Monday, October 25, 2021

Acting up Outside the Box



By Naomi & Karina Paape –

Dear Fellow Felines:

Wow, was I ever shocked to learn that the number one reason cat owners surrender and euthanize their cats is because they are “going” somewhere other than their litter box. Just as shocking is that experts agree the problem is usually not the cat’s fault. There is either something about the litter box that repels these misunderstood felines, or there is a medical or behavioral problem that compels litter box avoidance. Jan says that during For the Love of Cats’ many adoption events, she and Jim “spend countless hours talking to cat owners about litter box issues.”

CBN_B20-16During a recent shelter cleaning – a chore I insist my staff tackle quarterly – I heard tell of cats who “go” in sinks or beds, and others who spray baseboards and drapes, and still others who have completely ruined the carpet or bamboo flooring. Quite understandably, it is at this point humans conclude little girlie girl is being vindictive and intends to ruin their day. As smart as we are, we felines do not have the capacity for such manipulative thinking. We do not set out to sabotage your morning coffee, your mid-day tea, your piles of sorted laundry, or your formal dinner party. “Going” outside the box is not an act of spite, but a cry for help.

Being your most esteemed tortie, I hope to ensure this cry is heard by sharing  with you the litter box wisdom I have gleaned through the years. On one hand, you have your human who strives to keep the box invisible and odor free, treating its very existence as need-to-know only information. On the other paw, you have the finicky and fastidious feline who prefers the box be proudly situated in some prime real estate (think kitchen/family room). How hard can this be, you ask? Just buy a box; dump some litter into it, and stuff the thing in the corner of a forgotten closet. Voila, problem solved.

Not so fast sister. For starters, it would behoove all cat staff (a.k.a. owners) to start with a proper litter box. The rule of thumb is for the box to be 1.5 times the length of the cat (I feel for those of you with Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest cats). Boxes should be easily accessible and provide a quiet and safe location. Covered boxes should be avoided. Designed to be attractive, these actually make us feel we’ve been taken hostage. Moreover, while using such a box, any other cats in the household may stalk, then tackle us. While scented litters may appeal to you humans, to us felines they are repugnant.

Another rule of thumb is to have one box per cat plus one extra.



For example, if you have 11 cats you need a minimum of 12 litter boxes. So ideally, for your two cat household you should have three oversized, uncovered litter boxes filled with unscented litter and located in places that are inviting rather than confining. Those under bed storage bins make great kitty litter boxes. And remember, litter boxes need to be cleaned at least daily; twice a day is even better.

Be advised that even if you follow the aforesaid guidelines to a “T,” your adorable boy may still be urinating outside the box. In this case, you are probably looking at a medical issue versus poor litter box etiquette. Cats get UTI’s (urinary tract infections) which often cause painful urination; they justifiably associate this discomfort with the litter in the box. Thus, your suffering feline’s solution is simply to avoid the box. UTIs often cause crystals which can block the urethra (think kidney stones here). Be aware that this is a potentially serious and life-threatening situation that warrants an immediate trip to the vet or emergency hospital. A change of diet is usually prescribed. I personally think using filtered water for drinking bowls is also beneficial.

If the problem doesn’t fall into the medical or unacceptable litter box category, your Mr. Whiskers may be acting out – or in vet lingo – is manifesting a behavioral issue. Cats are very territorial and may resort to spraying in an effort to protect their turf. That is why multiple litter boxes are recommended. Many other felines react to threats to their turf – such as a new cat, puppy, beau, kid – by going into stress mode which leads them to seek a safer place to relieve themselves. Again, proper litter box etiquette is crucial to minimize behavioral issues. You may also try a different litter, such as Dr. Elsey’s “Cat Attract.” If you are not having any of the aforesaid problems, hurray – you are doing something right, even if you are not in compliance with my priceless instructions.

On the shelter news front, Elsa – our gunshot victim – is enjoying a great recovery.  “She is such a charmer and wants a home of her own very badly,” says Jan. We have a new, two-year old boy rescue named “Charlie” who was terribly abused when he was a kitten. He has a broken tail that also suffered a partial amputation. “He is a nice cat but certainly has some trust issues,” says Jan. “We are taking it slowly and giving him lots of positive reinforcement.”

Naomi is a 4 year old Tortie and a permanent resident at FLC. She is the shelter supervisor and takes her salary in food. She would love for you to learn more about For the Love of Cats at its website,


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