Cat Litter Box Problems Eliminated

When Pete Roberts’ cat Tony began to relieve himself while standing in the litter box, the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident was appalled. “We didn’t know what was wrong, but we had to do damage control fast,” he says. At a loss as to why Tony developed this annoying habit, which allowed him to spray over the top of his litter box, Roberts and his wife had to get creative. “We bought one of those litter boxes with a lid and made a ‘hinge’ inside with packaging tape,” says Roberts. This way, when Tony aimed higher than his 4-inch litter box, the only thing wet was the tape in the back of the box.

Countless other cat owners find themselves equally challenged by their pets’ sudden elimination mishaps. Perhaps even your own feline falls into that bathroom hit-or-miss group. Despite your feline’s mysterious nature, there are ways to discover why kitty is giving you grief, as well as steps you can take to solve common litter box problems.

Out-of-the-box Thinking
Readers of The Daily Cat have posted numerous questions on this very subject. For example, several owners are concerned because their feline friend pees all over expensive rugs and precious furniture. We asked animal behaviorist Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., of Animal Behavior Associates Inc. in Littleton, Colo., to shed some light on the confusion.

“Medical problems must always be ruled out first,” says Dr. Hetts, who explains that health issues are the most common causes for changes in elimination habits. If your cat has a painful medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection, it may associate the litter box with pain. Other conditions, such as diabetes, can increase urination. Because cats don’t always act sick when they are feeling unwell, litter box avoidance may be your best sign of a health concern. Therefore, a good first step is to take your pet to your local veterinarian.

If kitty passes the medical exam with flying colors, plenty of other reasons could be causing its unfavorable behavior. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Litter essentials  Cats are finicky about many things, including litter. Research shows that most cats enjoy the soft texture of fine-grained litter and hesitate to go near scented litter. The answer to your pet’s elimination problem could therefore be as simple as trying out various types of litter. Buying the cheapest litter may help your wallet, but if Fluffy doesn’t like it, it won’t think twice before going all over the couch instead. “But how can I avoid the strong stench of cat urine without deodorized litter?” asks one reader of The Daily Cat. The answer: Spread baking soda underneath the litter to help absorb odors without repelling your cat.

Cleanliness Put yourself in your cat’s paws: If you walked into a bathroom that stinks, would you be tempted to use it? Baking soda and unscented litter in the box may work temporarily, but if the box isn't consistently clean, the cat won’t use it. Cleaning doesn’t take a long time. Scoop it clean daily and you won’t have to change the actual litter for a couple of weeks. At least once a month, scrub the box with soap and water, avoiding strong-smelling chemicals or cleaning products. Then thoroughly dry the box with a few paper towels before refilling. Simply adding more litter does not equate to less-frequent cleaning. In fact, most cats avoid litter more than 2 inches deep.

Box particulars Not all cats are created equal, so not all litter boxes work for all cats. After weeks of replacing wet packaging tape in Tony’s covered litter box, Roberts searched for a more permanent litter box option that would suit Tony. “We looked online and browsed around the pet store, and we bought a Clevercat® litter box,” he says. Similar to a trash bin, this unique box includes a lid with a hole on top. When the cat needs to relieve itself, it hops inside through the hole, takes care of its business and then exits through the same hole. A built-in tracking mat removes the litter from the cat’s paws before it hops off. “We’ve used this ever since, but it may be hard for your own cat to hop in if he’s old,” says Roberts.

Although this type of setup was the perfect solution for agile Tony, old age or excessive weight may discourage your cat from using such a box. Before choosing a litter box, it’s therefore important to take into account your cat’s breed and preferences. From faux houseplants to washroom cabinets, a variety of innovative litter boxes are available on the CatLitterBoxes web site.

Stress Creatures of habit by nature, felines thrive in familiar surroundings. A new litter box location, a recent move to a different home or any kind of change in your cat’s surroundings may cause your pet to shy away from its litter box. To avoid such problems, gently reteach your cat where to go. Don’t add the unnecessary stress of punishment. Instead, encourage adjustment by gently picking up your cat and putting it in its litter box when you catch it eliminating at the wrong place.

If you have a multi-cat household, be sure to provide your pets with a sufficient number of litter boxes. The general rule is to have one litter box per cat, plus one. If you live in a home with stairs, remember to give your cat access to a box on each floor.

Social system Cats are territorial animals that are sometimes driven to exclude other cats, and even humans, from their turf. To communicate their boundaries to trespassers, they sometimes leave behind an odorous mark. Providing a private toilet area for your cat is one way to solve this problem. For multi-cat households, leave several feet between each cat’s box, if possible. That will prevent one cat from ambushing another while the latter is feeling vulnerable and trying to go.

