Seven Reasons Your Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box

Most people keeping cats desperately fear the day their cat won’t use the litter box.  Thousands of cats find themselves homeless after refusing to use the litterbox and instead urinating or defecating in any number of places.  Many cats choose the bed, or the laundry.  Others choose the bathtub, or defecate just outside the box itself.

Sometimes their owners don’t even know that they’ve stopped using the box–they just smell an odor and eventually find a mess.  Maybe they punish the cat–but the cat has no idea why.  The cat had a specific reason for refusing the box, and punishing only means they must try harder to hide their mess.

Most cats stop using the box for one of these major reasons.  Most problems resolve quickly if treated quickly.

Health Reasons Your Cat Won’t Use the Litterbox

Whenever your cat won’t use the litter box, call the vet immediately.  Most litterbox problems start as health issues, and correct quickly by solving the underlying health problem.  Even if the problem carried on for several weeks or months before seeing the vet, your cat depends on you to resolve the underlying problem.

Urinary Tract Infection

Common in cats, urinary tract infections cause pain as the cat urinates.  The cat associates the pain with the litterbox, instead of with the infection, and attempts to alleviate the pain by urinating elsewhere.  Eventually the scent of urine leads the cat to also defecate outside the box.

Urinary Tract Infections typically resolve quickly with a round of antibiotics, and a veterinarian can treat your cat easily.

Bladder Stones

Bladder stones form in the bladder, then travel as the cat urinates, causing excruciating pain.  The stones can also completely block the cat from urination, causing death as the bladder ruptures.  As with a urinary tract infection, the cat avoids the litterbox because it hurts to urinate, and eventually develops a routine of defecating and urinating elsewhere.

Behavioral Reasons

Cats also develop behavioral reasons for avoiding the litterbox.  Cats won’t use the litterbox for several reasons: territoriality, fear, disliking the litter.  Resolve these issues as well, especially if your cat avoided the litterbox habitually.

Too Many Cats

Cats, while generally peaceable with other cats, desire some level of privacy from their friends.  Cats sometimes prefer to not share their litterbox with others.  As a general rule of thumb, keep a litterbox for each cat, plus one, and place them throughout the home.

If you’re considering adding another cat, I have this article that outlines the differences between adding an adult or a kitten, and how that might affect your cat’s training.

Box Not Safe

If the cat does not feel safe in the box, she will avoid it.  Each litterbox in the home should be out of sight of the others, and should be somewhat enclosed, like this one.  Cats do not like being exposed while using the box, just like humans.

If the cat was attacked by another cat (or dog) in the household while using the litterbox, she may avoid it to avoid attack.  Moving the box to a safer location, or replacing it with a different style of box, may help.

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Dirty Litterbox

Cats prefer to not step in their own waste.  They need their litterbox cleaned daily, and the litter itself changed regularly.  They will avoid the box if they feel it is “too dirty” or smells too strongly.  Alternately, a self-cleaning litterbox, like this one, may resolve the problem as well.

Cats can also be taught to use the toilet, using aluminum pans available in the baking aisle at your grocery store.

Doesn’t Like the Litter

While most cats will use whatever litter provided, some cats become sensitive to specific litter types or brands.  Changing brands may cause your cat to avoid the box, or your cat may suddenly decide she doesn’t like the feel of the brand you’ve been using all along.

Box Too Small

If the litter box is too small, your cat may use the box, but his rear end hangs off the edge of the box.  Or, he may not fit at all in a covered box.  Choosing a larger box, or one without a cover, may resolve the problem.

Retraining Your Cat

Retraining a cat sometimes seems tedious.  They do not learn in the way dogs learn.  They do not respond well to punishment, beatings, or yelling.  They react with stress to force.  Training cats requires diligence and consistency.

Once your cat has the all-clear from the veterinarian, set up a space for her in a small room.  I’d choose a bathroom, but other rooms work as well so long as the floor is not carpet.  Correct whatever litter box issues may be present, and only confine her with another cat if that other cat is her best friend and she cannot do without.  Do not allow other cats, children, or dogs into her space.  This will create anxiety, and anxiety leads to not using the box.

Once the cat begins using the litter box regularly, and has done so for several days, she can be allowed supervised visits to the rest of the house.  Make sure you watch her, and return her to her room if she needs to use the box.  In the meantime, do not allow other cats into her space.  If she has any anxiety about the litter box, it worsens if other pets approach her private box.

Did this help?

Has any of this helped?  Have you had a kitty with litter box problems?  Share what you’ve learned on the Petlosopher Facebook page.


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