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What is Feline Inappropriate Elimination (IE)?
By Michael Ephraim Vergara, DVM - Technical Service Officer
Have you ever encountered your indoor cat urinating and defecating outside of the litter box?
Dr. Lisa A Pierson in her article said that this is known as “inappropriate elimination,” and is one of the most common reasons for a cat to be relinquished to a shelter or, in some cases, abused.1
This IE problem becomes an ‘appropriate’ issue as our beloved cats often end up suffering more when this problem is more of a ‘pet owner management’ one. In most cases, IE is the fault of the human in charge of the cat litter box duties.
The “fault” usually involves a dirty box or one that is too small and it is perfectly ‘appropriate’ for a cat to seek out a cleaner place to do his or her elimination.1 Wouldn’t you consider doing the same thing if you were not offered a clean bathroom? An even sadder thing is that cats are even punished because of this behavior. Punishing these cats is not only inhumane but is ineffective and will often make things worse.1
How do we deal with IE then?
Cats have the sense of smell a thousand more strong than ours, so most definitely if the cat litter is smelly for us, it would be more to them. With this, other reasons why IE is observed among indoor cats as stated by Dr. Pierson are as follows1:
- Dirty litter box (es)
- Poor choice of litter form (using pellets/crystals/non-clumping litter which are uncomfortable to walk on and do not allow for complete
- Poor location of the litter box(es)
- Blocked from the box by a dominant feline housemate
- Unable to relax and get to the box, or use it, due to fear of a strange human, dog, active child, loud noise, etc., in the house environment
- Box size is too small
- Too few boxes (for those with many cats)
- Medical problem (s) – This should always be a serious consideration.
How to ‘appropriately’ manage cat litter?
History has it that the first cat litter was a brainchild of Ed Lowe sometime in 1947 when his neighbor asked for materials from their shop (that sells industrial absorbents) for her indoor cats’ box. The neighbor is tired of using ashes and dealing with sooty paw prints.2
Cat box sometimes called litter box, sandbox, litter tray, or litter pan, is an indoor feces and urine collection box for cats.3 The cat box somehow serves as a ‘nature-replacement’ for the natural behavior of cats in the wild. In the wild, cats naturally excrete in soft or sandy soil for easy burial. They use their paws in a backward sweeping motion to cover their feces. To stimulate this instinctive desire, a litter box's bottom is filled typically with an inch (2.5 cm) or more of cat litter.3
In cases of IE, here are some of the do’s and do not’s in managing cat litter of your cats1:
- Scoop the litter box twice daily - at a minimum.
- Use clumping litter - except for kittens younger than 6 - 7 weeks of age.
- Check if litter scent affects the pet
- Keep the litter deep enough.
- Use large litter boxes.
- Have enough litter boxes available.
- Have litter boxes placed in a quiet area.
- Use a litter mat that is comfortable for your cat to walk on.
- Seek veterinary attention if your cat stops using the litter box.
- 6 - 7 weeks of age. Use litters that do not clump - except for kittens younger than
- Use pelleted (pine or newspaper) or crystal/white pearl litters.
- Use scented litters or any deodorizers if the cat continues IE.
- Use hooded litter boxes if your intent is to prevent odors from reaching your nose.
- Use plastic 'grass' mats.
- Punish your cat for not using the litter box.
- Put a child in charge of litter box maintenance.
Different cat litter brands are available in the market nowadays and bentonite is the most commonly used material. But apart from bentonite, other raw materials used for cat litter are listed below4:
Knowing the raw materials used by a cat litter brand and understanding the good and not so good points of each is very important as this can guide us in selecting the most ‘appropriate’ cat litter for our cats. This can help in managing IE behavior in our pets, and if we are able to eliminate this IE or Inappropriate Elimination behavior, life with our cat/cats will be such a breeze.
4 Various sources