Another possible solution is neutering/spaying. Research shows that 90 percent of male cats that sprayed urine stopped after being neutered. If your problem cat is male, neutering may be successful, since intact males are usually the marking culprits.

Disgruntlement with owner Some owners interpret litter box mishaps to be their pet’s way of showing spite towards them. “Definitely not,” insists Dr. Hetts. “This is an anthropomorphic interpretation and not a helpful perspective for solving the problem,” she adds.

When All Else Fails...
Exasperated with their cats, some readers of The Daily Cat claim they’ve tried everything and yet nothing works. “This is usually what happens when people take a ‘try this, try that’ approach,” explains Dr. Hetts. “They haven’t tried the right thing, because what they’ve tried has not been relevant to the reason or cause for the behavior.” The most effective solutions are the ones based on clues your cat gives you about the issue. For example, if your cat starts peeing next to the litter box instead of inside, it may not like the type of litter. Or if your pet stops using a box located next to a window, it may have felt threatened by a passing stray it saw while using the litter box one day.

Although cats cannot be litter-trained as dogs can be house-trained, “if you build it, they will come,” encourages Dr. Hetts. “Meaning, if you provide a cat-friendly litter box that meets the feline’s behavioral needs, she will use it.” So put your investigative hat on. With a bit of work and dedication, you can reach a compromise that will keep both you and kitty satisfied. “Problem solved,” laughs Roberts now, relieved that Tony is no longer relieving himself on a bedroom wall.

How to Prevent 5 Common Cat Illnesses

You are more than a source of food, catnip and scratches behind the ear. You are your cat’s health advocate.

Many common cat illnesses and health problems are readily preventable with simple actions on your part, say veterinarians. “There are very basic things you can do,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “But a lot of people don’t do the basics.”

Make sure your cat receives regular veterinary exams, and follow these practices to help ensure your kitty’s long life, say experts. Here are five problems you can work to avoid.

GI Upset
“Often, when pets present to veterinary hospitals for GI distress, the cause is identifiable and preventable,” says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. Too often, we yield to temptation and that pleading look, and we feed our cats people food. Although you might be able to process sugar-loaded or fat-laden foods, your cat can’t handle these morsels. “When we decide to treat them with one of our yummy treats, we often do more harm than good,” explains Nelson. An upset stomach could mean a case of diarrhea or even pancreatitis.

Diabetes

Nelson considers diabetes to be the most preventable condition veterinarians see today. “Diabetes is not only a severely debilitating, life-threatening disease, but also very expensive, very difficult and very time-consuming to manage,” she notes. Obesity in cats is directly linked to Type 2 diabetes, advises Dewhirst. Managing your cat’s weight through portion control is a key to your kitty’s good health. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s weight, and provide play opportunities that offer your cat some exercise.

Dental Disease

Poor teeth and gum health leads to other serious health issues, the veterinarians advise. “Inflammation of the mouth causes chronic inflammation all over the body,” says Dewhirst. Yes, you can indeed learn to clean a cat’s teeth. Regular veterinary exams and cleanings will help maintain your cat’s dental health.

Heartworm and Other Parasites

Heartworm isn’t limited to canines. This serious parasite afflicts cats as well, and Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, says the disease can be easily avoided. A monthly application of a preventative will protect your cat. The heartworm is a parasite that is spread through the bite of mosquitoes, and heartworm disease is particularly problematic for cats, says Dewhirst. “It’s not treatable in cats,” she says. Even if your cat lives indoors, you should use a preventative to protect against heartworm, fleas and more.

Injuries and Trauma

The world can be a dangerous place for cats, particularly at night, notes Dewhirst. If your cat does go outdoors, limit outings to daylight hours, advises Dewhirst. “They need to come in at night; they need to be somewhere safe,” she says. She sees cats injured and bitten after being chased by dogs or after confrontations with wild animals. Cats also fall victim to cars. Helping your cat maintain a healthy weight will also keep stress off its joints and prevent injuries, notes Nelson. “Over 60 percent of American pets are overweight, and even a slight amount of extra poundage can significantly increase the pressure on our pets’ joints,” she says.

Thinking preventively will help ensure your cat is around for many more years of head rubs and cuddles. “Make sure to come in for a physical every year,” says Dewhirst. “Make them as parasite-free as possible. Keep them safe and don’t over-feed them. Don’t contribute to a lifestyle that will put them at risk.”

