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Cats are known for their superior nocturnal vision, a feature that likely developed to help their wildcat ancestors hunt at night. The muscles in your cat's eyes allow her pupils to narrow into a vertical slit in bright light and to expand to let maximum light in when her surroundings are on the dark side. Your cat's eyes also have a reflective layer behind them, creating even more light where there is little. Despite these adaptations, cats cannot see in absolute darkness as many believe. The misguided belief that cats can see in the dark has, in fact, been the root of quite a few behavior issues.
Many cat owners place litter boxes in areas that are well-lit during the day, but at night, are in total darkness. When their cats begin to eliminate under the kitchen table for instance— the owner believes that there is something wrong with the cat, litter box, or litter substrate. In reality, there is simply no light in the litter box locations for the cat to see. He will choose other locations that have better lighting where he can see and feel safe.
The long dark stairway or hallway leading to the litter area has also proven to be a problem for many cats. His survival instinct tells him to think twice and find a friendlier, less vulnerable path to another elimination area— and you probably won't like the new location.
The best and easiest way to get our cats to behave how we want is to give them the kind of environment they need to thrive— that includes a litter box they can see and feel safe using. If you must keep a litter box in an area that is naturally dark during the day, or if it gets totally dark at night, illuminate the space with a night light. Do the same for the hallway or stairs leading to the litter box areas. Your cat will feel more secure and you may find that this is a simple solution to what you thought was a bigger problem.
Who is Mieshelle Nagelschneider?
Meet Mieshelle Nagelschneider, ACCBC, a cat behaviorist and author of the science-based cat behavior book, The Cat Whisperer (Random House Publishing). Her passion and curiosity about cats, along with her study in animal behavior, has enabled her to help thousands of cat owners solve their cats' behavior issues for over two decades.
Learn more at The Cat Behavior Clinic, and look for her book later in 2013!