Helping with Litter Box Problems

A resource and information page about common reasons why cats may have issues with their litter box and helpful tips.

Cats just don’t stop using their litter box because they are upset with their humans and want to anger them. If your cat stops using their litter box, there is probably a legitimate reason why. There can be reasons like medical, anxiety, a dislike for the box, a preference for a certain surface, a preference for a location, or a combination of these. To crack down why your cat has a dislike for their box, you will need to take all factors into consideration. Expand each section for more information. 

If a cat experiences a medical problem, it is common for them to eliminate outside their box. For example, if a cat has a urinary tract infection it can be very painful for them to urinate and can associate this pain to the box, making them avoid it. If your cat is soiling in the house, first check with your veterinarian to make sure there are no medical problems causing the behavior.

Cats commonly stop using their litter box if they are feeling stressed or anxious.

If your cat is eliminating due to a new resident in the home have the new resident become friends with the cat by feeding, playing or grooming it. Make sure it’s a positive interaction when the two are together.

If your cat is stressed by seeing a roaming cat outside through the window, restrict the access to the doors/windows so they cannot see outside.

You can also use stress reducing techniques like play therapy and clicker training to help reduce your cats stress.

Your cat may not enjoy using their litter box if they:

  • Have a medical problem and associate the pain to the box
  • Think it is not clean enough
  • Were scared by a noise while using the box
  • Were scared by another animal/child/you while using the box
  • Associate the box with punishment (you place kitty in the box after they eliminate outside the box)

If your cat is avoiding the box you can:

  • Check with your veterinarian to make sure your cat is feeling ok
  • Keep the litter box very clean. If you can smell the box then your cat probably is unhappy with the cleanliness of it
  • Add a new box in a new location with a new type of litter
  • Ensure the box isn’t in an area of the house the cat doesn’t go in often or is not near a loud machine

Your cat will develop preferences for surfaces they prefer to eliminate. This may change over time.

Your cat may have a surface preference if they:

  • Always eliminate on a certain texture (for example, soft textured surfaces like carpet, bedding, clothing)
  • Scratch on the same texture after elimination, even if they use the litter box
  • Were previously an outdoor cat and prefer to go on grass/soil

What to do:

  • If they eliminate on soft surfaces, use high quality, scoopable litter and put a soft rug under the box
  • If they eliminate on slick, smooth surfaces, add just a thin layer of litter at one end of the box and leave the other end bare. Put box on a hard floor
  • Add soil/sod to box if your cat prefers to be outdoors

Your cat may have a location preference if they:

  • Eliminate in quiet, sheltered areas like in a closet or under a table
  • Eliminate in a place the litter box was previously housed or urine odors are
  • Eliminate on a different level of the house from where the box is

What to do:

  • Put a litter box on every level of the house
  • Put a box where they have been eliminating. Once they use this box consistently for at least a month, you can slowly move it to another location (an inch a day)
  • Make the area they have been eliminating undesirable

It is important to clean soiled areas thoroughly as animals are highly motivated to continue soiling an area that smells like urine/feces. Do not punish your cat for eliminating outside the box.