Global Cat Food Market Trends

Cats worldwide are enjoying better food and longer lives, multiple studies show. If you are the owner of a feline, you are helping to drive that trend. By the year 2017, demand for pet food is expected to boost sales to $95.7 billion across the globe, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. (GIA).

This report and others help reveal pet food trends in other countries. Here’s a look at what is happening now in some key locations:

Australia

Down Under, the number of dogs and cats per household is actually declining a bit, suggests industry analysis firm IBISWorld. Some of that is due to increasing urbanization, since farmers tend to care for more animals in general. Pet food and other product sales are booming, though, just as they are in many other countries. The reason: increasingly spoiled pooches and kitties. “Though declining in number, the average pet now enjoys better food, more treats and even inclusion in sophisticated human products like health insurance,” says IBISWorld analyst Craig Shulman.

Online sales of pet food are going up in Australia, with the Internet market “in a growth phase, brought on by expansion of products and services.” Over the past five years in Oz, online sales of cat food and other pet products have doubled. Shulman and his team credit this to improved technology and infrastructure supporting such purchases.

Europe
GIA concludes that the European pet food market is now primarily influenced by four factors: health-oriented products, foods for cats at different life stages, breed-specific diets, and treats. Health concerns are paramount, though.

Cat ownership is on the rise in the United Kingdom, says Lee Linthicum, head of food research at Euromonitor International, a market analysis firm. While Brits clearly love their cats, the tough economy is taking a toll on families, requiring them to work more hours while still limiting their budgets. “It burdens those owners that want to offer the best for their pet but cannot afford to do so.” Nevertheless, people are working hard in an effort to feed their cats the best and healthiest foods possible.

Asia-Pacific

This large, widespread region is enjoying the fastest-growing market for pet foods. GIA found that in Vietnam, India and China, product pricing and value for money are extremely important to cat owners.

Japan is somewhat similar to Australia. As for that nation, many families in Japan own older pets, so people are interested in buying new products appropriate for aging and elderly kitties. That’s a good sign, further supporting that cats are living to advanced ages.

In Singapore, South Korea and Japan, four factors are fueling pet food sales:

1.    Innovation

2.    Shorter product lifecycles (customers want to feed the freshest possible foods to their pets)

3.    Healthier products

4.    Convenience

Shared Trends

In most places around the world, the following seem to hold true, based on the GIA findings:

· Dog food sales are growing at a faster pace than cat food sales, but food sales for felines remain strong.

· People are mostly buying their pet food at retail grocery chains, at pet superstores and on the Internet.

· There are good signs that the economy is now post-recession, so leading companies are gearing up with new food product launches.

“The pet food industry continues to grow and expand,” says Stephen Zawistowski, science advisor for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Even during the toughest economic times, owners want the best for their pets.”

Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute in Washington, D.C., agrees. “Pets have become like every other member of the family, and this is increasingly reflected in how people feed their animals.”

“Pet foods are looking more like people food,” adds Ekedahl. “Consumers are into organic, natural foods now, and that’s what you’re seeing on pet food shelves. The industry has really come a long way in the past 10 years in meeting this growing interest.”

Can New Cat Feeders Help Solve Mealtime Problems?

Take a look at the food bowls offered online and in pet stores, and you’ll find more than a handful of newfangled bowls designed to solve various food-related problems -- especially overeating.

The DuraPet Slow-feed Bowl, for example, claims to be “ideal for overweight cats or cats that throw up after eating too quickly.” The Drs. Foster and Smith Bridgeport Slow Down Bowl for Cats has a “fish-shaped ‘slow-down’ feature that curbs air gulping and flatulence.” And the makers of the Break-fast Cat Bowl mention, “Slower eating makes an animal feel fuller and reduces instances of re-eating.”

The bowls themselves are pretty standard, except they have anywhere from one to three raised bumps in the middle that cats have to work around to get their kibble. They don’t tend to cost much more for this minor design change (prices range from $5.99 to $16.99), but whether or not they actually work is debatable. Many online customer reviews indicate that they can indeed slow down cats’ eating. But whether the slower pace can aid weight loss, digestion or flatulence is a question better left to veterinary professionals.

Aiding Digestion, but Not Curbing Weight Gain
“Slowing food intake could potentially aid in digestion by reducing the incidence of vomiting,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Food gulping can be associated with the swallowing of excessive air that may lead to flatulence, however, this is seen more frequently in dogs.” Dicke says it’s unlikely that these bowls can help overweight cats lose weight. “Techniques and apparatuses used to slow down food intake in cats are more about controlling vomiting than weight,” she says.

Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, agrees. “Weight loss is achieved by portion control of the appropriate food and increased activity level,” she says. “If you’re serving too much of the wrong food, a bowl won’t make any difference.”

