As experts in cat behavior, we frequently receive requests to address a common issue: cats choosing to eliminate outside of their litter box. This particular problem accounts for nearly half of all inquiries we receive regarding cat behavior. However, when we are contacted, we often discover that we are not the first resource people have turned to for solutions.
Typically, these days, individuals initially seek advice on how to address the situation by turning to social media. If they are aware that the information, they will find is likely to be inaccurate, why do it? The most common response is "I just wanted to see." Since the resources are free, people believe they can distinguish between good and bad advice and may find a useful bit of solution.
In this blog, I will explain why this approach is problematic, why your brain will trick you and provide suggestions for what people should do instead.
It's a bad idea because your mind is easily influenced.
The saying "repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it to be true" is aptly demonstrated on the internet regarding cat behavior solutions. The internet is an extensive and constantly growing source of information, and a quick search can yield answers to nearly any question. However, when it comes to cat behavior problems, the solutions you discover online have been repeated for generations, leading people to believe they are true, even when they are not. Cat behavior experts estimate that almost 90% of internet solutions will either not work or worsen the problem.
The situation is even more dire on Facebook groups, where it is rare to find professionals with the necessary expertise to provide accurate and effective advice. Instead, Facebook group are populated with well-intentioned people that have no expertise at all but still decide to offer misguided suggestions based on their personal experiences. They often claim that their veterinarian or a cat behaviorist provided the advice, lending it some level of credibility. Moreover, 40 other people may chime in, insisting that they tried the solution and it worked for them. Upon reading such a solution, it may seem like a simple and effective fix without any drawbacks for you or the cat. So, why not give it a try? After all, it is free, and it worked for 40 other people! But, here's the problem - your mind may be tricked without your knowledge.
You may think it’s working but…
You might believe that a solution is working but it’s not really working. For instance, the water vaporizer, which is one of the most recommended tools to correct a cat's behavior, is a prime example of this phenomenon on Facebook groups. If you ask for advice on how to teach a cat not to go on the table, 40% of the suggestions you receive are likely to include the water vaporizer, with most people claiming that it works for them. They may tell you that they have been using it for the past three years, about three times a week, and it has worked every time. However, they are also essentially admitting that they have used the water vaporizer 468 times so far, yet the cat still continues to go on the table. If the objective is to teach the cat to stop going on the table, then it is apparent that the water vaporizer is not an effective tool to use. In reality, it gives the impression of working every time, but it’s not. The same goes for many other solutions found on cat behavior problem on the internet, particularly on non-specialized social media groups.
Do you remember that it was probably a bad idea?
It is crucial to recognize that you don’t have the necessary expertise to evaluate the advice found on the internet and, therefore, it may have drawbacks or risks for your cat on a physical or psychological level. People often say that they know that for a fact but they tend to forget that a solution may have been a bad idea in the first place when it fails because they are tricked by the 40 positive comments and will end up believing that the reason why it failed with their cat is that they have a "special cat". Aren’t we all?
Unfortunately, this often leads people to avoid seeking help from a cat behaviorist, believing it will be a waste of money since they have already tried the "free and inoffensive" solutions suggested on social media that worked on 40% of the people and it didn’t work for their “special cat”. This can be devastating, resulting in people giving up on their cat or even resorting to relinquishment or, worst, euthanasia.
So, if you cannot rely on social media to resolve cat behavior problems, what should you do if your cat is having litter box problems? Here are a few tips to consider:
SOLUTION 1 : Consult a Veterinarian
The first and most important step in addressing litter box problems is to rule out any underlying medical issues. Statistics show that 60% to 70% of the time, these issues are medical in origin. Cats with urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and other health problems may experience pain when using the litter box, which can cause them to associate it with discomfort and refuse to use it. Only a veterinarian can determine if your cat has any medical issues that need to be addressed through tests, as there are often no visible signs. In fact, if you have noticed blood in your cat's urine or feces lately, stop reading this article and seek immediate veterinary attention at an emergency clinic.
SOLUTION 2 : Work with a Cat Behaviorist
If your cat's litter box problem is not due to a medical issue, the next step is to seek guidance from a qualified cat behaviorist. They can provide you with guidance on four critical elements that can influence a cat's litter box use: the number of litter boxes, their placement, litter type, and size. Surprisingly, up to 80% of cat owners overlook at least one of these critical factors.
It is important to note that cat behaviorists have a high success rate in resolving litter box problems, with 85% to 95% of cases resolved within days after a single consultation. The solutions recommended by behaviorists are simple to implement and cost very little. The key is to have the right substrate in an appropriate number of uncovered litter boxes (one more box than the number of cats) of the correct size (1.5 times the length of your cat), placed in the right locations (in different rooms and floors).
These pieces of advice are just a few examples of what you can do to effectively address your cat's litter box problems and avoid being caught in a cycle of bad advice.
Daniel Fillion - Éduchateur