My Cat Won't Use the Litter Box

Many cats develop litter box issues. In most cases, it's either a security or a medical issue. Deanna H. writes:

I adopted Loki from the pound about a month ago. She gets along for the most part. I also have a small dog. But my issue is that she has been urinating and defecating outside her litter box. She will use the box but not all the time. All I know about her history is that her previous owner moved out and abandoned her.

Deanna, if you haven't taken Loki to a veterinarian for a checkup yet, it might be a good time to make sure she's okay and has no problems with incontinence. Once she's gotten a clean bill of health, it's time to address her security issues.

Most cats have a period of adjustment after being adopted. In most cases, the worse their experiences with humans was before, the longer that adjustment period will be. Coming into a new home, especially one with a dog, can be very stressful. The more stress a cat feels, the more likely she is to have litter box issues.

The first thing to address is the litter box. If it's enclosed (has a lid) you want to remove the lid. Cats don't like feeling that they could be trapped where they're doing their business. They want to know there are multiple routes for escape. While your dog may be very friendly to Loki, she may still see him or her as a potential threat. 

You also want to make sure that it's easy for Loki to get in and out of the litter box. Some cats have issues with high-sided boxes. You also want to avoid the new motorized contraptions that self-clean. The noise and unpredictable movement of the mechanism can be very scary.

The positioning of the box is also a big deal. You don't want to put it in a noisy or high-traffic area but it needs to be easily accessible. If you put it in a dark corner of the basement, it may be too far away from the area Loki perceives to be her territory. Even when you can't smell the litter box, Loki can and its smell reinforces her claim on her territory. If she thinks that the area is challenged at all, even by you or your dog, she may avoid it. Cats are extremely sensitive to territorial disputes and most will do anything to avoid conflict, including not using the litter box. If it's possible for you to place the box somewhere where your dog can't get to it, that will be best.

You may want to address the kind of litter you're using but if she's using it part of the time, she must be recognizing it. Most cats prefer sandy, soft grains to some of the newer pellets and chunkier textures.

The fact of going outside the litter box actually introduces additional stress to the situation because Loki would rather go in a place where she can cover her waste and feel good about it. One thing you can do is to treat her when you notice she HAS used the litter box. Don't hover - no cat likes to be watched - but if you hear her scratching around in her box, a treat is in order.

Overall, the trick is to make her feel happy and safe in her new home. Make sure she has plenty of high spaces to climb to - most cats feel safest up high - and make sure she has at least one spot where no one, not even you and especially not your dog, can reach her. Don't pressure her or punish her when she goes outside the box. Punishment doesn't work with cats, so no harsh voices. Only kindness and understanding will solve this issue, and you've already illustrated both by reaching out about this. Thank you!

We've had some similar questions in the past. I'll include links to those answers below in case something there is helpful as well.

It may take a little bit of trial and error to figure out just what's bothering Loki, but I feel sure you can sort it out as long as you address it kindly from Loki's perspective. We wish you both all the best!

Why Does My Cat Shiver?

When our feline friends display symptoms or behaviors that are unusual, we're often left wondering what they mean. Jean B. writes:

I have a Bombay cat named Jackie. She’s three years old. For no apparent reason she will start shivering. She has ever since she was a kitten. She does not seem upset. When she was a kitten, I told the vet, but he didn’t think there was anything to worry about. Is there?

While many cats experience tremors, none should be taken lightly. It's worth another discussion with your veterinarian, especially if you observe any similarities in the instances when Jackie's tremors occur. 

Common causes of tremors include physical issues like low blood sugar, diabetes, hypothermia, and fever. There are also psychological issues such as fear and brain problems that can trigger tremors and even seizures. While this sounds like a terrible list of maladies, we include it to illustrate just how many different things can cause this kind of thing.

For now, we suggest you relax and start a notebook or calendar and note each time Jackie has visible tremors. Note the date, time of day and the temperature in the room she's in. It's also helpful to note when she last ate prior to the tremors. Then, the next time you take Jackie to her vet for a checkup, you can talk to them about the tremors from an informed perspective and even show them the data you've collected. You may even find that the tremors happen so infrequently as to be unimportant. Chances are, if she's lived with these tremors for several years now, it isn't a big deal, but only your vet can tell for sure.

Oh, and one last thing - many cats hold their tails upright and vibrate them when they're very happy. Many do this with a hunched back while rubbing or leaning against something, maybe even their human. If that's what Jackie is doing, it only means she's very happy to see you. :)

We wish you and Jackie all the best!

Cat Food and Water Bowl Recommendations

We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners. See the entire new cat shopping list here.