Dicke, who has worked with teams of nutritionists and researchers, says switching to a food that’s been scientifically designed for weight loss can additionally help. “Look for special ingredients, such as L-carnitine -- also known as the ‘fat burner’ -- to promote loss of fat and maintenance of lean muscle,” she says.

Cat Food Bowls for Play
If slow food bowls have iffy benefits, other interactive slow food bowls could make eating fun for any cat. The Stimulo bowl by Aikiou ($28.95) is genuinely novel in that it looks nothing like a bowl. Rather, it is a collection of vertical tubes of different heights in which you can stash food. Your cats must then work at getting their meal.

The manufacturers tout this as something that taps into cats’ instincts for hunting and play. “It will depend upon the personality of the individual cat,” says Nelson. “Some will decide it’s not worth the wait, others may find it quite stimulating.”

Dicke says she would take the idea of the Stimulo and expand it across a wider area. “Small amounts of food hidden throughout the house may provide multiple benefits, including mentally engaging the cat, slowing food intake and providing exercise (which could provide a weight loss benefit),” she says. Dicke also suggests a homemade version of standard slow food bowls -- just place a golf ball or very large marbles in the feeding bowl. Small amounts of food placed in an egg cartoon container can also serve to slow food intake by increasing the difficulty of getting it.

For the granddaddy of fancy cat food bowl designs, look no further than the Dog-proof Cat Feeding Station, sold by Frontgate. Resembling a side table with a smooth walnut finish, the feeding station is essentially a handsome cage that can hold and protect a cat food bowl. A cat can slip into the station and eat in peace.

It’s a great idea if you have a dog that goes after your cat’s food. But considering its $199.95 price tag, you may prefer to come up with a homemade solution for this one too.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/MJN123

Special Food Choices for Your Senior Cat

While cats are considered to be senior at age 7, they move into the “senior-plus” category at age 11. Below, Dr. Trisha Joyce, veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, shares the special nutritional needs of cats in their golden years.

Nutritional Considerations Change as Cats Age
“The biggest thing for older cats is protein content,” says Joyce. “All cats older than 11 have some degree of kidney disease.” Cats are obligate carnivores; they need animal protein to not only thrive, but also survive. As they age, though, their kidneys can’t generally handle so much of a good thing. “A little less protein is easier on the kidneys,” emphasizes Joyce.

Other concerns for older cats will not be new to anyone who is familiar with the human aging process:

  • Obesity. The biggest health problem among household pets is difficult to manage in cats, particularly because they tend to become more and more sedentary as they age.
  • Constipation. The aforementioned kidney problems leave older cats prone to dehydration, which can contribute to constipation, as does a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Immune functioning. A cat’s ability to fight illness declines with age.
  • Mobility. Joyce says that arthritis is probably underdiagnosed in cats. “They don’t move around as much in general, so pet owners won’t often notice their stiffness. But it’s reasonable to assume that they get joint degradation, just like dogs and people.”

Is Senior-plus Food Right for Your Cat?
Senior-plus food is appropriate for all cats 11 and older whose health problems do not meet the threshold for a specific prescription diet. Cats with more severe health problems may need a more aggressive dietary approach. “Senior food is no substitute for a prescription diet. Make sure to involve your veterinarian in any decision to change your pet’s food,” says Joyce.

When transitioning to a new food, it is recommended that you make the change gradually, substituting small amounts of new food for old over the course of a week.

What to Look For in Senior-plus Food
Given the most common health concerns of older cats, senior-plus formulas should address kidney health, immune functioning, joint health, digestion and weight concerns. As Joyce mentions above, a lower-protein formula can help promote kidney health. The following ingredients address each of these other common concerns:

  • L-carnitine. This compound is thought to promote the metabolism of fatty acids, helping cats burn them as energy.
  • Prebiotics and beet pulp. “Prebiotics promote a balance of healthy bacteria in the gut. Combined with a good fiber source like beet pulp and enough water, these fight constipation,” says Joyce.
  • Antioxidants. “Antioxidants are thought to support immune functioning. These fall under the category of ‘Might help; can’t hurt.’”
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These compounds are produced naturally by the body and keep cartilage healthy. A senior-plus formula should be supplemented with these to stop the progression of arthritis.


“Cat’s don’t complain like dogs do, so owners are less likely to know they’re suffering, but it doesn’t mean joint pain is not an issue for them!” emphasizes Joyce.

Cats need extra TLC in their golden years, and one place to provide it is in the dish. With the right pet formula, your senior-plus cat can enjoy its old age as much as its youth.