Litter tray misses: what your cat’s telling you

Litter tray misses can be frustrating and unpleasant for the cat owner who has to clean up after their cat but for the cat, it could be even worse. Messing outside the litter tray could be a cat’s call for help. Diabetes, early kidney failure, and other health problems can be the cause of your cat missing the box, but there are also issues within the home which could be making your cat unhappy.

One of the most frustrating scenarios is one where urine or stool is within centimetres of the sides, back, or front of the litter box. In short, right next to the box, but not in the box. So aggravating! The cat is 90% of the way there, but fails to go in the box. What’s up?

Here are three of the most common scenarios for “missing the box:”

Your cat may not be able to assume the correct position in the litter tray

The posture they need to assume is one with the rear end tucked under far enough so everything lands in the box. Many commercially available litter boxes are too small for a cat to climb in, sniff around, paw, and crouch with room for the tail to not be bumped up against the back of the box. Litter boxes need to be 1 ½ times the length of the cat’s body and about 3 times as wide as the cat. Many of our cats are obese and have a tough time tucking enough to have their rear in the right place. So, the cat gets in position, but the rear end is hanging over the edge and the stool or urine ends up on the floor next to the box. The cat was in the right place and doing the right thing, but the box is the problem. Under the bed storage boxes are large enough and low sided enough to help with this problem. Creating a new litter box out of a large storage bin can also help.

Your cat stands on the edge rather than in the litter

Watching your cat balance on the edge of a litter box may seem comical or weird, but it is a sign that the cat does not like standing in this box or is not able to, possibly because it is too small. If you have a large box and your cat is standing on the edge, this often means the cat does not like the actual litter. Try offering your cat a second box with a different type of litter and see which one it prefers. The litters most widely accepted by cats are the generic clay litter or the litter with only activated charcoal as the deodorizer.  If there has been a chronic problem with your cat avoiding the litter and you have tried alternate types and larger boxes, have your cat examined by your veterinarian.

Your cat is constipated

They get in the box, they get in position, but nothing happens. After a while of no results, they get out of the box. Now the stool is right there and they must go NOW. So, they do. Only it’s just near the box, not in the box; whereas on good days they may get the stool in the box. Constipation problems may be due to a lack of fibre, not enough water consumption, irritable bowel disorder, or possibly kidney failure. If your cat has firm stools, please have your cat examined and bring stool samples and photos of your cat’s stool. Veterinarians are used to looking at all sorts of things, so don’t feel weird about bringing photos of your cat’s litter box. It can help a lot with diagnosis.

You may do all these things and your cat might still go right next to the box. This can be aggravating, to say the least. If you have worked with your veterinarian to screen for health problems or any chronic pain, there are ways to help manage this behavior and keep your home clean, such as putting a puppy pad under the litter box to catch the misses. Now you can dispose of the waste and it will not soil your home. Clean the floor with an enzyme cleaner to remove as much of the odor as possible. Whenever you find your cat near the box praise and reward them. Even if your cat is going in the box 50% of the time, they may improve with a larger box, good litter box hygiene, and the their favourite type of litter.

Article by Dr Sophia Yin, @drsophiayin.com