#FoodShelterLove – Life Saving Litter Etiquette Can Help Keep Cats out of Shelters

Cats communicate to us in various ways – whether by meows, the twitch of a tail, body posture, ear stance and more – each action a unique gesture to signify something different. The same is true for litter box habits. Most cats instinctively know to use a litter box, but when they don’t, it causes extreme frustration for pet parents and is one of the most common reasons why cats are brought to shelters. What pet parents might not realize is that when a cat is acting inappropriately, they are actually communicating to them that something could be wrong.


So many beautiful cats are brought to shelters for poor litter box habits. By understanding their nutritional, health, and behavioral needs, having to resort to such drastic measures could be eliminated.

Hill’s® Science Diet® and Food, Shelter & Love® Program recognizes the frustration pet guardians feel when cats are exhibiting bad litter habits and is dedicated to finding ways to keeping cats healthy and out of shelters. One of these ways is with good nutrition and to that end they have introduced a new Adult Urinary & Hairball Control formula and Adult Urinary & Hairball Control Canned Chicken Entree to their extensive lineup of products, because a healthy bladders starts with the right balance of vital nutrients.


As someone who has had to witness firsthand the frightening ordeal of a cat that developed microscopic crystals in their urine, I know just how important a proper diet is. These crystals, which are like very fine grains of sand, irritate the bladder, and in male cats in particular, the crystals may plug the urethra, possibly becoming a life threatening situation. While the Urinary & Hairball control does not prevent or treat a lower urinary tract infection or treat crystals, it is a preventative diet formulated with optimal levels of magnesium to keep the bladder and kidneys healthy.


Many years ago – long before I knew about the different nutritional requirements for cats, my male cat, Friday, had urinary blockage, requiring emergency surgery. Thankfully he was okay and I quickly switched him to a special diet recommended by my veterinarian to keep him healthy.

Please keep in mind, however, while diet is extremely important, if your cat is exhibiting ANY unusual litter box habits (both inside and outside of the litter box), your trusted veterinarian is who you should consult FIRST to find out if your cat has any medical issues that need attention. Pee or poop outside of the box is an easy indication that something is amiss, but if your cat is using the litter box more frequently, or is straining to go, or has blood in their pee or stool – these are immediate causes for concern.

If there are no medical issues, the problem is probably behavioral and will require you to identify what is triggering the inappropriate litter habits. Start with the basics – perhaps you might need to add more litter boxes to your household, or change the location of where you keep the litter box, or change the type of litter you are using, or even change the litter box itself. Not all litter boxes are created equal, so it can be trial and error to find one that works best for your cat’s needs.

In my multi-cat home, I find that having several large, uncovered litter boxes that are scooped throughout the day and night so that they are always clean is helpful. Cats are fastidious by nature and don’t like a messy box. Litter issues can also spring out of territorial issues, so making sure your cats are spayed and neutered can help reduce potential problems.


In our household, a large and roomy litter box with high sides works the best. We keep the boxes in a private area in our bathrooms and make sure that they can easily get in and out of them.

If it’s more complicated, it’s a bit like being a detective – has something changed in your environment to cause stress? What is nothing to us, can be everything to a cat and despite how it might seem on the surface, cats do not urinate or poop outside of the litter box to spite us. Having company, moving, changing furniture around, changes in your own personal life or routine, seeing other cats outside the house – all of this and so much more can cause a cat to react to the dynamic in a negative manner – their way of communicating to us they are unhappy with the current status quo.


Something as simple as seeing a neighborhood cat in the front walkway can cause cats tension and anxiety.

Some of it is the age of the cat too. As a cat nears stages of end of life, using the litter box can become extremely difficult for them. It is important to keep the litter box accessible as possible for a cat in those circumstances – a litter box with high sides in a room far away might now need to be a litter box with low sides, placed closer to the cat who might have difficulty walking with ease. At this point, it’s not so much worrying about why kitty is peeing or pooping outside of the box, but making sure kitty is comfortable. In cases like that, carefully placed pee pads around the house is often the kindest solution.


As Jazz neared the end of his life, not only did we have to change his nutritional needs, but we had to change litter arrangements to accommodate his difficulty to walk with ease.

The ultimate goal for me and the Hill’s Science Diet and Food, Shelter & Love Program is simple – we want more cats adopted from shelters and when they are, we want to keep them safe, happy, healthy, and nutritionally fit. No one wants to see a cat back in a shelter for litter box issues. With some trial and error, patience, good nutrition, and guidance from your veterinarian, every kitty should be able to have a happy and healthy forever home for a long, long time.


The Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love® Program has currently provided over $240 million worth of food to nearly 1,000 shelters, 365 days a year helping over 6 million pets find a new home. It’s a living, breathing example of compassion based on these four pillars:

Volunteer – Hill’s encourages everyone to support their local shelters by spending time with shelter pets to help care for them and socialize with them.

Donate – Whether it be cash, toys, time, or supplies, shelters can always use donations and Hill’s can also help donors get connected with local shelters.

Choose -Helping pet parents everywhere learn more about the Hill’s shelter program and how choosing Science Diet® for their own pets can help thousands of shelter pets around the country.

Adopt – There are literally millions of cats and dogs in shelters up for adoption and the ultimate goal of the program is to bring some love home and for every shelter pet that is adopted, Hill’s will provide a free bag of Science Diet pet food to the pet parent for each adoption to further ensure a smooth and easy transition for pets to their new home.

This post is sponsored by Hill’s. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Hill’s® Food, Shelter, & Love Program, but Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. is not responsible for the content of this article.

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  1. Fantastic post, Deb! So many people overlook the possibility of medical issues when litter box problems arise. In many cases, litter box issues are an indication of medical issues that can be treated.

    I’ll look for the new Science Diet canned formula next time I visit PetSmart. I’ve been looking forward to trying it with Carmine, especially since they took his favorite urinary tract food off the market. Hopefully we can add this new canned food to his rotation!

  2. Thanks for sharing this important information. It’s sad to think so many cats end up at shelters because of litterbox issues that could be corrected.

  3. Ellen Pilch says:

    I like the box with the easy entrance, I need one for Lucy. She prefers a puppy pad outside the box, but maybe that would help.

  4. speedyrabbit says:

    I get sad when I see Pets given up just for this reason,xx Rachel

  5. Litter box issues can be overcome… I hate seeing cats given up because of these problems.

  6. meowmeowmans says:

    We’ve had cats come into the shelter for this very reason. How sad and maddening that their humans did not just get them checked out.

  7. Great information! Very useful.