Why Is My Cat Not Using the Litter Box? Here’s What to Do!

why is my cat not using the litter box

It’s incredibly irritating when a cat prefers soiling outside the litter box in inappropriate places, but even the most well-behaved feline friends can develop this nasty habit.

Sometimes this problem can be a warning sign of a new medical problem, but the most common reason is usually with the litter box itself.

Whether it’s problem with new litter, location preference, or just having enough litter boxes, we’re here to help you find out why your cat is facing litter box problems!

Let’s identify the main reasons your cat has developed litter box aversion, as well as medical and behavioral reasons, so you’ve got the best chance of keeping your home clean, and your cats happy!

Why Cats Don’t Use The Litter Box

cat stopped using litter box

Sometimes even the smallest of changes can make a cat form a litter box avoidance, but with at least 10% of all household cats developing problems with elimination, you’re not alone in your fight against house soiling!

Prevention is key, so you must act fast before your cat develops a preference for eliminating on your surfaces instead of their litter boxes.

It’s easy to make your cat’s litter boxes their preferred choice, but you need to be prepared to pay close attention to their routine so you can spot when they plan to eliminate on the floor, or your best armchair.

Litter Box Problems – Common Reason

Whether you have a multi-cat household or just one, let’s take a look at the reasons your kitty isn’t getting the message about using the litter box.

Number of Litter Boxes

cat not using litter box

You should have one litter box per cat in your home, plus an extra one if you have many cats. Just like us, cats develop preferences for where they want to use the toilet so having the right amount is key.

If you live in a multi-leveled house, then you may find that your cat prefers to use one on another floor, so make sure they have access at all times.

If you plan to introduce another litter box, the location is equally important, as it’s normal for them to be rejected if placed right next to one another.

Litter Preferences

Do you have a favorite toilet roll? So does your cat! A cat’s nose is very sensitive, so if you’ve changed cat litter types, then the brand may contain a different scent or perfume, resulting in them inappropriately eliminating.

The most universally accepted variety is non-clumping litter that is unscented without any strong smells. If you do want to change their litter, then try mixing the old and new litter for a gradual transition.

There are loads of different pet stores selling unscented litter in varying consistencies such as sand, wood, or shredded paper, so you may find your cats prefer a certain litter or box liners.

cat won't use litter box

Litter Box Preferences

You may think a new box would solve the problem, but most commercial litter boxes are much too small and can leave your cat feeling trapped.

If you have overweight cats, or maybe they are getting older, then you might find they start to struggle with a covered box, and would prefer an open litter box to do their business.

Most pet stores sell litter boxes with removable hoods, so this might be the key to getting your cat’s environment just right to end their litter box problem.

Location of Litter Box

why do cats not use litter box

If your house has a lot of foot traffic, then your litter box issues might stem from bad placement. You may also find if you place litter boxes in different locations frequently, then it causes trouble, especially near food bowls.

Kitties are creatures of habit, so even by moving the location a few inches, too many could cause a change in your cat’s behavior, and they like to have multiple escape routes where possible.

You should keep your cat’s litter box away from their food bowl, in a quiet area that they can feel safe in. If you use an area that is too enclosed, cats feel trapped and vulnerable, making them unlikely to use the litter box.

Give your cat an area that is secure and quiet, without being cramped, so they can feel comfortable enough to go to the toilet without having to hide and make a mess on your best furniture.

Cleanliness

my cat wont use the litter box

Your cat is most likely a bit of a snob too, meaning they will avoid a soiled area like their lives depend on it. Boxes that aren’t regularly cleaned are going to produce strong pet odors, which will disgust you and your cat.

Ammonia-based products or bleach might be tempting for a deep clean, but the strong smell will deter your cat’s sensitive nose, and can easily break down the plastic commonly used for most cat litter boxes.

Instead, use unscented soap and baking soda to scrub the litter box out once a week and remove lingering scents, and scoop feces out regularly, as well as keep the litter box area clear.

If your cat has scratched or damaged its litter box, then it will hold onto smells and urine easier, so try to replace them whenever possible and stick to the same variety you know your cat will like.

With a variety of litter boxes for odor control available in the market, you can now make sure your house smells crisp and fresh easily.

Household Stress

why did my cat stop using the litter box

We’re not saying your cat needs therapy, but events such as introducing new pets, and family members, moving home, or redecorating can cause huge stress to your cat.

If your cat feels stressed by household changes, then one of the first signs is inappropriate elimination. Cats are also known for urine marking, so it can be a territorial protest too.

If you have multiple cats, make sure you have enough litter boxes to keep each cat happy.

