Solutions for Bengal Cat Litter Box Problems

Do Bengal cats have more litter box issues than any other cat?  No one really knows.  People tend to talk about the cats that have litter box issues, not the ones that have perfect litter box habits. If you spend any time in a Bengal discussion group, you've probably decided they must be the worst offenders. Watching Jackson Galaxy's "My Cat From Hell" and seeing all the offenders who are not Bengals quickly brings the picture into focus.  Litter box problems are not a Bengal-specific problem. It can be a problem with any cat trying to communicate that something is not meeting its needs. We know for a fact Bengal cats are intelligent, which increases their awareness and sensitivity.  Bengal cats are high energy; they must have those energy needs met.  

No written article can magically fix all litter box problems.  To resolve a litter box problem, one must first identify the cause.  If you cannot determine why your cat is not using the litter box, then a cat behaviorist should be hired to identify the reason for you. This article will not resolve the problem if a health issue causes the problem.  Often when a cat is pottying near the box but not in it, that is a big red flag that the problem is likely to be health-related.  But, like with all litter box issues, that is a generalization, not a rule.  This article will not solve your problem if the litter box issues are caused by an unhealthy relationship with another animal in the house. This article will address four steps you can take to resolve all problems caused by a Bengal's heightened sensitivity and heightened energy needs. Keep in mind that if you are struggling with an issue, you must follow the suggestions exactly.  If your cat does not have a problem, but you want to avoid one, there is more flexibility in following the recommendations.

Step number one is the litter box set up.  You need to set up multiple oversized boxes with unscented litter that has a texture like sand.  The general rule is one more litter box than the number of cats, but that rule needs to be flexible.  Perhaps one of your boxes is a small, covered box discretely tucked inside of a cabinet.  Don't count that as one box - count it as half a box.  Yes, you need boxes in some of the rooms that we do not want boxes and hiding them in furniture is a wonderful compromise, but you may need another box nearby.  If you have multiple levels in your house, you may need more boxes than the standard rule of one more box than the number of cats.

In at least one place in your house, you need a substantial uncovered box.  We recommend a 20 gallon or larger storage container. If you are struggling with an issue already, buy a clear storage container, so the cat can always see out of it even while going to the bathroom.  If you have automatic boxes and litter box issues, do not count the automatic boxes as a box.  For each one you have, get another large, uncovered storage container. Once you get your issue under control, you can start removing the boxes you don't like and try limiting it to the boxes you approve of, but when trying to resolve a litter box issue, you must use boxes the cat wants.

Once you have large, uncovered litter boxes in place, you need to fill them with Cat Attract litter.  During a time of struggle, Cat Attract is essential - it meets the criteria the cat likes: it does not have any perfumes added, it feels like sand, and it has herbs that attract the cat to it, which we humans do not smell.  Once you use Cat Attract for a while, you will love it too. The main ingredient is Fuller's Earth, which encapsulates the waste and prevents the odor from lingering.  Once you have your litter box issue resolved, then you can switch to Dr. Elsey's Unscented Litter, which is the same litter without the cat attracting herbs. The Unscented Litter is less expensive but just as effective at controlling odor as the Cat Attract variety.  For a more detailed explanation of litter box set up and litter, please read "Setting Up Litter boxes Your Bengal will Love."

Once you have the litter boxes set up the way your cat wants them, the second step in eliminating litter box issues is creating an environment stimulating to your cat and playing with her regularly.  I know what you're thinking - how do the environment, playtime, and litter box issues have any connection?  They do. Cats who are insecure in their territory can over mark their territory with urine; Bengals who are bored can over mark their territory.  Going to the bathroom is a sign of inappropriately marking a territory.  You need to give your cat lots of places to mark appropriately - using its claws and cheeks.  Cats have scent glands in the feet and on their cheeks.  When they scratch areas with their claws or rub on stuff with their cheeks, they leave their scent in that location.  You may need to add scratching poles, cat condos, or simple cardboard scent soakers around your house - especially in the locations where your cat has pottied outside of the box.  For further reading on how to create the right environment in your home for a Bengal cat, please read, "Do I have enough space for a Bengal cat?" 

