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SIOUX CITY | Three and a half million cats are taken to shelters every year and approximately a third are euthanized, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Combating this troubling statistic requires examining the reasons why so many cats are given up and what can be done to remedy the problem.

House soiling, or failure to use a litter box, is one of the top reasons owners list when surrendering their cats to shelters, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

“There aren’t many ways that cats can show you they’re unhappy and that, unfortunately, is one of them,” said Kari Cheever, Sioux City PetSmart manager. “Any major change in the household, anyone coming in or leaving, new babies or pets, can cause them to stop using their litter box.”

That’s why it’s important to investigate what might be different in the household before simply giving up on the cat and taking it to a shelter. It’s a cat’s natural inclination to use a litter box, or somewhere they can bury their waste, so they are sending a message by going elsewhere, Cheever said.

Once you've figured out what might be different or wrong, try to either revert the situation back to normal or comfort the cat and get them used to the changes if that isn’t possible.

Sometimes, there are more serious problems at play when a cat stops using its litter box, such as a urinary tract infection.

“Just like in a human, it’s hard for them to hold it and it hurts,” said Cheever. “Definitely, if the cat starts going outside of the litter box, the first step should be to take it to the vet to see if there’s something going on.”

A high quality diet is key to preventing urinary tract infections in cats.

“Lower quality foods can make them more prone to different issues, including UTIs,” Cheever noted.

Keeping a clean litter box is also imperative to ensuring it is used regularly.

“Cats are clean animals and you need to clean the litter box every day to keep them using it,” Cheever said.

There are self-cleaning litter boxes and sifting litter box liners for cat owners who prefer to keep the litter box cleaning time at a minimum, she added.

Having a large and deep litter box and keeping several litter boxes for multiple-cat homes are two more factors to consider when a cat randomly stops using its box.

“If a cat is too big for the box, it might stop using it,” Cheever said. “Also, when you first get another cat, you should bring in another litter box. It might just be temporary. Every cat is different.”

Once the cat has gone on the floor, it’s important to get the mess thoroughly cleaned up so the cat can’t smell it anymore. If the cat continues to smell urine, it could think that it can keep going there, even if whatever caused it to go there in the first place is remedied.

“Average floor cleaners won’t do the job,” Cheever said. “They might take out stains and make it so humans can’t smell it anymore, but cats can still smell the pheromones from the urine. Getting it cleaned up properly with something made for animals is going to be the best thing to keep them from going repeatedly in a certain area.”

Cheever noted that key words to look for when seeking out a pet stain cleaner are “enzyme” or “enzymatic” because that means it has particles to break down all the pheromones.

To give a cat the final push to head back to the box for bathroom time, try a litter that contains an attractant, Cheever said.

“You just have to be patient and figure out what’s wrong before doing anything rash,” she added.

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