To a cat parent, one litter substrate may be just as good as another. In fact, what humans may find attractive about a particular brand or type of litter may actually be highly disliked by cats. There are also other factors that come into play when trying to evaluate whether your cat has a litter aversion.
How Common is Litter Aversion?
It’s actually relatively common that a cat may eliminate away from the box due to a dislike of the litter or the litter conditions. Even if she still faithfully uses the litter box, she may want to spend as little time in there as possible. She may not dig or scratch or she may even perch on the edge of the box so her front or back paws don’t have to touch the unpleasant texture of the litter.
Common Reasons for Litter Aversion
Texture. Cats are very tactile and they can have very definite preferences when it comes to the way a particular substrate feels on their paw pads. In general, most cats tend to like the soft, sandy feel of scoopable litter. Some litters have sharper granules and some have large ones or they may even have pellet-type granules.
Abrupt Changes. Your cat is a creature of habit. When she goes into the litter box she expects to find the same type of litter that she’s used to. If you make an abrupt change in brand, type or scent, it can be confusing and can cause anxiety. Cats don’t want to be surprised when they go to the litter box.
Dirty Litter. Your cat may not have had a problem with the texture or the type of litter until it started becoming too dirty. One of the most common causes of feline inappropriate elimination is due to the cat parent not keeping the litter conditions clean enough.
Inconsistent Litter Level. Too much or too little litter in the box can be create an unpleasant experience for the cat. With too little litter the cat can’t adequately scratch and dig before or after elimination. This can be very stressful if she feels she can’t cover the scent of her waste effectively. If there’s too much litter in the box it can be uncomfortable for her to stand or squat during elimination.
Litter Additives. Baking soda as an additive, as long as you don’t use too much is typically okay for added odor control but the use of other commercial additives that are basically just highly-scented products can cause enough of a scent change to upset your cat.
Litter Liners. The plastic liners can make digging and scratching in the litter a very unpleasant experience for a cat with claws. As your cat tries to scratch at the litter she may get her claws stuck in the plastic. Additionally, plastic liners can form pockets and folds that can trap urine where it will just cause more of an odor problem.
Need More Information?
For specific help with solving litter box problems, refer to any of Pam’s books, including Think Like a Cat.
Note: If your cat is eliminating outside of the litter box there may be an underlying medical cause. Have your cat examined by the veterinarian to rule out any medical connection to the behavior. This article is not intended as a replacement for proper veterinary care.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.