Feral cats do not share latrine locations, and they use separate latrine sites for urine and faeces. A single cat will have numerous latrines located throughout its peripheral territory, so that it can conveniently access somewhere to eliminate during a hunting trip or whilst territorialising. Latrine sites are located away from hunting, feeding and resting areas. Cats show a preference for dry, sandy soil as a substrate for elimination, possibly due to their ancestral origin in drier, hotter climates.
In a domestic setting, the natural preferences of cats are often compromised:
- A single litter tray for urine and faeces
- No outdoor latrine sites (e.g. paved garden)
- Several cats using shared latrines
- Latrine locations that are too close to other resources, such as food and water, or where there is no privacy for the cat.
The ideal number of latrines in a multi-cat household would be one per cat plus one extra. It may not be possible for cat owners to accommodate this, even if inappropriate elimination indicates that there is a problem with latrine provision.
Even cats that do have outdoor access and suitable latrine sites in their own garden may show seasonal problems of housesoiling problems; outdoor latrines may become waterlogged or the ground frozen during winter, making them unusable.
It is common for owners to use deterrent methods to stop inappropriate elimination, but this will not be effective unless the cat has suitable latrine sites; the problem will only be moved to another part of the house.
The following characteristics should be taken into account when installing indoor latrines for cats:
- Privacy: Each cat needs to have its own latrine, not shared with other cats, which is located where the cat will not be disturbed whilst eliminating.
- Substrate: Cats prefer certain substrates to eliminate on.
- Dedicated latrines: Cats prefer separate locations for urination and defecation.
A good starting point for litter tray provision for a single cat would be:
- Two trays; one for urine and one for faeces, located at least one metre apart.
- Each tray should be high-sided and large enough for the cat to easily turn around on.
- The tray should be filled to a depth of 2-3cm with an odourless mineral based litter (not scented, or pine based).
- Locate the tray in a quiet part of the house, away from food, water and resting places.
- The tray may be covered or uncovered, according to the cat's preference.
The provision of outdoor latrines has a number of benefits:
- Reduces the need for a large number of indoor litter trays (especially in multicast households).
- Provides latrine access close to home, which reduces the need to roam and reduces nuisance to neighbours (the most common complaint by non-cat owning neighbours is that cats defecate in their garden).
- Strengthens territorial ownership so that non-resident cats are less likely to become a threat.
Outdoor latrines should be located in flowerbeds or behind shrubs to give the cat privacy. They do not need to be cleaned, but it may be necessary for the sand to be dug out and replaced every few months if it becomes heavily contaminated. This can be reduces by occasional scooping to remove faeces. As with indoor latrines, multiple locations will be needed for multi-cat households.
Creating an outdoor latrine:
- Choose a location at the edge of the garden, obscured by flowerbeds and bushes.
- The hole should be the dimensions of a litter tray, and 30-60cm deep.
- This is filled with soft playground sand (not sharp sand used for construction).
- Once the cat is using the latrine regularly, earth can be scattered over the latrine to disguise it.
Deterrent Methods for Inappropriate Latrine Locations
If the cat has a suitable set of latrine locations and is using them, then deterrent methods can be applied to prevent inappropriate elimination elsewhere.
Methods to deter elimination include changing the underfoot substrate or making the location less private:
- Cover the location with heavy grade polythene or aluminium foil, applying strips of double-sided sticky tape to increased the deterrent effect if necessary.
- Use brighter lighting and PIR (passive infrared) activated lamps to make a location less private.
- Place additional food and water bowls near the location.
This article has been written and expert reviewed by Jon Bowen BVetMed DipAS(CABC) MRCVS.
Date reviewed: July 2, 2014
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