Urinary tract infections can be very painful for cats, and unfortunately they do not understand why they are going through such agony. They do not know why it feels painful to urinate or defecate every time they visit the litter box, and that means the innocent litter box becomes a suspected source of their traumatic experience.
Cats have incredible memories, too – it helps them remember what is good, bad, or painful. This means they will likely continue to avoid the litter box even after they have recovered from the infection.
If your cat is going through this messy situation, we are here to help! In this article, we will discuss how to retrain a cat to use the litter box after suffering a urinary tract infection. Hopefully, you can use these tips to remind your cat about the right place to eliminate.
Why did my cat stop using the litter box after a urinary tract infection?
Cats are creatures of habit. They like to keep their daily routines unchanged. They prefer their meals served at the same time each day, and some like their play times and nap times scheduled, too. As you can see, a cat’s daily life revolves around habits and relies on predictability.
But what happens when your kitty suddenly avoids her litter box and does her business somewhere else? For a cat parent, this issue can be very frustrating!
Behavioral changes in cats are often linked to anxiety or medical issues. One such example is when a cat struggles to pee due to a urinary infection, and then avoids using the litter box. The cat is associating the trauma and pain with the litter box, because they cannot understand that they have an infection. Sadly, even after the infection has cleared up, most cats will not return to their old habits, in an attempt to avoid the previous painful experience.
But we, humans, know that all the pain suffered by the poor kitty has nothing to do with their litter box! If you think your cat has decided to change her ways and picked your living room carpet as a toilet site, then you need to retrain her to use her litter box. Otherwise, this will become a recurring problem! As much as we love our pets, no fur parent wants to deal with a stinky mess in random places around the house.
How to retrain a cat to use the litter box after a urinary tract infection
Positive reinforcement is by far the most successful method to retrain a cat to use the litter box. There are many ways to make Fluffy feel more comfortable about doing her business – just have a look at the tips below:
1. Transfer the litter box to another location
Sometimes, it is the location that cats associate with suffering, rather than the litter box itself. To solve the issue, simply move her litter box to another place in your home.
While deciding on the new spot for the litter box, do also keep your cat’s preferences in mind. Remember that many cats dislike going to the toilet in loud or public areas, so in this case they will continue searching for a place where they feel more comfortable. Try moving the box to a more secluded area where your pet can enjoy some privacy, such as a spare room closet.
2. Know your cat’s preferences
Has your cat been coming back to the same area again and again, just to pee or poop? If so, why not move the litter box to her new favorite place? Perhaps Fluffy feels most at ease in this location for the time being.
In this way, you may be able to assist your cat to return to her litter box. See if this works and then, after a few days, attempt to move the box back to its original location. If not, reintroduce the box to the area again for a few more days and attempt once more.
3. Keep the litter box clean
Cats are counted among the tidiest animals on earth. They do not like being dirty or having to make their way past old urine or feces when they need to use the toilet. Even if your cat has not had a urinary tract infection, she may still seek a different spot to relieve herself if you do not clean the litter box daily.
For this reason, it is important to scoop the box and remove any litter clumps at least twice daily. You should also thoroughly clean the litter box with soap and water on a regular basis to avoid residual odors. If you are particularly worried about the smell, you can pour a little baking soda into the box after it has been cleaned. Just be sure not to use any scented cleaning products!
4. Use positive reinforcement like toys
Having fun with her favorite toys near the litter box may help your cat associate good memories with the litter box. You can play with her near the box itself to encourage her to spend more time in the area. Once again, this technique employs positive reinforcement, which should help to chase away the bad memories of her painful struggles.
5. Switch to unscented litter
Cats are so sensitive to smells that the negative association with their litter box might extend to the litter itself. You can quickly improve this issue by switching to a different litter. Changing to an unscented litter of the same size and texture as the previous litter is usually the best approach. Remember, you want your cat to feel like this is a brand-new, untarnished place to urinate and defecate. At the same time, you want her to feel as if this is the only place she should go when nature calls!
6. Adjust the depth of the litter
Sometimes, adding an extra layer of litter to the tray might not make your cat happier. In fact, some cats may prefer a thin layer of litter that allows them to dig to the bottom. The reason for this is unconfirmed, but it is speculated that cats like to know that they have dug as deep as they can to bury their waste, in order to hide their odors from predators. Thus, a simple alteration of the litter’s depth may be critical in retraining your cat to use the litter box after recovering from a urinary infection.
7. Make common urinating areas less attractive
If your cat keeps coming back to the same area to pee, then you need to make that area of your home less appealing if you want her to use the litter box instead. While this may involve some inconvenience for you, it will be worth it in the long run.
For example, if your cat likes to pee on your living room curtains, lift them so that there is a substantial space between them and the floor. If your cat likes urinating under your bed, you may want to add a motion-activated LED light to your bedroom for a while, to deter her from urinating where she knows she is being watched. You can also spray lemon water on areas where you do not want your cat to enter; cats hate the strong scent of lemon and that should be enough to deter them!
8. Consider purchasing a new litter box
Even if you do everything you can to get the smell out of the old box and buy every alternative litter you can think of, your cat still may never use that same box again. A cat’s association skills are incredible, and it is possible that she will never forget how she felt when she used that litter box in the past. Thus, a brand new litter box may be the perfect gift for your cat if you want to reintroduce her to using litter.
What to do if Fluffy makes a mess
Cats have a tendency to urinate in the same spot over and over again, and their odor has a lot to do with this. Even if you think that you have cleaned up the mess thoroughly, your cat may still be able to detect a scent that you cannot.
If you are struggling with this issue, we recommend using a high-quality enzymatic cleaner like Rocco & Roxie Oxy Stain Remover, which targets animal urine and feces. Since even the tiniest droplet might encourage your cat to urinate in the same place again, be sure to spray the surrounding area too. By thoroughly cleaning the spot, your cat will be less likely to urinate in that area. Hopefully, this should encourage her to return to her litter box little by little!
And finally – do not force your cat to adjust right away.
To succeed in this retraining endeavor, she must be allowed to use it at her own will! While you might easily convince a pup to urinate wherever you want it to, cats are a totally different subject. They are naturally independent animals and they do not appreciate being forced to do something they are not comfortable with.
The retraining process for cats can be quite challenging, but in the long run, it will be worth it! All you need is a little patience and love to teach them the right place to go. Learn to trust the process and, sooner or later, you will find your furry friend visiting her designated litter box to pee, just like before!
Finding your cat peeing or defecating outside the litter box can be frustrating and worrying in equal measures! Thankfully, there are ways to help your cat learn to use her litter box again. Just remember not to punish her when she makes a mess in the wrong place! Instead, use the positive reinforcements mentioned in this post. With patience and time, your cat will eventually feel better about going to her litter box like she used to.
Image: istockphoto.com / Siarhei SHUNTSIKAU