Managing cat toilets.

The most frequent cat related behavior problem seen by veterinarians and veterinary behaviourists are related to house-soiling.
Cat urine in pungent and it can be hard to remove the smell. Repeated soiling of an area ruins surfaces and is frustrating to have to clean up.
Urine and faeces are not just bodily wastes for cats but important tools of communication.
We can reduce some of the problems we cause for cats by understanding how they organize themselves socially and what they like in a toilet.

What do cats want in a toilet?
Originally a desert species, cats generally to bury faeces and sometimes urine.
They tend to like a fine, sandy material to in which to dig before defecating or urinating in the hole.
They then may cover the area up. When they need to go to the toilet again, they may return to the general area but not the exact area.
When they are using their urine or faeces as a message, they may deposit faeces in prominent areas such as pathways and spray urine on vertical surfaces.
So what does this mean for the cat that lives inside?
Cats want an area that is clean of urine and faeces, that is big enough to comfortably dig in and that has a soft, fine material that they can easily dig. They like the area to be protected and easy to enter and exit, especially if danger is present in the form of other cats or other animals.

What do cats get for a toilet?
So how does the average litter tray stack up?
Most commercially litter trays are too small for the average cat. A litter tray needs to be about one and a half times the body length of the cat (ignore the tail length).
This gives the cat room to dig and then comfortably move forward to pee or poo in the hole they have dug.
If your cat regularly deposits just over the edge of the tray or balances precariously on the edges of the tray, consider offering a larger or at least longer tray.
Look at other types of plastic trays and tubs to see what could be suitable for your cat.
There are many different types of litter on the market. Some is clay based, some is paper based, sawdust based or even clumping crystals.
While any of these may seem like a good idea for people, it really comes down to what the cat thinks of the litter.
Cats form their preference for litter material at an early age (3-4 weeks). Some cats are very rigid in what they will accept for litter, others are comfortable using a wider variety of products.
As a rule, think fine and soft without added odours or clumping, colour changing crystals.
Offer your cat different amounts of litter- some cats like a lot of litter to dig in, others prefer just a little and some want no litter at all.
A short term trial may solve a lot of problems in the future.
Many litter trays are not cleaned frequently enough for the cats who are expected to use them. A used litter tray is like a used unflushed toilet.
Some people can cope with this but all of us prefer a clean, flushed toilet for our needs. Cats are no different.
Scooping a tray every day to remove solids is fine but it may not remove all the soiled litter.
If your cat is not using the litter tray, cleaning the tray more frequently may help.
Trays need to be scrubbed clean but they do not need to be disinfected with strong smelling products (cats don’t really want a “lavender fresh” toilet).
Where possible use hot water to scrub your cat’s trays and sunlight to dry them. UV light is a very effective disinfectant.
Having several spare trays can help with managing cleaning and drying.
Another way of providing a clean toilet for your cat is to offer more litter trays in different locations.
So if one toilet is dirty, the cat can use another one. A general rule of thumb is one tray for each cat in household and one spare.
Many cats will share, but if in doubt, offer more trays.
The location of litter trays is important. For many cats, their tray is right next to their food and water.
This is kind of the same as having your toilet in the middle of the kitchen- convenient but not healthy or pleasant.
As a species, cats prefer to keep food, water and toilet all separate.
For some cats, going to the toilet is hazardous. Litter trays with only one way in and out can be dangerous places if you live with a dog or other cats.
The cat may be ambushed on exiting the tray. Sometimes one cat may control access to the litter trays by blocking the doorway.

When toilets are poor….
Some cats cope with poor toilets- they can make do. Some cats seem to like to share toilets.
But when a cat is upset by their litter trays, the effects for people are odiferous and unpleasant.
House-soiling is an unpleasant problem. In an attempt to find a suitable alternative, the cat may try different surfaces and different locations.

A word about ill health
Sometimes cats will not use their litter tray if they find toileting painful. Instead of reasoning that it hurts to pee because they have a bladder infection, they associate the pain with the location- the litter tray. They may avoid the tray even after their health problem has been treated. These cats need to be retrained to their litter tray. This is done by confining the cat with only the tray for a toilet and keeping them confined until they are reliable again.
In some cases, new trays and new locations may be needed.