Litter Box Problems?

Litter box problems with cats can be extremely frustrating, to the point that many people give up and make the difficult decision to relinquish their cat to a shelter or rescue.  There are a few easy things you can do to try to solve the problem first, though, and patience is key!  Curbing litter box issues can take up to three months or more.  Try the tips below, and feel free to call us if you have any questions at (320) 252-0896.

Step 1: Figure Out Why

  • Rule out a a medical problem by taking your cat to your veterinarian.  Cats with urinary tract infections might associate the pain of urinating with being in the litter box, making them not want to use the box.  This accounts for 15 percent of all litter box problems and should be ruled out immediately.
  • Keep a log of accidents to see if there is a pattern.  When does it happen? Where? What does it look like? How frequent are the accidents?
  • Spay/neuter your cat.  Studies show that 90 percent of male cats that spray will stop after being neutered.  Felines can also mark areas when they are in heat to try to attract a male cat.  There are many benefits to spaying/neutering, and this is one of them!
  • Routine change?  Cats are creatures of habit and most do not care for change.  Ask yourself if there have been any lifestyle or environment changes since the litter box problems began.  New pet?  New baby?  New litter box location?  New air freshener near the cat's litterbox that might be offensive to your cat?  If it is something you can easily remove, try it.  If not, be patient with your cat and give them extra love and attention.  It can take them a month or more before they realize that things are not going to go back to how they once were.

Step 2: Remove/Neutralize Urine Spots

  • Locate urine spots.  You can find urine by using a black light. Veterinarians also can give a supplement called Fluorescein to feed your cat that makes the urine glow even more. This is particularly helpful with multiple cat households to find out which cat is having accidents.
  • Don't skimp on cleaning!  Cats are repeat offenders and will continue to return to the same inappropriate potty spots if you don't clean the area properly.
  • Pick the right product.  Just like anything on the market, there are some products that work well for cleaning cat urine, and some that don't.  We recommend products such as Nature’s Miracle (sold at Tri-County Humane Society), Outright, FON, Oxi-Clean, or baking soda (½ cup to ½ gallon of water).  It is important to know your product and how to use it, too!  For example, Oxi-Clean in its powdered form must be added to very hot water to activate its neutralizing abilities.  If it foams up when added to hot water, you know it is hot enough!  Never use detergents, bleach, vinegar, or any products containing ammonia. These products might encourage the cat to return to that spot.
  • Soak the entire area, a light mist of cleaning product won't do!  Neutralizing products work best if they are allowed to soak and sit over the soiled area for at least 20 minutes before removing excess product with a towel or carpet shampooer. 
  • Repeat if necessary.  If you can still smell urine, you can bet your cat can!  Once the area dries, if it still smells like urine, repeat the process.

Step 3: Prevention

  • Make the accident areas unappealing.  Upside down carpet runners on the floor (the kind that is bumpy on the bottom that a cat would not want to walk on) work well, or bricks spaced a couple inches apart.  Tin foil may work for some cats as well.
  • Move the litter box to the location preferred by your cat.  If your cat only goes in one spot in the house, try putting the litter box there after neutralizing the area. If it is a spot that you don’t want a litter box permanently, wait until the cat is using the box religiously and then gradually move it a few inches each day to a more appropriate location.
  • Keep the litter box clean! Scoop daily or every other day and completely change the litter and wash the box out on a regular basis. Do not use products with ammonia; they will actually accentuate the urine smell and may make cats not want to use the box. Scrub the box with baking soda and rinse it well. If you are unable to remove the urine smell over, it may be time to replace the box.
  • Do not use plastic liners in the litter box. Most cats do not like them!  It can also encourage them to urinate on plastic bags around the house.
  • Keep the box at ground level.
  • Give the cat a variety of litter boxes to choose from in different locations.  If you live in a multi-level house, make sure there is at least one box per level. A general rule of thumb is to have one box per cat plus an extra one in a multi-cat household. At least two boxes are needed for a one-cat household because some cats prefer to urinate and defecate in different locations.  Also, give them different box choices, such as one covered box and one open box, and make sure the size of the box is appropriate for the cat.
  • Try different types of litter. Most cats prefer 1 to 1 ½ inches of soft, sandy litter, such as the “scoopable” variety.  Try litter such as Cat Attract (sold at Tri-County Humane Society), which contains herbs that are designed to encourge the cat to use them.
  • Use unscented litter.  Perfumed litter may be too strong and offensive to your cat. Litter with Chlorophyll is especially unappealing to most cats.  Stick to unscented litter.  Baking soda to prevent odor is okay.
  • Keep litter boxes away from eating or sleeping areas.
  • Keep litter boxes in a quiet area with low traffic.
  • Make sure cat has an escape route. If it feels trapped while using the box, it may not want to return.
  • Try products such as Feliway for cats with anxiety or behavioral issues.
  • If all else fails, ask your vet about anti-anxiety medication.
  • Never punish the cat. This will only backfire and may make the problem worse. Reward the cat with treats when you see it using the litter box.