Cat Food & Water Bowls

You can never go wrong with high-quality, stainless steel bowls. Shallow, round or oval dishes are better because your little friend may be put off by the way their whiskers rub the edges of the dish. Avoid plastic and ceramics as they can harbor bacteria. This is especially important if you feed your cat a raw food diet.

We've had great luck with DuraPet bowls. These are great because they have rubber bases that keep them from sliding around. They're also available in several sizes so you can get a larger water bowl and a smaller food dish.

Every cat should have fresh, clean water available 24/7. A bowl just like the food bowl but filled with water is adequate. Just like the food dish, the water bowl should be cleaned and refilled daily.

Some cats respond more favorably to moving water. It's easy to see why - in the wild, moving water in a stream would always be safer than stagnant water. Most fountains made for cats and dogs are made from plastic or ceramic, both of which can harbor bacteria. We prefer this all-stainless model despite the fact that it still has a few plastic parts inside. Sadly, plastic is hard to completely avoid in modern manufacturing of an item like this. Still, of all the pet fountains out there, this one is our top recommendation for size, ease of use, and price.

It's important to be aware that any water pump will need regular maintenance. Pioneer Pet has a brief video that outlines how to clean out the pump. They also offer additional filters, though their recommendation of changing filters monthly seems like a bit much. Most filters can easily be rinsed every week, especially if filtered water is used in the fountain to begin with.

We'd also like to add a brief word about automated feeders. Unless it's an emergency where your cat won't get fed otherwise, don't do it. Feeding time is an opportunity to bond with your cat daily. Just think--there are only a few things your cat looks forward to each day. Meal times are high on the list. Your cat will develop rituals and expectations around meals. You really should choose to be a part of them.

So, those are our suggestions. What're yours? Comment below and let us know!

Rabies Vaccinations for Cats

Vaccinations are a tricky business. Most cats are either over-vaccinated or under-vaccinated. Dex P. writes:

I have a few cats that can go outside, but most are indoors. Would you recommend rabies vaccination for the cats who do not go outside? Can rabies be transmitted if the outdoor guys are vaccinated? Thank you!

Rabies vaccinations are a matter of law in most states, so cats living in those states should follow the laws, whether they go outside or not. That said, there is no reason to vaccinate a cat with a modern three-year rabies vaccine more often than every three years. In most cases the three-year and one-year vaccines are identical, so the one-year vaccine is automatically overkill.

There are some cats who develop injection site sarcomas so the best protocol for vaccinating is to do the least that's necessary to remain effective. We recommend voicing your concerns to your veterinarian and developing a plan with them.

If you'd like to get "into the weeds" on this issue, there's a very good interview between Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Ronald Schultz on the subject. Dr. Schultz is an expert in immunology and vaccinology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and he's come out in favor of fewer vaccinations. Links to the subsequent sections of the interview appear at the end of this video.

Dr. Becker is a favorite of ours and she has another good video on general vaccine advice here that we wholeheartedly agree with: 

The bottom line is less is more. If possible, find a vet who will titer a pet instead of re-vaccinating automatically. This may require an additional form from your vet depending on the laws of your state, but we feel that it's worth the extra effort to avoid over-vaccinating.

We wish you and your kitties all the best, Dex!

Flea Control for Cats

Fleas are one of the most successful parasites on Earth, so they're a problem in many temperate climates. With over 2,500 species, it's no surprise than many of them want to feed on our feline friends. Dex P. writes:

Which flea & tick medicine do you think is best? There are so many out there. I have a few cats that can go outside, but most are indoors. Thank you!

Dex, we don't particularly care for any of the commercially available topical flea treatments because the chemicals used often have side effects, some of which can be disastrous for individual cats. There's just no way to know who will have a reaction and who won't.

We recommend a more organic approach. Organic flea control is best achieved when the little nasties are attacked on multiple fronts.

First, you should make sure all the cats are healthy and are being fed a species-appropriate diet. Given a choice, fleas will be drawn to the least healthy hosts. See our top food recommendations here.


Next, use a flea comb to go through your cats' fur on a regular basis. To be most effective, slowly run the comb through their fur and then dip it into a glass of soapy water to clear it. If you find fleas, they'll end up in the water which you can then flush away.


Finally, use a deterrent product like food grade diatomaceous earth or cedar oil directly on your cats' fur. Massage it in and, in the case of DE, avoid dusting it to make sure that kitty won't breathe it in. These all-natural products will kill fleas and keep them away but will need repeat applications to remain effective. You can also use a little diatomaceous earth as a barrier for other insects at entryways and under baseboards.

Dex, we're confident that the organic approach can be just as effective as the chemical bombardment method, but it does take diligence and works best before a major infestation takes place. We wish you and your cats all the best!