and the ‘Port-o-Potty’

Let’s face it: cats are a little weird.  What other species likes to sprint around the house at 3 am without warning? Or play inside a cardboard box for hours on end?  These odd yet endearing little creatures are often viewed by people as having a very unusual set of habits and preferences that are often confusing to us.  Fortunately, our understanding of normal feline behaviour has demonstrated that people and their feline companions are far more similar than you might expect…  Cats – just like people -have preferences.  They prefer certain foods to others.  They have preferred sleeping and playing areas within your home.  They also have predictable bathroom preferences too…

Cat Tips in Royal York
So what if my cat’s litter box is not quite to their liking?
 Because of the many options available to them, most of our furry friends will have no problem finding a more preferable location to do their business if something isn’t quite right about their litter box.  This ‘new and improved’ location is commonly a bed, a couch, or a carpet – and this is the point where a ‘normal’ feline behaviour can often be interpreted as ‘abnormal’ and often intolerable for many owners.  Unfortunately, many medical problems can cause increased urination, impaired ability to urinate, pain on urination, etc. and these problems can manifest in the exact same way.  Therefore it is imperative that we don’t assume it’s a matter of preference until the vet has ruled out all potential underlying medical conditions first.

My vet has ruled out all medical problems, but my cat is still peeing on my couch, bed, etc – now what?  A possible explanation is that your kitty likes to go on the couch/bed/rug better than in their litter box – but why?  A useful analogy that I often use to explain this issue to clients is one I call ‘the port-o-potty analogy’.  You are likely familiar with the dreaded ‘port-o-potty’ portable toilets.  Just think of how uncomfortable and often utterly disgusting they can be.   But ask yourself: what exactly is it about these awful plastic bathrooms that we dislike so much?  Although it’s a bit uncomfortable to think about, our bathroom preferences can tell us a lot about how our cats may perceive their litter boxes.  Some of these preferences are outlined below in what may be the internet’s most awkward and unusual chart:

Toileting Preference: “Port-o-potty”:  Litterbox:  Our Suggestions:
Cleanliness There is nothing worse than a dirty, smelly port-o-potty – enough said. A soiled litter box is equally disgusting for your cat.  Alternatively, peeing on the owners bed means someone will clean up after you… every single time! -Scoop your cat’s litter box at least once daily and completely change the litter once weekly
-If you have multiple cats then you will need to scoop 2 times per day or more.
-Keep boxes separate from areas where your cat eats/drinks
Privacy Most of us don’t enjoy the idea of other people waiting outside the bathroom, watching you enter and exit – it’s just plain awkward! Your cat does not want to use a litter box in a ‘high traffic’ area either, and the risk of encountering other pets while doing their business is unsettling for them. -Litter boxes should be located in secluded areas where your cat can be alone.
-Each cat in the home should have their own private litter box (+1) and each box should be in different areas of the home. 2 separate boxes placed side by side will be seen as 1 litter area by most cats.
Comfort Port-o-potties are often uncomfortably small, hot, & smelly – gross! A litter box that is too small/confined, uncomfortable to get into, or filled with a litter type that is unnatural is NOT going to work out very well for you or your cat. -Choose a litter pan with low edges to allow easy entry/exit.
-large boxes are best (ie minimum 1.5x the length of your kitty).
-Choose a litter type and depth which allows the cat to dig a hole and bury their ‘business’
-Unscented, clumping litter is best!
Conveniance Would you want to travel great distances or climb several stories to use a gross port-o-potty?  Didn’t think so … If you have an older cat with mobility issues, or an exceptionally lazy cat, keeping the box in the far reaches of your home is far from ideal. -Keep litter boxes in an area that is easy for your cat to access (ie minimize stairs), ideally located on the same floor of your home where you cat spends the most amount of their time.
Litter Box Tips for Your Cats

What’s wrong with this picture? A litterbox next to a loud machine can be very uncomfortable for your cat. Also, placing it in a high traffic area such as near a doorway can create anxiety and aversion to the litter box. The high rim on this box may be difficult for older cats to enter/exit as well.


What if I try everything in your weird chart and my cat still urinates outside the box?  Feline toileting problems can be a multi-factorial issue and the solution for each individual is often different.  Homes with multiple cats are at increased risk of house-soiling problems because each individual has a set of preferences which need to be satisfied.  Once a cat develops a habit of going outside the box, it can sometimes be very difficult to break that habit.

If your cat is peeing outside the box, it is important to discuss this issue with your veterinarian first to explore the possibility of an underlying medical concern before addressing any unsatisfied toileting preferences.  Once a diagnosis has been made, your vet will work with you to come up with a plan to keep your cat healthy and happy – not to mention keep your living quarters cat-pee free.

For More info on house-soiling problems and how to address them, we encourage you to check out the handout from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) here.

Dr. Zach Jones

Royal York Animal Hospital 4222 Dundas Street West Etobicoke, Ontario M8X 1Y6 416-231-9293


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