The location of the litter box can create anxiety for both the cat and the human. The human typically wants the box as far away and out of sight as possible. The cat, however, needs the box conveniently located. Since the cat is the one who has to use the box, you need to look at it from her point of view. Would you want to travel down two flights of stairs and then go out to the garage when nature calls? Probably not. Convenience is very important when it comes to taking care of personal business.
You may have the ideal litter box that’s filled with the best litter money can buy and is kept sparklingly clean but if it’s in a location your cat finds objectionable then you’ve set the stage for a litter box aversion problem. It’s important to view the litter box set-up from a cat’s perspective in order to figure out the best location. What does your cat like when it comes to litter box location? Well, every cat is an individual so you have to take that into consideration but here are some general guidelines:
Cats Don’t Eat Where They Eliminate
This means don’t place the litter box close to the food and water bowls. It comes down to how a cat is hard-wired for survival. They eliminate away from their home in order to avoid attracting predators. Waste is covered as well for that very reason. When you place the litter box near the food it sends a mixed message and can create anxiety in the cat. The reason this set-up can result in a litter box aversion problem is that the cat can’t physically move the food and water to another location but she can take herself to another area in order to eliminate.
Balancing Privacy and Vulnerability
Privacy ranks high on our list when we think about what we want in our bathroom facilities. For a cat, however, the need for safety ranks higher than the need for privacy. When a cat is in the litter box, she’s vulnerable to being ambushed. This is especially the case in multipet households where there is any degree of hostility. Even if there isn’t hostility, one cat entering the litter box area can startle another cat who is in the middle of taking care of business.
I’ve written many times about the need for an escape route from the litter box. When a cat is in there, she needs to have more than one option for a quick departure should she feel threatened. That’s why I generally don’t like the idea of covered boxes. When it comes to location, even if you have an uncovered box, you can create stress if you put the box in a closet, under a piece of furniture or wedge it in a corner.
Granted, both you and your cat most likely don’t want the litter box in the middle of family room or in areas where there is a high degree of family traffic, but you need to balance privacy and vulnerability. This may mean something as simple as sliding the box out from under the desk or out from the closet.
The Noise Factor
Aside from the bathroom, the most common location for a litter box is the laundry room. While it may seem to be the most logical because it’s usually not a carpeted room so clean-up is a breeze, the cat may not like the sudden noise of the washing machine going through the spin cycle. I’ve also been in homes where washers actually shake and rattle during the spin cycle. When the litter box is planted right next to the washer, imagine the degree of fear that can create, not to mention the fact that kitty will probably be eliminating in a vibrating litter box. Yikes!
Another noisy location is the garage. Some people install a pet door so the cat can simply go in and out as she needs to in order to use the litter box. There can be an extreme noise factor here (not to mention the terror factor) if the overhead garage door suddenly is opened or closed or if a car is started, turned off, or pulls up into the driveway.
Guarding and Territory
In a multicat household, one cat may exhibit guarding behavior by appearing to casually lounge in the hallway in front of the litter box area. To the human, this may simply look as if kitty is just napping, but to the other cats in the house it can be an obvious “no trespassing” sign.
In a multicat home, one cat may be afraid to cross another cat’s area and so she chooses to eliminate on the carpet in a room where she feels safe. When it comes to the litter box set-up for a multicat home, it’s important to have the same number of litter boxes as you have cats and also, locate them throughout the house so one cat never has to feel anxious about crossing another cat’s path when it comes time to pee or poop.
Keep Your Cat’s Needs in Mind
As I said earlier, every cat is an individual so pay attention to your cat’s behavior in and around the litter box. Look at the set-up from her point of view and you may discover that there’s room for improvement.
Need More Information?
For specific information on litter box problems, refer to any of Pam’s books. If you’re experiencing a cat behavior problem and would like a consultation with cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, contact our office.
Note: This article isn’t meant as a medical diagnosis. If your cat is eliminating outside of the litter box there may be an underlying medical cause. Have your cat checked by the veterinarian at the first sign of litter box aversion.
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.