Dr. John C. Wright, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

Dr. Patricia B. McConnell, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

Rats 101: What to Know About These Pets


Also known as: Domestic rat (a descendant of the wild brown rat).

Weight: Males, 1 to 1 ½ pounds; females, ½ to 1 pound.

Length: 14-18 inches, including tail.

Lifespan: 2 to 3 years.

Cost per year: $300.

Good with kids? Great for families with children 5 and up, but young caretakers should be supervised by an adult.

Fun fact: When rats are very content, they grind their teeth.


  • High-quality rodent chow should be available to your pet at all times. Look for a brand with soymeal as a main ingredient. Tri-County Humane Society’s store sells rodent chow, and all the proceeds go back to the animals.
  • Fresh, clean water should also be available to your rats 24/7. A water bottle with a drinking tube that attaches to the cage is the best way to go.
  • Offer small, bite-sized bits of fresh fruits and veggies daily. Recommended: Peas, broccoli, carrots, apples and bananas. Avoid: Chocolate, corn, candy, caffeinated beverages, cheese, sticky foods such as peanut butter.
  • Rats love people food, and you can give yours the occasional table scrap, such as cooked pasta or a bit of pizza crust. But limit treats or you’ll have a chunky rat.


  • Rats are very social and should be kept in pairs at a minimum. A pair of females is recommended for first-time pet owners. Males can do well together if introduced when young. Females are more accepting of new friends later in life.
  • A neutered male can live with females, or a spayed female can live with males. Don’t keep intact males and females together, as they will breed. The average litter ranges from 12 to 20 babies!
  • Solid-bottom, powder-coated wire cages are recommended. 2’ by 2’ by 2’ is the minimum size for a pair of rats, but do get the largest cage you can afford. You can also use a large, multi-level ferret cage or an aquarium with a screen cover for adequate ventilation.
  • Rats are prone to colds and heatstroke, so keep the cage indoors, away from drafts, direct sunlight and extreme temperatures, in an environment maintained at 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A room where the family gathers in the early evening is ideal – your gregarious pets will love it!
  • Line the cage with bedding. Do not use cedar or pine chips, which contain oils that are dangerous to rats. Provide shredded paper towels or napkins if your rats like to make nests.
  • Your pets will need a cave for sleeping and resting, such as a small flower pot or box.


  • Rats are friendly and curious by nature, but you’ll need to get your pets used to you and used to being handled. Start by feeding them small treats. When they’re comfortable with that, pick them up one at a time, one hand supporting the bottom, the other over the back. When you get to know each other better, don’t be surprised if your pets want to snuggle or sit on your lap or shoulder.
  • Once your rats are hand-tamed, let them play outside the cage in a safe, secure area for an hour every day. Out-of-cage playtime is mandatory. It will keep your smart, active friends mentally stimulated and physically fit. Supervise at all times; rats will chew on everything, including electrical wires.


  • A bored rat is an unhappy rat! Provide PVC tubes for your pets to run through, and ladders and trees branches for climbing. Parrot toys, including swings and ropes, are great for rats.
  • Some rats love exercise wheels. Get one with a solid surface without wire rungs, so your pets’ tails cannot get caught while running.
  • Give your pets appropriate chew toys to help wear down their teeth, which grow continuously. Recommended: Unpainted, untreated wood, dog biscuits, safe cardboard and rawhide chews.


  • Remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale/uneaten food. Clean and refill the water bottle every day.
  • Clean cage completely once a week by replacing dirty bedding and scrubbing down the rest of the cage with warm, soapy water.


  • Bring your rats to the veterinarian annually. Don’t wait for your yearly appointment if you think one of your rats is sick. Common signs something isn’t right include sneezing, lethargy, weight loss, dull eyes, open wounds, diarrhea and difficulty breathing.
  • Rats are susceptible to external parasites such as lice. If you think your pets are infested, consult a veterinarian.


