Helping Your Senior Cat Use the Litter Box
Senior cat litter box issues are more common than you might think and don’t generally reflect previous bathroom habits or behavior. While some older cats never experience litter box problems, it’s best to educate yourself so you can help alleviate the problem should it arise.
Why Do Senior Cats Develop Litter Box Problems?
There are a variety of reasons senior cats may develop issues with using the litter box. Here are some of the most common ones:
As a cat gets older, they often develop medical issues and some of these cause them to have trouble using the litter box. Should your cat’s bathroom habits change, it is important that you take them to the vet. He or she will rule out any underlying medical issues that may be causing the change in litter box use.
Some of the most common health issues that may cause a change in your senior cat’s bathroom habits are:
- Diabetes, kidney disease, UTI and hyperthyroidism – All of these health conditions are common in older cats and all of them may cause your cat to urinate more frequently. Your cat may simply not be able to get to the litter box in time.
- Arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases – When your cat’s joints or spine hurt, any and all movement can causes them even more pain. It can be hard for your cat to step over the edge of the litter box. It can be even harder to climb up and down stairs if your litter box is located on a particular floor.
- Vision problems / blindness – Decreased vision is another reason why your cat may be having trouble using the litter box. A cat with vision problems will memorize specific and important locations of their food and water, litter box and favorite napping spot. But if you aren’t aware your cat is experiencing vision problems and you move their litter box, there could be an issue.
Many aging cats develop feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD). This is a mental disorder similar to dementia in humans. Cats may experience issues with their memory as well as have trouble learning new things. Cats suffering from FCD may suddenly not remember where the litter box is or what to do once they get there.
In these situations, many vets will prescribe supplements or medications that help ease your cat’s anxiety issues. Be sure to do your best to maintain consistency in daily routines and keep their surroundings familiar. Placing wee-wee pads around the litter box will help should he or she find the box but still go outside of it. Your cat will need you to be patient. Growing old is not easy for any of us!
How You Can Help Your Senior Cat Use the Litter Box
Make an Appointment with Your Vet
Despite what you may think, your cat is not refusing to use the litter box to spite you or make you angry. Older cats generally have a real underlying issue for why they suddenly, after many years of no trouble whatsoever, begin having litter box issues.
You will absolutely need to bring your cat in for a checkup so your vet can assess what may be going on. They may find your cat is diabetic, has kidney disease or something going on with their thyroid. It may be that your cat has developed arthritis and is in pain, or they are having memory issues. Your vet should be able to determine the cause of the litter box problems and discuss the best course of action.
Keep Things Clean
As a cat owner you know cats are very meticulous. Younger cats may be able to tolerate litter boxes that aren’t the cleanest. But older cats, like older people, become less patient and even more particular as they age. Your older cat may very well no longer be able to tolerate their litter box not being thoroughly cleaned every day. Keep the box pristine and make sure they have some privacy.
Add More Litter Boxes
Should your cat be diagnosed with a disease that makes them need to urinate more often, or should they begin to develop painful arthritis, it’s a good idea to keep their one litter box where it is, but add a few more around the house so wherever they are, they have a bathroom nearby to do their business.
Provide a Shorter Box
Most regular commercial litter boxes are quite tall and may pose a problem for cats with arthritis. Look for a litter box with sloping sides that are lower near the front. This will make it easier for your senior cat to climb in and out of the box. You may even want to look for very short, plastic storage bins that are only two to three inches high. These also work well.
Adjust the Litter
Older, arthritic cats can feel unstable in a little box if they have to trudge through and stand in a high mound of litter. Consider having less litter in the box so they feel more stable and secure.
Also, you may find your older cat has become more finicky when it comes to the litter and no longer likes the brand you have used for years. Try a few different brands to see what he prefers.
Getting older is just as hard for your cat as it is for you. Should your cat start to develop issues with using the litter box, be sure to be kind and patient. Get them in to the vet to see what may be going on and use some of these tips to help.
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It is not easy to watch our fur babies get older and be diagnosed with disease or have trouble using the bathroom. The most important thing we can do is make sure they get in to see the vet as often as they may need. Of course, all of those vet bills can really add up.
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- Kaye, C. (2022). “13 Reasons Why a Cat Is Not Using the Litter Box (With Solutions).” Retrieved from: https://pethelpful.com/cats/cat-not-using-litter-box-try-these-solutions
- “Hyperthyroidism in Cats.” From Cornell Feline Health Center: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/hyperthyroidism-cats
- Eckstein, S., “Feline Diabetes: Symptoms, Treatments, Prevention, and Diet Tips.” Retrieved from: https://pets.webmd.com/cats/features/feline-diabetes-symptoms-treatments-prevention-diet#1
- Flowers, A., DVM, (2021). “Cat Arthritis Symptoms, Pain Relief, Treatments, and Types.” Retrieved from: https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-arthritis-symptoms-pain-relief