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Old Cat: Litter Box Problems

7 Tips for Solving Old Cat Litter Box Problems

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Cat and Litter box

Thirteen-year-old Seren's box is very large, but also shallow.

Photo credit © Amy Shojai, CABC

Old cat litter box issues develop whether your cat learned faithful toilet etiquette as a kitten or developed hit-or-miss potty problems as an adult. While many senior citizen felines never have problems, it's a good idea to be aware of potential toilet challenges and help your old fogy cat retain "old faithful" status.

7 Tips for Solving Old Cat Litter Box Problems

  • Cats are fastidious by nature, and appreciate privacy. Senior felines, like some senior humans, become less patient and more particular as they age. Cats that tolerated less than stellar potties as youngsters may snub the box if it's not pristine, or look for other places to "do their duty" when disturbed during the process. So maintain allegiance to the litter box by keeping it immaculate, easily accessible, and private. A low-traffic area away from the cat's bed and food bowls is ideal.
  • A variety of cat box fillers is available. With the old guys, routine and maintaining the status quo becomes even more important. So once you've found a litter your senior cat accepts, don't switch.
  • Old cats can lose bladder tone as they age and may not have the physical capacity to "hold it" long enough to run clear across the house or down the stairs. Provide a box on each end of the house.
  • A regular size commercial box may be too large for arthritic old cats to climb in and out. More than 70 percent of aging cats have arthritis-they just hide it very well. When it hurts to get into the box, the cat may "blame" the discomfort on the toilet and avoid the box or simply find a more comfortable place to eliminate. Look for a plastic shirt box-size storage container or even the lid to the container itself-or cut down the sides of a regular box. Aluminum disposable bake wear (the size for roasting turkey) may work well, and the side can easily be cut down.
  • Arthritis also can make it painful or impossible for cats to navigate stairs to reach the facilities. Be sure to add a box on each floor, to give old cats as much opportunity to "do the right thing" as possible. It can be tempting to simply move existing cat boxes around but it's best to maintain that original placement so "old faithful" knows where to find it. You can still add litter boxes in other areas as needed, in addition to the longtime favorite.
  • A small number of old cats develop cognitive problems-senility-that makes them forget where to find the litter box, or what to do when they get there. Schedule potty breaks within 15 minutes after meals or play, and escort your cat to the facilities. Even cats that don't feel the urge to eliminate may be inspired by a clean expanse of litter. Remember, an empty cat won't make messes elsewhere.
  • Many old cats' senses become dim. Blind cats memorize the locations of important property, like a favorite nap spot, their food bowl, or the potty. You may not realize the cat's lost vision until you rearrange the furniture-or move the litter box! Leaving one recent deposit in the box also can scent the area to help the blind cat find the location again when the urge strikes.

Addressing the special needs of your senior citizen cat helps keep your relationship strong and loving. It also gives the cat an emotional boost, allowing aging cats to continue doing all the normal cat "stuff" whatever challenges they may face.

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