The environment itself, however, is not enough.  If your cat is not using its box, it is possibly insecure about something. The best way to help ease an insecure or anxious cat is to establish a routine. Of all the recommendations we will offer, this one is the most important, and this one takes the most significant time commitment from you.  If no clues point to a different cause of your cat's litter box issues, then - for a Bengal - the most likely reason is not enough mental and physical stimulation.  Putting your cat on a playing and feeding routine will control the energy spikes and give your cat peace of mind that physical play will happen every day.  You need to take your cat on a "hunt" by playing with an interactive toy and allowing her to catch that toy after working her to the point of panting; then, you feed your cat. Doing this at approximately the same time of day 2-5 times a day will establish a natural body rhythm for your cat and give it the security it needs to stop urinating in your home. For a detailed explanation of how to create a routine and why it is essential, please read "How to Establish a Healthy Bengal Cat Play Routine."

To review, if you are experiencing potty troubles with a Bengal, first, you make sure you have large, 20 gallons or more, open-topped litter boxes with Cat Attract litter in them.  Next, make sure your home is filled with appropriate places for your cats to scratch and rub their scent in acceptable ways. Third, establish a play-then-feed routine that you consistently engage in with your cat at least twice a day.  There is one final measure you can take to solve your problem, but this one is specifically targeted toward cats who will urinate near doors, windows, or air vents.

Cats urinating near windows, doors, or air vents are trying to protect their home from an outside intruder.  Some animal - most likely a neighborhood cat - is visiting at night, and this is making your cat feel insecure in her home.  You need to deter the visitor from coming to your home.  The best method is to use motion-activated sprinklers, which will trigger when the animal trips the sensor.  Place the sprinkler outside of the door or window where the accidents are taking place.  If you are having accidents in your air vents, then the animal is likely urinating on your HVAC unit, and that odor is coming in through the vents, causing your cat great distress.  In this case, place the motion activate sprinkler in front of the HVAC unit.  If you want to be confident that this is the cause of the problem, you can set up a portable trail camera as well, so you can get the intruder on video.  If you have a place that needs protection, but you do not want to use sprinklers, you may also use a motion-activated air canister. The movement will trigger a blast of air and hissing sounds that will deter the cat or wild animal from hanging around.  Two weeks of blasts of water or air should be long enough for the nuisance animal to form a different habit and stop coming by your home to leave its scent.

If your cat is not urinating near doors, windows, or air vents, but you've seen a change of behavior, that change of behavior could be a warning sign that you have a nighttime visitor as well.  Cats will feel threatened by another animal leaving its scent outside of their home. While sometimes this results in them trying to mask the smell of the other animal with their urine, other times, it results in misplaced aggression as your cat tries to dominate anything when it can't dominate the pesky visitor outside.

All of these steps must be accompanied by thorough cleaning of any spots where there is urine. Any washable items should be washed using a product designed to remove organic odors.  Dead Down Wind Laundry Detergent is an odor-free laundry detergent that will remove all urine odors from fabric. For floors or items that cannot be machine washed, you must use an enzyme cleaner to thoroughly remove any urine scent. Normal household cleaning products will not remove urine effectively. Our favorite enzyme cleaner is Rocco and Roxie.  Thoroughly clean any area where there have been accidents.  Cats are so much more sensitive to smells than we are; one last protective measure would be to have a Feliway diffuser in your home as you are working things back to normal. Feliway contains a synthesized form of the pheromone that cats release from their cheek glands. The diffuser distributes this comforting pheromone into the air, which can bring down your cat's anxiety level.

Remember, pottying outside the box is the cat's way of trying to communicate something.  Your job as the cat's guardian is to figure out what your cat is trying to tell you.  These suggestions will fix most litter box issues caused by the needs of any highly intelligent, high energy cat.  If you follow these suggestions exactly - do not skimp on the routine - and you are still struggling, you need to see a vet if you have not already done so.  If the vet says the cat is healthy and you continue to struggle, then it is time to call a behaviorist.  Marilyn Krieger - the cat coach - is a cat behaviorist who is also an owner of Bengals and Savannahs. 


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