  • Wire cage, large aquarium with screen cover or multi-level ferret cage
  • Aspen or pelleted recycled paper bedding
  • Small boxes or flower pots
  • Tree branch for climbing
  • Exercise wheel (solid, no rungs)
  • PVC tubes for tunneling
  • Rodent chow (also called rat blocks)
  • Attachable water bottle with drinking tube
  • Unpainted, untreated piece of wood, dog biscuits or safe chew toy
  • Toys, including swings, ropes and other toys made for parrots

Source: Information from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Why Do Puppies Chew, and How to Stop It

Chewing is a common complaint among those caring for dogs younger than a year old. They’re likely to chew for several reasons. For one, they’re curious creatures and they don’t have opposable thumbs. Their mouths are how they examine objects. Also, from four to eight months of age, they will shed all of their puppy teeth and grow a set of permanent teeth. Chewing helps with teething discomfort. Also, chewing gives a bored pup something to do, and dogs with separation anxiety will likely chew their owners’ items. Finally, some dogs, such as retrievers, were bred to use their mouths.

So how do you stop it?

  • Create a safe haven for your puppy: Use a dog crate or small, carefully dog-proofed area. When dog-proofing an area, get down at puppy eye level to scope out potential problems such as electrical wires or drapery cords. When you can’t supervise your puppy, place him or her in this safe haven with an approved chew toy.
  • Remember, the puppy does not need access to the entire house. Close bedroom doors or install pet gates during the animal’s chewing period.
  • Invest in a variety of chew toys appropriate to the size and chewing preferences of your dog. Check out Tri-County Humane Society’s store for a variety of toys (all the proceeds go back to the animals.) Watch your pet with the chew toys when he or she first tries them to make sure it’s appropriate. Alternate the chewies to keep interest high, saving the best for crate time or when puppy is left alone.
  • Give feedback. When the puppy eyes a table leg, say “eck” or “phooey” and then draw puppy’s attention to an acceptable chew toy. When you catch the puppy chewing on an appropriate toy, make sure to praise him or her with a treat.
  • Try anti-chew products.  If the table leg or rug fringe remains your dog’s favorite chew toy, use a commercial anti-chew product.  Tri-County Humane Society sells bitter apple sprays that are safe for pets and can be highly effective!


Source: Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT

Get Control of Your Dog’s Jumping Behavior

Jumping problems are most often found with adolescents (dogs 6 to 18 months old). Toy, terrier and sporting breeds such as Italian Greyhounds, Poodles, Jack Russells, and Labrador Retrievers are notorious jumpers. Dogs jump up because they want to get closer to someone’s face.

For most, peak jumping behavior is observed around mealtime, when you come home, walk time, out on the walk itself and when friends/relatives come over to visit. This problem can be solved by training. The proper amount of exercise for your dog’s breed type is of great help, too! Lack of exercise results in out-of-control whirlwinds who lack the ability to focus.

What to do:

  • When you see your dog rev up to leap, say “No, off!” and turn away from the dog. Removing your attention (a reward to the dog) is a gentle, effective way to correct the dog. As soon as he has settled either with four feet on the floor or in a sit/down-stay, turn back around, drop to your knees and quietly praise the dog.
  • Give the jumping behavior a name so you can turn it on and off (“leapin’ lizards,” “paws up,” or “feet up”). Teach your dog how to jump on command, then add “no” as in “no paws up” to let the dog know when you don’t want him to jump.
  • Give the dog something else to do. Obedience training is a strong plus when trying to get a jumping problem under control. A dog holding a sit or down-stay is not a jumping dog. When attempting the sit down or down-stay, avoid pushing, shoving, flapping your arms or other fast, excitable movements. Use a lure-reward method rather than physically manipulating the dog. Avoid raising your vocal tone or whining. All extra movements and excited vocalization will incite the dog.
  • To aid the dog in holding his sit or down when visitors arrive, put him on a leash before opening the door.
  • For an unfocused bouncing maniac, give him just enough leash to do a sit or down-stay and step on the rest. When the dog attempts to move, he will correct himself. (This may not work for a 100-pound person with a 200-pound dog, but it works well for most handlers.)
  • Be consistent. Never let the dog jump up without being directed to do so. A dog cannot distinguish between dirty, old blue jeans and a designer suit. He cannot tell which days is it OK to jump on you by what you are wearing or what the weather is like.
  • Be consistent with strangers, too. Don’t let someone confuse your dog by stopping you in mid-correction by saying, “It’s OK, I just loooooove dogs” while stroking him and rewarding him for his misbehavior. There is nothing wrong with not allowing people to pet your dog unless he is on a stay command. Guests to your home are no exception. Warn them beforehand (“I’m training my dog not to jump up unless commanded. I could really use your help. Please don’t pet him or even acknowledge him unless he’s holding his stay.”)
  • For the slow learner, jumping setups are in order. On a weekend or vacation day, arrange for a friend, neighbor or relative to ring your doorbells every 10 to 15 minutes for a couple of hours. Each time, put your dog on a leash, command him to down or sit-stay and open the door and greet your visitor. Sometimes giving the dog a distinct place such as a small foyer rug helps him to focus on his job (go to your place and lie down). Your visitor can give your pup a treat or a tickle if he is behaving, but should ignore him if he is not. Once the dog is under control, the visitor leaves, only to return again in another 10 to 15 minutes. This goes on until Rover understands his job is to stay put until he is told to do otherwise.