Inability to Use the Litter Box

why do cats stop using litter box

It’s hard seeing your pets get old, but if getting to the litter box has become a problem for your cat in their old age, then they might have difficulty with high sides or difficult entryways.

If you’ve eliminated any medical conditions, then try and get different types of boxes that are easier for your cat to access.

Medical Issues That Can Cause a Litter Box Problem

Sometimes the new behavior can be related to an untreated medical condition and isn’t necessarily caused by litter box problems.

my cat stopped using the litter box

The best way to identify the cause is by asking your veterinarian to check your cat’s health, and you should never try and treat a problem at home without a professional diagnosis.

If any of the following sounds familiar, then your cat might be eliminated due to lack of control or pain.

There are a lot of similarities between a urinary tract infection and feline interstitial cystitis, making it hard to define the two without very closely watching your cat’s behavior when they urinate.

UTIs will cause your cat to try and urinate very frequently with little success, or maybe only a very small amount of urine present. Antibiotics will be given to provide immediate relief and treat your cat’s infection.

Feline interstitial cystitis is a neurological disease with a generally unknown cause, but there are a few abnormalities that contribute to the disease such as:

  • Stress and abnormal stress response
  • Neurogenic inflammation
  • Defective bladder lining

FIC is more recognizable as your cat may appear to strain when they urinate or have blood in their urine with a lot of pain present too.

why does my cat not use the litter box

This condition can be life-threatening but isn’t contagious among other cats. You should take your cat to the veterinarian immediately if you suspect this.

Other medical conditions include kidney stones or blockages that cause inflammation and a tender abdomen, with frequent cries in pain when trying to urinate.

Other Behavior Problems to Rule Out

my cat stopped using the litter box

If your vet has ruled out any medical condition, then you might feel at a loss with how to handle your cat’s sudden hatred of litter boxes.

Urine marking is a form of communication between cats and is a way to communicate with other animals and show this is their spot.

This means, even if your cat never leaves the house, they can choose to avoid litter boxes and spray their urine on walls, furniture, and doors.

It can be a sign of distress amongst some cats, but there’s a difference between a cat choosing to eliminate on your floors, and a cat leaving urine marks. For example, urine marking or spraying is done vertically.

Your cat will back up onto a certain spot to spray as a method of defensive behavior. It will smell must stronger and can be commonly found in the same spot.

If you’ve introduced new pets or a new kitten into the home, then this stress will cause your cat to leave messages to “claim” a location and brand it as their own.

What to Do If Your Cat Eliminates Outside the Litter Box

why do cats stop using the litter box

Your cat is an intelligent animal, so it’s very likely that once you fix the cause of their litter box avoidance, then they will jump back into their normal routine.

Most cats prefer boxes without a liner, lid, or strong fragrance, so if you’ve been trying different types of litter, this could be resulting in their elimination problems.

A change of routine can stress cats, and this becomes even more of an issue in multi-cat households. Consider using a self-cleaning litter box to maintain cleanliness no matter what happens.

Make sure you have enough litter boxes in place too, as your cat’s sensitive noses might not want to share a toilet with other cats.

If you have three cats, then having four litter boxes might seem overkill, but the variety of options and personal space will make a big difference.

If your cat is spraying or marking near doors and windows, this could be a sign of territorial behavior. Something as simple as installing an automatic lawn sprayer will deter neighborhood cats and remove the scent that could be bothering your cat.

If you can’t eliminate the cause of stress, then try using diffusers that release a synthetic pheromone to relax your cat and hopefully stop its litter box aversion.

why do cats not use the litter box

Conclusion

Resolving litter box aversion can seem like a complicated task, and no one wants to find cat urine and feces around their home after a long day.

Still wondering, why is my cat not using the litter box? The easiest first step to getting your cat back in the litter box is to identify any stressful changes they may be facing, and make things as easy as possible.

Although it can be a sign of underlying medical conditions, don’t worry, as most are common and easy to treat, so your kitty won’t be upset for long.

Unscented litter and lid-free litter boxes are usually the most successful setups you can have, and make sure you give your cat the privacy to go to the toilet in peace!

Emma Davies
Emma has loved all animals but especially dogs all her life. She was smitten from the first puppy to enter her life at just 5 years old. Over the years she has had her heart stolen by one particular breed and that's the German Shepherd! She has used her love of dogs and animals, in general, to create a successful writing career for herself over the last 6 years. Emma has written in a variety of niches but especially loves those that are centered around dogs and animals. When she's not writing you can find her enjoying the great outdoors with her family and beautiful German Shepherd Faith.

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