Working With Cats That Hide in Their Litter Box

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You will notice that cats tend to gravitate toward the litter box on their first day at the animal shelter and sometimes beyond the first week. Cats that hide in the litter box tend to do so because the litter box contains their own scent which is comforting for them. Hiding in the litter box for an extended duration of time can indicate fear or stress.

Fear and stress can manifest into upper respiratory infection which could create a disaster if that illness was to spread to other cats. It is paramount to prioritize stress reduction and tailor it to each individual cat. I am going to provide you with tips and tricks on how to socialize a cat that only wants to hide in the litter box.

The first thing you want to do is identify why they are hiding in the litter box. Analyze the environment and the cage that they are in so you determine if you can add more to it. Make sure the cage is of adequate size for the cat to lay down in any position.

You can turn up the fun for any cat by adding cat toys, covers, beds, scratch pads, boxes, elevated resting areas, and catnip. Cats like to be high up because it makes them feel secure and being able to scratch can release pent up energy or stress.

I like implement the use of boxes because it gives the cat a more appropriate place to hide while you are working with them. Cats are going to hide when they first get to the shelter so it is best to provide an adequate spot to hide rather than removing it. It has been proven that stress could be increased by as much as ten times if you try to prevent a cat from performing normal coping mechanisms such as hiding.

Catnip and Feliway may be used to comfort the cat while he is at the shelter if the methods in this article does not seem to suffice. You can work with a cat to make them less fearful of people so he will approach people and want to be handled. You will need a plastic baby spoon, canned food or baby food without onion, an interactive cat toy like a feather, and a cover.

Try to entice the cat out of the litter box by holding the spoon with canned cat food slightly outside of their litter box so they have to work for it. This works best if you do not feed the cat first thing in the morning so that he is more food motivated. Always hold the spoon of canned food below his nose area so he can see it and is not threatened by a hand being over his head area.

Allow your cat to eat the first few bites without making them move so they can see how good it tastes. Move the spoon with food on it closer and closer to you with each bite. Pet and praise the cat while he is eating so that he can get used to petting.

The cat will associate the tasty food with social interaction which will help him get used to people and the environment. The cat is also being taught that the front of the cage is not a bad place to be if it means that it where good things happen.

You may use the feather toy to exercise him and increase his confidence level. By allowing the cat to catch a toy and rewarding him with praise after each catch, you decrease stress and fear of the unknown. The cat will unconsciously be exploring and getting acclimated to the environment during his play sessions.

You can work up to him allowing you to pick him up after a couple of weeks. Always carry the cat out hindquarters first so he can see where he has been before he is able to see where he is going. Finally, take a look at the environment and out of the cage to see if there are any external stressors. Consider internal stressors at the same time.

Stressors Include But Are Not Limited To:

  • Other cats if the cat is cat aggressive.
  • Dog barking or dogs in the cat room.
  • Chemical smells such as bleach.
  • Improper cage size
  • Not enough resources or toys
  • No elevated beds or hiding spots
  • ETC.

Please read my detailed guide on shelter cage enrichment for shelter cats by clicking here. These protocols are for caged cats since working with community room cats is much easier. Cats will display a more accurate personality if they have the opportunity to explore and display their wide range of normal behaviors. Always go at the cat’s speed as going in faster could jeopardize the behavior modification.


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