Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 8-year-old cat stopped using the litterbox. I don’t know why. He always pees and poops beside the litterbox, which is in the unfinished part of the basement. I have three other cats and have no problems with them. I clean my four litterboxes twice a day. I don’t know what to try anymore. Is there hope for this one? He’s a healthy, loving, purring cat, but he’s overweight.
Siouxsie: It sounds like you’re doing everything right as far as having enough litterboxes and keeping them clean, so we think his problem has a lot to do with his weight.
Thomas: Because your cat is doing his business right next to the litterbox, it’s clear that he knows where he’s supposed to go. But for some reason, the current litterbox setup is either difficult or uncomfortable for him to use.
Dahlia: If your litterboxes are covered, he may be too fat to get through the opening, assume a comfortable posture inside, or turn around to exit the box.
Siouxsie: If the litterboxes have high sides, he may have trouble getting into them.
Thomas: If the litter is deep, he may find that he gets used kitty litter on his belly or in other places that are uncomfortable for him.
Dahlia: If the litterboxes are covered, try removing the covers and see if that helps. If your boxes aren’t covered, don’t worry. We have some more ideas!
Siouxsie: First, measure your current litterboxes–length, width and height. You’ll want to get a box larger and shallower than your current ones.
Thomas: Most litterboxes are about six inches (15 cm) deep, so you might have a bit of a task finding a product actually labeled as a litterbox that will be shallower.
Dahlia: Before you go buying a new litterbox, you’ll want to do an experiment to see if changing the depth of the box or the litter will solve the problem. We recommend getting an inexpensive sheet pan–maybe you can find one at your local thrift store or a yard sale, or perhaps you can find a disposable aluminum-foil one at a supermarket). A sheet pan is about an inch deep, so fill it with litter, and place it in the location where your cat is doing his business.
Siouxsie: Your cat will scatter litter all over the place if he uses the sheet pan, so be prepared to do a lot of sweeping. But if this works, all that sweeping will be well worth it. At the same time, try putting a very shallow layer of litter (one or maybe two inches) in one of your regular litterboxes.
Thomas: If your cat is using the regular pan with the shallow litter, you’ll know it was the depth of the substrate that was the problem. If, however, he’s using the shallow pan, you’ll see that he needs lower sides as well as shallow litter.
Dahlia: You’ll probably find that the lower sides are the best solution. In this case, you have a number of options. You can go to an auto parts store and pick up a metal oil drain tray. These shallow pans have sides that are about two inches high.
Siouxsie: Another option is to take one of your standard litterboxes and cut a hole in one side so that there’s an entrance that’s two or three inches high. You’ll want to make sure that the entrance is wide enough to accommodate your cat. And don’t forget to sand the edges of the cut-out portion so it won’t chafe him and make him uncomfortable.
Thomas: You may even be able to find a plastic storage tote that’s the appropriate length, width, and depth. Check your local home supply store, office supply store, or discount department store.
Dahlia: We hope you’re working with your vet to help your fat cat lose weight. It’s very important for his long-term health to do so, because obesity can lead to diabetes, arthritis, and a host of other health problems. We’ve got some tips on how to diet a overweight cat in a multi-cat household in this column from the Paws and Effect archives.
Siouxsie: You may also find the book My Fat Cat: Ten Simple Steps to Help Your Pet Lose Weight for a Long and Happy Life by Martha Garvey to be helpful in your efforts to reduce your kitty’s weight.
Thomas: Good luck, Nadine! Please let us know how things turn out.