Your Last step!
Hello! You might not feel like congratulations are in order yet, but they are! You've learned about how to de-stress your cat, you've made their litter box set-up ideal, and you've accepted some truths about the wild creature who shares your space. For many cats, that would be enough to get them back in their box, but it wasn't enough for my cat, and if you're here, it probably wasn't enough for yours. That's ok! This step is a little bit harder, but if I can do it, you can too.
What makes litter box re-training difficult is that it will involve some kind of confinement for your cat. It's only temporary, and my guess is that it will be harder for you than it is for your cat. Please make sure that you start at the top of the list, saving the most extreme level of confinement as the last option. We don't want to add any unnecessary stress to your cat's life (for a lot of reasons, but also because stress can lead your cat out the box.)
Ok! Let's get started!
Litter Box Re-training
You've made all the changes you could possibly make. Your cat is stress-free and feeling secure in her territory. Her litter box is so nice and clean that you would consider using it. . . well no. As we've established, cats don't want quite as much privacy as you do. You would probably want to use a litter box with a hood, or one located in a dark corner of your house. . . remember, this isn't what your cat wants!
The theme of this section will be confinement. Temporary confinement. You'll start by confining your cat in a large space, and, if that doesn't work, you'll confine her to smaller and smaller spaces, until, finally, I promise, she will begin to use her box. If you find that, after going through the steps in this section, your cat still isn't using her box, please reach out to me. We can talk out your situation, and hopefully solve it together. My own cat still needs extra encouragement to use the box, so I'm full of resources and ideas.
First, Confine your cat to a room
And, preferably not a bedroom if your cat likes to urinate on your bed. Ideally this room could become your cat's safe space, and it should be a room where you are comfortable keeping one of his litter boxes permanently. It could be an office, or a laundry room, or a basement. Or, it could be a bedroom, but you'll want to make every effort to make the bed an undesirable place to urinate on either by feeding your cat on the bed or covering it with an old shower curtain or aluminum foil.
Set up at least two litter boxes in this room. One should be in a place where you are comfortable keeping it permanently. Spend time with your cat in this room. Play lots of games. Read a book while you are in here. Watch a movie. Make a big effort to make your cat feel comfortable and content in here.
If, after 24 hours, your cat is still urinating outside of his box, then move on to confinement option number 2.
If though, your cat is urinating in his box, then great!! For the next week, keep your cat in this room 24 hours a day. Do not let your cat leave this room. Hang out with him in here, bond with him, and help him destress. Let him build on this wonderful habit of using his litter box.
After a week of good litter box usage, let your cat out into the rest of your home for brief supervised visits. During his visits, pay special attention when he ventures over to an area where he used to urinate. While having your cat confined, you have presumably made changes to your home that will help him feel secure in his territory and also deter him from urinating illegally. Perhaps your cat used to urinate right by the front door, and you've placed a new scratching pad in that spot so that he can spread his scent by scratching instead of urinating. Or, perhaps he used to squat on your couch and you've gotten a cat tree and positioned it right by your couch. Encourage him to try out his cat tree by sprinkling some fresh cat nip on one of its perches, or by waving a feather toy right by it. If your cat is sniffing in one of his favorite illegal urination spots, don't yell or scare him away, but do distract him. Start up a game, open up the treat bag, call him over to you for some petting. When you can't supervise him any longer, bring him back to his room.
If your cat continues to abstain from urinating inappropriately, then you can supervise him less and less until, finally, he has full access to the whole house all of the time and is using his litter box like the upstanding family member that he is.
Next, try a bathroom
If your cat urinates inappropriately while confined to the regular sized room, it's time to downsize. If you don't have an extra room in your house, you might start here anyways. But, what you are going to do in this step is confine your cat to a bathroom 24/7.
The ideal bathroom will be far away from your bedroom so that you won't hear him meowing at night. Also, ideally, this bathroom will be a place where you are happy to keep a litter box for the foreseeable future.
You'll set up two litter boxes in your bathroom, and some food and water. (Remember, water should be placed away from your cat's food, and food and water should be as far away from the litter boxes as possible. I know it won't be that far. Unless you have a really great bathroom.)
Remember, keep those litter boxes clean!
You can try putting a bed or a bathmat in the bathroom so your cat has a place to rest. But, if he urinates on it, then he's got to go bed-less. Hang out with your cat as much as possible. But keep him in the bathroom until he has a good streak going. Say, 5-7 days of appropriate litter box usage.
After 5-7 days of no urine accidents, you can start letting him out of the bathroom for supervised visits of the rest of the house. If he sniffs and looks like he may crouch, calmly distract him with a game of cat and mouse. Or, put him back in the bathroom.
You'll gradually extend the time that he has out in the house, supervising him less and less until, one day, he lives in the house like his old, appropriate self.
If, however, he still does not use the litter box while confined to the bathroom, it's time to downsize yet again.
If the bathroom didn't work, it's time for the Crate.
If the confining your cat to a small room and a bathroom didn't work, then here you are. You may find crating your cat extreme and counter intuitive. It definitely feels wrong to put a cat in a crate. But, your cat won't mind as much as you think he will. And if he does, remember, it's only temporary. And, if you're at this point, it's better than any alternative you have.
What do you mean by crate?
Here's a good example. A crate that's the right size for a medium sized dog. You don't want to use your cat's carrier. That's too small. You want enough room for a litter box, a bed, and a food bowl. If you have a large cat, you could get a larger crate. You don't want your cat to be forced to use a litter box that's uncomfortably small. It's nice to have the tray that slides out, in case you end up at the final level of confinement (discussed down below.)
