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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My cat sometimes pees in the litter box but then she sometimes sprays as well (or at least doesn’t squat as much, lifts her tail quivering high and shoots pee out instead of down), she covers both as if she is just peeing. She seems confused about the two actions. She is a confident, healthy (no UTI’s or medical condition — I took her to the vet and had her checked), spayed 5-month-old female. Have you ever heard of this and is there anything I can do? Obviously when she sprays it goes over the side of the litterbox. She did this before being spayed and as well as after.

~ Colleen

kitten in litterbox

Image courtesy of Kingsbrook Animal Hospital blog

Siouxsie: Well, Colleen, in fact we have heard of this, and we think we can help you!

Thomas: This is actually a pretty common problem that cat caretakers have, so rest assured that you’re not alone in your dilemma.

Dahlia: Basically, what you need to do in order to keep the pee in the box instead of all over your walls is to get a larger box with higher sides.

Siouxsie: The vast majority of litterboxes are too small for the cats that use them. As you can see in this picture, a standard-size box works very well for a kitten.

Thomas: But once we start getting bigger, it may not be as comfortable for us to go in a box that small.

Dahlia: The most effective litterbox for a full-size cat is, in fact, a storage tote! The high sides will keep litter from going all over the place when your cat digs — and if your cat is a sprayer or just a cat that doesn’t quite get that you’re supposed to squat until you’re finished doing your business, the pee will stay inside the box rather than on your walls and floor.

A blue Rubbermaid storage tote turned into a litterbox by cutting a hole in the end.

Great idea! Cut a hole in the side of a storage tote to make a high-sided box big enough for even the biggest housecat.

Siouxsie: We found some great instructions on how to turn a 25-gallon storage tote into a litterbox. If you use this technique, we’re willing to bet that you’ll never have a problem with your stand-up urinator again!

Thomas: One step they didn’t mention in this DIY guide, which we think is pretty important, is that you should smooth the edges of the hole you cut in the box. Get some fine-grit sandpaper (probably 220 to 240 grit) and gently go over the sharp corners of your new hole. This will prevent any discomfort when kitty enters the box.

Dahlia: These totes come with covers, of course, but we highly recommend leaving the cover off. Most cats prefer not to have covered boxes because they trap the fumes inside.

Siouxsie: Another problem with covered boxes is that some caretakers will forget to clean the box regularly: out of sight, out of mind.

Thomas: For those readers with older cats, check to make sure they’re not having trouble getting into the box through the door cut. If they are, you may have to make the bottom of the entrance door a little bit lower or add a ramp.

Dahlia: And for everything you ever wanted to know about litterbox behavior, kitty litter, product reviews, and much more, we highly recommend The Happy Litterbox. It’s a great site, and even we sometimes go there to get more information on these issues!

Update, Sept. 20, 2o11: Our friend Ingrid King over at The Conscious Cat blog just wrote a review of a new high-sided litterbox called the NVR Miss, which she saw at a cat show, and had a chance to test it. It seems to work quite well, although if you have a bigger cat, you may still want to go with the storage tote solution.