One of the things I’m frequently asked about is why cats defecate or urinate in inappropriate places. 

There are several reasons for this and the most important question to ask is does your indoor cat have a CLEAN litter tray in which to go about his business? It never ceases to amaze me that people have absolutely no idea how often to clean out a litter tray. One lady who wrote to me said incredulously that she cleaned the tray out every two months and she couldn’t fathom out why her cat had started to pee on the carpet. HELLOOOOOO! Every TWO months!!!!! Would you want to use your toilet if it hadn’t been flushed for two months? Heck, I'd pee on your carpet too if your toilet hadn't been flushed for two months!


It’s been suggested that for every cat you have you need to have an extra litter tray, so if you have three cats, then you need at least 4 litter trays.


Cats are very private about their toileting and would prefer to go somewhere quiet, out of the way, so the best place to position a litter tray is somewhere out of the way of household traffic. If you have other pets, perhaps a dog, or small children, for hygiene reasons, the litter tray should be out of bounds. Position it in a quiet corner of a room and show your cat or kitten where it is. He will use it when he needs to but if he is kept in a different room and needs to go urgently he may not be able to make the trip to where the litter tray is kept. It makes sense, therefore, to allow the cat free roam of the house or apartment so that he has access to the tray(s) at all times.

Once you have decided on a position for the tray, leave it there and don’t keep moving it about which will confuse that cat.


All soiled matter should be removed daily and the tray cleaned out every couple of days, weekly at the most. To do this, I take out the soiled stuff first and discard, and then empty the rest of the litter onto newspaper which is spread out on the floor. Under a running hot tap I use an old scouring type brush and thoroughly clean the tray making sure I get into the corners to remove any dried faecal matter. I dry it with an old tea towel which is kept especially for the task. I replace the original litter and top up with some more clean litter. If the tray is too clean and there are no traces of the cat’s own scent, he may not use it, so it’s important to leave a little of the old litter in the tray so that the cat can smell his own scent.

It’s important not to use bleaches or disinfectants which can leave a residual smell behind. The cat will ‘read’ this smell as an intruder having used his tray and this may give rise to the cat soiling elsewhere in the house. Bleaches have ammonia which is a component of urine and disinfectants which go cloudy when mixed with water (like Dettol) contain phenols which are toxic to cats.


Your choice of litter can make all the difference to whether or not a cat will use the tray successfully or not. There are many different types of litter available and I have used quite a number – not me, personally you understand (can you just see me squatting over a tray as I do a quality test???!!!) but the cats will usually make up their own minds which litter is best for them.

To try different types buy the smallest bag to use as a tester – you may have to try a few before your cat gives you the thumbs up. It’s a mistake to use the cheapest because it could be an inferior quality. Some clay type litters are quite lumpy and if a cat has been declawed then the lumps can hurt the paw pads which remain sensitive throughout the cat’s life. Softer litter or even soft sand or wood pellets can be acceptable for cats to use.

Don’t make the mistake of using scented litter or scented litter liners in the tray. These have been manufactured to appeal to the OWNERS not the cat. Cats do not like heavy perfumes as their sense of smell is hundreds of times sharper than a human’s and any kind of scent near or on their litter tray will send them into the nearest corner to leave you a nice steaming nostril-clenching poo. 

Just a few commonsense tactics will keep your cat happy and if you see him using the tray, remember to praise him. If he does soil elsewhere, never, ever punish him or shout at him. If you do this, you’ll alienate him and out of nerves he may continue to toilet in inappropriate places.

Some shy and retiring type cats feel over-exposed using a litter tray and the easiest way to combat this is to use a covered tray. You don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive tray on the market – an ordinary large cardboard box which has had an opening cut in one of the sides placed over the tray will suffice. Some cats may just go inside and hide from the world and that’s ok.


In small rooms sometimes people place the cat’s food dishes alongside the litter tray. Would you eat breakfast while sitting on the toilet? Cats like separate areas for toileting and eating so please put the food and water bowls some distance away from the tray – your cat will thank you for your consideration.

© Pauline Dewberry November 2007

Since writing this piece in November 2007, I did read recently (April 2008) about a cat which had begun to toilet behind the television set. Her tray had been positioned right near the front door and she'd been in the middle of using her tray when the post had arrived through the letter box. One item - a rather heavy book - actually fell on her head which naturally frightened the life out of her. She ran to the only hiding place she knew - behind the television - and carried out her toilet there.

Her owners were advised to move the litter tray well away from the front door and as a precautionary measure a guard was placed over the letter box so that no further mail could fall out to scare her. It took some time but she now goes in her new spot quite happily.

For litter comparisons, please click here:

One Cat is Company

"One cat is company.
Two cats are a conspiracy. 
Three cats is an attempted takeover.
Four or more cats is a complete coup!"

Shona Steele (Australia)

Sponsored Advert