What not to do:

  • Remember that your dog is your friend and companion. There is no need to knee him in the chest, hit him on the head, squeeze his front paws or step on his back feet. By teaching him the acceptable behavior and rewarding him for carrying it out, you become the fair, humane leader every dog needs.

Source: Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT

Pick the Perfect Pet for You

Before you pick a pet, keep in mind that the pet is a commitment that you have for its entire life. For large breed dogs, that can mean 10 or more years; for a smaller breed, it can be 15 years or more. Cats may live up to 20 years. Pets require continued daily investment of your attention and energy. Do not acquire a pet of any kind if your decision is based on frivolous needs or spontaneous urges. Put yourself in the animal’s place.

So you decide you do want a pet. Here’s what comes dawg Webnext.

Dog? Cat? Or something else?

Don’t be misled by popular misconceptions that all cats are antisocial toward people or that no one should have a dog unless they own a house with a yard. Neither should you limit your options to a dog or a cat. You might find great companionship in a pet rabbit, bird, or an aquarium of fish. Be open-minded and consider all the options.

Here are some important points to think about:

  • A pet dog requires a bigger investment of time and energy than does a cat. Regardless of size or breed, a dog should be walked on a leash for a minimum of 20 minutes at least twice daily. It is not enough to let it out into the backyard, nor can it be allowed to roam unsupervised in the neighborhood.
  • A dog must be taught acceptable behavior as soon as it enters your home. Puppies should begin obedience training and social interaction (with other pets, children, and adults) from the very start. Obedience training should be practiced daily. Dogs make wonderful pets if they are given ample opportunity for the exercise, play, and social interaction with their owners.
  • If you are a first-time pet owner, a large-breed dog is probably not the best choice. A smaller dog will be easier to manage so that you can perfect your obedience skills and acquire experience.
  • The approaches to raising dogs of any size are identical. Train a small dog the same way you would train a large one. You would not want a Great Dane to jump on your guests, so don’t tolerate this behavior in a Lhasa Apso. Read tips about stopping a dog from jumping.
  • Although most dogs will enjoy playing with people, cats can generally amuse themselves. Most cats enjoy interacting with their owners but are often content to play alone.
  • Though their activities can be more solitary, cats thrive on attention and social contact with their owners. Cats have a very different social nature from dogs. Cats tend to be more discreet and unassertive than dogs, but they can be as attentive and responsive as any dog. A cat’s relatively small size and independent nature make it an attractive candidate for small living quarters and busy households.

PiccoloHiRes WEBMale or female?

  • Male cats and dogs tend to be larger than females and may be more active in general. Females may be easier to training and less destructive. Females may not play as roughly as males, but both sexes are equally playful. Males tend to be more aggressive toward other males in particular, and aggressive behavior may be more easily provoked.
  • Male dogs may be less tolerant of children. Dominance aggression in male dogs is more common. That does not mean that females can’t be aggressive or are always calm and sweet-tempered, nor does this suggest that male cats or dogs are not responsive to their owners.
  • There is probably no difference between the sexes in territorial aggression or the demand for affection. The decision between a male and female is one of your preference. The fundamental guideline is to choose a healthy pet with a good temperament.

Evaluating the litter

  • Avoid selecting a pet that remains extremely shy and intolerant to handling over more than one visit. An overly anxious pup, for example, is most likely to remain so as an adult. The most assertive pup of a litter is likely to become extremely dominant as an adult. If you choose a pet that displays any temperamental extremes, be prepared for lifelong challenges.
  • Testing a puppy’s temperament during the first few months of life can be misleading. Pups go through phases of development that are largely influenced by their environment. A pet’s earliest experiences influence it throughout its lifetime.
  • Look for the pet that has the traits you desire, but in moderation.
  • Have your new pet examined by a veterinarian within seven days after adoption from TCHS.

Checklist for Pet Selection

Before adopting a pet, consider:

  • Motivation (whim or well-planned goal)
  • Financial investment (short-term, long-term)
  • Required changes (removing valuable objects, tolerating occasional accidents, placing screens on windows to prevent escape)
  • Adult size (small, medium, large)
  • Breed characteristics, physical attributes (activity level, hair length)
  • Gender
  • Time and energy for pet’s daily maintenance (exercise, grooming, play, affection)
  • Municipal and state regulations regarding pets
  • Your previous experience (basic obedience training, house training)
  • A secondary caregiver (if you leave on vacation or become ill)

Source: Canine and Feline Behavior Problems, Second Edition

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