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Help! My Critter Won’t Use The Litter!

By Becca Morgan

Many people call to surrender their cat for not using their litter box.  There are many reasons why cats exhibit inappropriate elimination.  Often while gathering details, through a myriad of questions regarding litterbox cleanliness, type of litter, number of cats in the home, placement of the box, we often find out that the cat is declawed.   Scratching is normal feline behavior, without their claws the cat may experience emotional distress. They’ll no longer be able to comfortably perform their natural stretching and kneading routines.   This may often result in problematic behaviors including aggression resulting in biting and/or inappropriate elimination. 


Declawing is a surgical procedure, in which the animal’s toes are amputated at the last joint.  Some cats may have immediate complications from the procedure; others may not develop complications for months or years after their surgery.


Cats normally walk with their toes bearing the weight of their bodies.  Declawed cats may experience pain, similar to a rock in your shoe pain, because of tendons pulling on the remaining bone. They may compensate by shifting their weight resulting in abnormal posture and movement.  They become weaker as they age which may result in permanent lameness and arthritis in their backs and shoulders.      


Declawing causes many issues but we’re going to focus on litter box issues specifically. Baby is one of our cute as button resident cats.  She came to us declawed and with litterbox issues which we suspect is due to her chronic shoulder and paw pain.


Cats may experience pain while they are covering their waste or when jumping into the box.  Then, associating that pain with their box and finding a more comfortable place to eliminate like the carpet.  We have had success and often suggest that people use a soft, fine clay litter and low sided litter pans. Some cats prefer paper towels or newspapers in their box.  One could even use the lid to a storage tote as a litter pan, requiring no jumping at all.


If your cat is declawed and begins going outside of their litter box, address it immediately!  Find a softer type of litter and a low sided pan to ease their discomfort.