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Five Questions And Answers Concerning Litter Trays And Toileting

Most of us have litter trays for our cats to use, and in most cases this works fine for all concerned.  But sometimes things go wrong, cats toilet inappropriately, or we have other questions about cat litter and litter tray use.  Here are some of the commonest ones...

Why won't my cat use the litter tray?

You are not alone.  This is the Number One behaviour problem for cats! 

Firstly, you need to find out if there is a medical problem, particularly if your cat has stopped using the litter tray quite suddenly.  Urinary tract infections and diseases such as diabetes make consistent litter tray use really difficult for cats.   So get your cat checked out by the vet first.

If she is not ill, you need to find out why she won't use the litter tray.  It may not be clean enough for her, so make sure it is cleaned regularly, as cats are fastidious animals.  If you have other cats, one of them may be preventing her from using the litter tray, so you need more trays – a good rule is one tray per cat, plus one extra one, so if you have three cats, you really need four trays.  Next, make sure she is happy with the size and type of litter and tray.  Many owners like covered litter trays, but some cats, especially large ones, find these difficult to get into, and refuse to use them.  And some cats don't like the feel of certain types of cat litter on their paws.  Finally, make sure the litter tray is located somewhere your cat feels safe, and that it is well away from her food and water.

If none of that works, it may be worth going back to your vet to see if you can get a referral to a specialist feline behaviourist who can help you sort out the problem.

What is the best cat litter to use?

There are numerous types of cat litter, and the best one is for you is the one that your cat likes and is willing to use.  This usually means sticking with what she is used to, as cats don't really like change.   Basically there are two main types of litter – clay litter which forms clumps which you can remove, and wood based pellets where you need to change the whole litter tray more often.  Some cats find clay to be hard on their paws, while other cats, particularly longhaired ones, find wood based litter sticks to their fur.  So find out which one she prefers.  There are also modern cat litters made from other materials, so you might like to try those too.  But stick with the same one, and if you need to change it for some reason, do so gradually, adding a small amount of the new litter to the old and gradually increasing the amount you add until your cat is used to it.


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My cat spends a lot of time outside, and she goes to the toilet there.  Do I really need to have a litter tray for her?

It is a good idea to have one, and to get your cat used to it.  She might need a litter tray sometime, for instance if she is ill, or you need to keep her indoors for some other reason.  Also, it might be nice for her to have somewhere to toilet during bad weather, particularly when she gets older and isn't so keen to go outside in all weathers.  And you might need to take her to a cattery some day, and she will need to use a litter tray there.  So overall it is a good idea if she gets used to using a litter tray now and then, even if you only have it for occasional use. 

My cat pees in the pots containing my houseplants.  How can I stop him?

Look at it from your cat's point of view – a plant pot contains nice, soft earth, so it must b e an extra litter tray.  So you need to make it less attractive to him.  Firstly, don't have plants too near the ground; put them higher up, or batter still, hang them up.  If your cat still tries to pee in the pot, you can try to dissuade him by spraying him with water from a  spray bottle whenever you see him.  This is harmless, but he won't like it. If that doesn't work, cover the soil in your pot with rough stones or small rocks.  This should definitely prevent you cat from using it as a litter tray.

Can you teach a cat to use a human toilet instead of a litter tray?

The internet is full of videos of cats perched precariously on toilet seats, and you can even buys kits which promise to teach your cat to use the toilet.  So theoretically it can be done.  But I have never personally heard of a cat being taught to do this successfully.  And would you even want to?  The cat is liable to soil on the seat, miss the toilet sometimes and use the floor, and she certainly won't learn to flush the toilet!  This is really, really not a natural thing for a cat to do, and you will be better off letting her use a litter tray, which is so much closer to her natural toileting behaviour in the wild.

Finally...an anecdote...

Have you ever wondered who invented cat litter?  It was apparently a chap called Edward Lowe.  He worked for his father's company, which sold industrial absorbents, including an absorbent clay called Fuller's Earth.  One day his neighbour tried some of this for her cat's toilet tray, and it worked really well.  So in 1947 Lowe put the clay in five-pound bags, wrote “Kitty Litter” on the front, and persuaded a local store owner to try it.  By the time he died, Lowe was a millionaire many times over, after selling his company to a multinational conglomerate, proving that the best ideas are sometimes really simple ones.


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