How to Solve Older Cat Litter Box Problems

They may need some extra accommodation

Cat litter box
  Jennifer McCallum / Getty Images

Litter box issues with older cats are to be expected, and often not a reflection of the cat's previous habits. Whether your cat failed to learn faithful toilet etiquette as a kitten, or simply developed litter box problems as it got older, such problems are common with age.

Although some senior citizen felines never have any litter box problems, it's good to be proactive for when any future issues may arise. Thankfully, pet owners can be aware of the warning signs that lead to potential toilet challenges with elderly adult and senior cats.

Why Do Older Cats Develop Litter Box Problems?

There are some medical issues that may cause cats to stop using the litter box, or to use it sporadically. Diabetes, kidney disease and lower urinary tract infections, all conditions that are fairly common in older cats, cause more frequent urination. Your cat may not be able to get to the box in time.

If a cat is experiencing separation anxiety, it may not use the box as intended. Any big change to its schedule, routine or environment is likely to cause disruption of litter box habits as well. Try to be patient with your cat if it needs to learn a new location for its litter box.

In older cats, there are several different medical conditions such as arthritis, that may cause the animal to associate the litter box with pain. Even though it's not the litter box or the act of using the box that's causing the pain, all the cat knows is that if it doesn't use the box, it doesn't have the pain. It may find another place to do its business where it doesn't have as much discomfort.

Whenever your cat's litter habits suddenly change for the worse, bring it to the vet to rule out any underlying medical conditions that need treatment.

The next step will be addressing the litter box itself: where it's located, how many boxes you have, and how easily your cat can access it.

How to Stop Litter Box Problems in Older Cats

Cats are meticulous by nature and appreciate privacy. Senior felines, like some elderly people, become less patient and more particular as they age. Thus, cats who may have easily tolerated less-than-stellar litter boxes as youngsters may snub the box if it's not pristine, or look for other places to urinate or defecate when disturbed during the process.

To avoid this, you can keep the litter box immaculately clean, easily accessible, and placed in a private space. In fact, a low-traffic area (away from the cat's bed and food bowls) is ideal.

A variety of cat box fillers is always available. With older cats, routine and maintenance become even more important. Once you've found a litter that your senior cat accepts, don't switch it up.

Additionally, older cats can lose bladder tone as they age, and may not have the physical capacity to "hold it" long enough to run across the house or down the stairs without an accident; provide a litter box on each end of the house to make sure your cat can make it.

Aging Cats With Arthritis

A regular commercial box may be too large for arthritic cats to climb in and out of. With more than 70 percent of aging cats having arthritis, it's important to have a good-sized litter box. Because it hurts to get into the box, the sides should be low and easy to climb over, and there should be plenty of room, to allow the cat to take its time.

Look for a plastic shirt (box-size) storage container, use the lid of the container itself, or cut down the sides of a regular box. Aluminum disposable bakeware that's about the size of a roasting turkey pan may work as well, and the sides can easily be cut down.

Arthritis also makes it painful or impossible for cats to navigate stairs in order for them to reach facilities. Add a box on each floor to give older cats as much opportunity to reach the litter box in time as possible. Make sure the cat knows where each box is.

It can be tempting to simply move existing cat boxes around, but it's best to maintain original placement so an older cat can easily find it. Plus, you can still add litter boxes to other areas as needed.

Elderly Cats With Cognitive Problems

A small number of older cats develop cognitive problems that make them forget where to find the litter box and what to do when they get there. Simply schedule potty breaks within 15 minutes after meals or play, and escort your cat to the litter box. Use clean litter, as cats who don't feel the urge to eliminate may be inspired to do so with a new batch.

Many old cats' senses become dim. Blind cats memorize the locations of important property, like a favorite nap spot, their food bowl, or where the litter box is. You may not realize that your cat has lost its vision until you rearrange furniture or move the litter box. Leave one recent deposit in the box to help your blind cat find it through scent.