Ask the Vet with Hugh Davis

QuestionAfter years of going in the litter box, my cat has begun pooping right next to it. We recently had to change the type of litter because I am pregnant and cannot be exposed to regular cat litter. Should we switch back, try a new one, or will she get used to it?

AnswerThis is probably a classic case of “litterbox avoidance” syndrome but I would recommend a visit to your vet to rule out any possible medical causes first. In your situation, there appears to be a clear cause-and-effect relationship because you changed the type of litter, but in many cases the exact cause of this problem can be as mysterious as cats themselves.

First, she is unlikely to “get used to it.” Your cat’s instinct to bury her feces is very strong, so the fact that she has stopped using the box is a strong statement about how she feels about the change. The most common problems with the litter involve odor and texture. As a general rule, cats don’t love scented litters. The scent is added for human benefit, not theirs. So if you went from an unscented to scented, or a different scented litter, that could be the problem. Texture is a big deal for cats as well. In general, cats prefer the more natural feel of clumping style litters. But cats can also be very conservative, so if you changed from traditional clay to a clumping litter, your cat may be objecting to that.

In your situation, I would do the following:
It would be best for you to avoid handling the litter, so have your spouse or partner do the dirty work as long as you are pregnant. If possible, go back to the original litter until she is using the box consistently. Then add the new litter, preferably unscented clumping style, by mixing the two, and gradually increasing the amount of the new litter until the change is complete. This strategy should work for you. Good luck!!

About the Vet:

Davis was born in Lincoln, NE, grew up in Austin, TX, and moved to New England in his late teens. He entered Tufts Veterinary School in 1979, and graduated with the inaugural class in 1983. Davis has been with the Animal Rescue League since 2007. He lives with his wife and family on a small hobby farm in New Hampshire with 10 cats, 5 dogs, 3 goats, 3 miniature donkeys, 7 cows, 2 horses, and a pig.

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