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  • Writer's pictureSieske Valk

Litter Box Tips for Elderly Cats

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

As veterinary specialists, we frequently deal with people who struggle with “naughty” cats that pee or poo outside their litter box. Often this is an issue that has less to do with the cat deliberately trying to annoy you, and more often a behavioural or a medical issue. However, with elderly cats, this can also be a structural problem.


If you are entirely sure your very mature feline friend is not suffering from a UTI, bladder stones or stress outdoors, have a read to see what else you can change in your home environment to ensure they will use their litter box.

Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

The litter box itself

First of all, let’s talk about the litter box itself: Is it a smaller travel tray? Or a big kahuna with a lid on it, including a flap to close the front? Does it have a high step the cat needs to step over to access the tray? And are the edges smooth or rough and sharp?

If you have a senior cat, the chances are they will be suffering from osteoarthritic joints. This means we have to make sure they have an accessible litter tray with soft edges and a low step, so they won’t hurt themselves getting onto it. Also make sure they have enough space to turn around in it. We find that it’s often just much easier to give them a large baking tray or a seedling tray. If you do manage to find a low-entry litter box (maximum 5-centimetre step), leave the lid off, Don’t worry about keeping it closed, because that will only cramp their style. Another benefit of keeping it open is that you immediately see when they have used the tray and you can clean up after them, diminishing the chance for bad odour to build up.


It’s not just the outside that counts

What do you fill the litter box with? Obviously, as most of you know, cats have very sensitive paws. Who hasn’t been mauled after trying to tickle their toes or cut their claws?

This is why we want to make sure the litter box filling is gentle on their toe beans. After all, wouldn’t you prefer to squat down on a sandy beach rather than pebbled beach?!

So, unless they are really used to it, wood pellets are a NoNo. Soft, grainy filling will do the trick much better. This doesn’t mean we are only able to use the less environmentally friendly materials though! There are some amazing compostable, biodegradable litter box fillings out there, such as World’s Best Cat Litter and Cat's Best.

Do make sure they have a nice thick layer of it so they can dig and bury their excrement to their hearts desire, without hitting the bottom of the tray. Or as Lewis mutters to himself when he’s done a poo: “Nobody must know” whilst digging all his filling in a massive pile in the corner of his box.

Having said that, you don’t want to make yourself lazy by filling the tray with two weeks’ worth of litter box filling. Scoop out the soiled bits at least daily and give the tray a thorough clean (hot water and non-perfumed cleaning agent) weekly.


Hide and go seek (and have an accident along the way)

Let’s be honest, litter boxes aren’t the nicest looking things in the world. We’d prefer to have them hidden away so that we, and possible guests, don’t have to see them. Whole companies have been set up to create furniture that covers the unsightly things.

But if your senior buddy sleeps in the lounge a lot, I’m afraid you will have to have a litter box nearby, not just in your upstairs bedroom. Another good reason to keep the litter tray spotless!

Just like we love the private en-suite bathroom on a holiday versus the communal WC in the hallway when we need to do our midnight wee and as we get older, cats also like their loo to be near.

And if they do happen to be shared facilities, make sure there are as many accessible litter trays as there are cats, plus one, one every floor of the house. Do however, always make sure the litter box is not placed next to a food or water source.


Troubleshooting

Is your furry friend having trouble aiming? It might be that they are a bit wobbly while they are staring into space, working on their rocket to launch. Having a higher walled tray is not going to be the answer, just fold out an old newspaper and put it under the tray to catch any rogue outputs.


On top of making sure they don’t have a medical issue such as UTIs or struvite (always consult a veterinarian for this!), or someone is bullying them outdoors (always have a toilet accessible indoors, even if they always tend to go outside), these are some of the first things we would suggest for you to change if you have issues with your elderly companion’s toilet behaviour.


If they don’t help, or you’d prefer one of our expert team members to do an environmental assessment in your home, please contact us by sending an email to hello@autumnanimals.com.

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