10 Reasons Why Your Cat Stopped Using the Litter Box

Kitty is normally a tidy, house-trained cat. Then one day, you find she is just dropping her business everywhere except where it needs to go. Before you can solve this problem, you need to find out the underlying cause. Here are the ten most common reasons why a cat won’t use a litter box.

  1. There may be a Medical Problem
  2. Poor Location of Litter Box
  3. Filthy, Smelly and Unclean Box
  4. Too Many Cats Not Enough Boxes…
  5. Maybe Different Litter Choices?
  6. Your cat has grown bigger? Box Size
  7. She does NOT like a company? Privacy
  8. Old place was better… Box Moved
  9. Another guy? Invaded Territory
  10. Change Induced Stress

1. Medical Problems

Cat at a veterinary exam

First step in troubleshooting behavior problems in an animal is to see if they’re sick or injured. A cat in too much pain to move can’t get to the litter box. If Kitty feels pain while eliminating, she may associate her litter box with pain.

Maybe Kitty just didn’t make it in time. If you have a rescue cat who’s been declawed, the litter might hurt her paws. Monitor Kitty’s eating and drinking habits and take her to a veterinarian.

2. Poor Location of Litter Box

Cats like to do their business somewhere quiet and private, but not too closed off. Putting the box somewhere too closed off not only traps bad odors, but Kitty might not feel comfortable if there’s only one entry/exit. A box located near noisy appliances will just frighten Kitty off.

They want privacy, so no high traffic areas or near windows. Kitty will not “you know what” where she eats, so keep it a good distance from her food and water dishes. It may take some trial and error, but eventually you’ll be able to find a good place for Kitty to do her business.

3. Unclean Box

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. No matter how busy you’ve been, Kitty’s box still needs to be clean. Perhaps you made a deal with the kids. You told them they could have a cat if they cleaned up after her. Someone’s not holding their end of the bargain.

Let’s say you’ve been a good pet parent, scooping the box every evening and scrubbing it once a month. What did you use to clean it with? Cats hate bleach. You might like perfumed soap, but Kitty doesn’t. Use hot water and unscented soap.

4. Not Enough Boxes

You should have one litter box for every cat in the house plus one. Cats aren’t fond of sharing and this can extend to litter boxes. Even with closely bonded cats that don’t mind sharing with each other, there’s always the problem of the occupied box. An unusually fastidious cat might want to use one for urination and one for defecation.

If you have a large house, you might want even more litter boxes so Kitty will always have a box nearby no matter where she is. Try adding more boxes, spread out in different locations to see if that helps.

5. Litter Choices

Good news! You found a new brand of kitty litter on sale! Bad news! Your cat hates it! If a cat has been using one kind of litter for a long time, don’t expect them to take easily to a new type. Cats like routine. They don’t like change. You might like the lavender scent of the new litter but it makes Kitty gag. Read here about affordable non-tracking litters.

If you absolutely must change the kitty litter, gradually mix the brand they’ve been using with the new stuff and keep changing the ratio until you are completely using the new stuff.

6. Box Size

If you have a kitten or a very short legged cat, she may have trouble getting into a litter box with very high walls. If you have a very large cat, she won’t feel comfortable in a box too small for her to turn around in. You need to find a box that’s just the right size for your cat; not too big or too small.

It needs to be as wide as your cat is long. If Kitty is still growing you may need to get a bigger litter box to keep up with her.

7. Privacy

Again, here we have many of the same problems with bad location. Like people, cats like a little peace and quiet while doing their business and they don’t want a bunch of prying eyes. The box has to be in a low traffic area where Kitty will not be disturbed. If you don’t find this area, Kitty will. If Kitty seems to favor one spot to do her business, maybe this is where the litter box needs to go.

8. Box Moved

Once more:  Cats like routine. They don’t like change. If a litter box is in an area Kitty likes keep it there if you can. Otherwise, Kitty will be dreadfully confused. Because your cat can’t read Who Moved My Cheese? you would do well to leave the litter box where it is.

If you absolutely must move Kitty’s litter box, do it gradually, just an inch or two every day until it’s in a new (but acceptable) place.

9. Invaded Territory

Has someone bothered Kitty while she was using the litter box? She may be avoiding the box to avoid the confrontation again. If the presence of another cat causes Kitty stress, she (both males and females do it) may spray vertical surfaces just to remind everyone whose territory this is.

10. Change Induced Stress.

It bears repeating. Cats. Do. Not. Like. Change. It could be as big as a new addition to the household or as small as the coffee table was moved. Any kind of change can upset a cat to the point that she forgets how to use a litter box like a civilized cat.

Strategies

Cats are clean animals who don’t do things like this out of spite. Do not punish a cat cruelly for not using the litter box. You may try putting foil or sandpaper in an area the cat is using to make it uncomfortable while making the box more comfortable with softer litter. If Kitty is spraying, try closing the curtains so she can’t see other cats. A little care and comfort will calm down a stressed out cat, as will Feliway, a spray made with cat hormones.

  • February 3, 2018
Mary Nielsen
 

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.