Where am I supposed to put this crate?
Ideally in a room that you are comfortable keeping it in for a while, or at least comfortable keeping a litter box in. Once re-trained, your cat will probably continue to associate this area with toileting. You want this crate to feel like it's in a safe space. Use the same criteria for crate placement as you would for litter box placement. The crate belongs in a place that is close to the main living space of your home, but not right in the middle of the action. I initially placed Tiny's crate in my 3 month old daughter's room, which, as you might guess, was a mistake. Now it is in what we used to call the guest bedroom but now call Tiny's room. I started it out on one side of the room, and then, once Tiny was done being confined to the crate, I slowly moved it into the closet (which, thanks to my husband, has a secret cat passageway to my daughter's room. This will add value to our house, should we ever sell!) So, even though the crate (which is now the home of the only litter box that Tiny uses) is shoved in a closet, she actually can enter and exit from two different locations, which should make her feel as safe as possible while using the litter box in there.
How long does my cat have to stay in this crate?
Again, you want to let some good habits take hold. So, keep him in there for 5-7 days of 100% litter box usage. Then, after you are seeing good litter box usage, you can start letting your cat out of the crate for supervised play time in the rest of the house. Ideally, he comes out and has a positive experience. If he starts sniffing around and it seems like he's about to squat, either distract him with a treat or a toy, or put him back in the crate. You want to make sure that he doesn't urinate outside of the crate. What you are trying to do is build on this habit of litter box usage. The more times your cat urinates in his box, the more likely he is to urinate in the box, and, conversely, the more times your cat urinates outside the box, the more likely he is to urinate outside the box. Remember, needing to keep a watchful eye on him will not be a permanent part of your life. But, especially in the beginning, he needs your help to make the right choices.
If, after 3-7 days, he's been doing well with supervised out of the crate time, then the next step is to confine him to the room that the crate is in. Keep the crate in the room just as it has been, but keep the door of the crate open, and let him roam the room all of the time. He should, by now, make the choice to use his litter box. If he's urinating outside of the box now that he has the run of the room, you might have moved to this next step a little too quickly.
Hopefully though your cat continues to choose to urinate in the box in his crate even while he has access to the whole room that the crate is in. If this is the case, then you can let him out of the room, again for supervised visits to the rest of the house. You'll want to make sure that you've made all the changes suggested on the "Solutions" page. The right number of litter boxes in the right places, some high up places for him to hang, some scratching posts/pads, and any deterrents that you feel you need. Again, remember these deterrents aren't permanent, and since they aren't permanent, I would tend to err on the side of caution. Say your cat had a habit of urinating on your couch. Once you let him back out into the house, I would put something like a shower curtain over that couch for as long as you can stand it. A week or two at least.
If your cat is doing well with the supervised visits, you can let him spend more and more time out of his crate, until, finally he's free to go wherever he pleases. If you don't mind having the crate where it's at, then, as my mother says, leave well enough alone. If your goal is to get rid of the crate, I would do it after about a month. Take it down when your cat is not in the room, and make sure to leave the litter box where the crate once stood. If you'd like that room's litter box in a different location, then slowly (like, an inch a day) move it towards that location.
Do I really have to keep my cat in his crate for the first 5-7 days?
If you've gotten to this point in litter box retraining, your cat's habit of urinating outside the box has really taken hold. So, yes. You need him to forget about urinating on carpet and hardwood and upholstery and bedding and remember how great it is to dig around in some litter. It's going to take time.
I set up the crate as directed and my cat is choosing to urinate on the floor of the crate instead of the litter box inside the crate. Is my cat broken?
No, but it's time for the next step. Read on. . .
If your cat is in the crate, but not using the box, there's one more step
Ok, this might make you a little sad, but here we go. You need to remove the litter box and the food bowls and any bedding or toys you have in the crate. Then you need to cover the whole floor of the crate in litter. Just like the whole crate is a litter box. And then, you need to put your cat in there and keep him confined to the crate for 5-7 days. Now, your cat has to use the litter. He has no other choice.
You probably should purchase some of these bowls that attach to the sides of the crate so she can have access to litter-free food and water.
You need to clean the crate like it's a litter box at least once daily, but probably twice.
After 5-7 days, take out some of the litter so that the litter is just on one half of the crate. I know this whole litter on the floor deal is very messy, and that it probably won't stay on one half of the crate. But what we want is for your cat to make the choice to use the litter. We want him to get used to choosing litter for toilet time.
If your cat chooses to use the litter-y side of the crate once or twice, then good. He has crossed a huge hurtle.
Now you can empty the crate of all the litter, clean the bottom very well, fill 2 litter boxes with litter and put your cat and the litter boxes back in the crate. Keep him in there, for 1-2 days. This will help him get used to going inside the actual litter box.
Then, after 1-2 days, remove one litter box. He should continue to make the choice to use the litter box over the floor of the crate.
After 5-7 days of him choosing to use the litter box, you can proceed as in the previous section. Let him out for supervised visits. Then let him be free-roaming in the room that the crate is in. Each time he gains more freedom, he should still be choosing to use his box. If he isn't, there's a chance you either moved too quickly through litter box retraining, or you haven't set up his territory in the right way, or you haven't cleaned thoroughly enough. Feel free to send me an email and we can troubleshoot: annaisabelgebler at gmail.