My cat won't use the litter box!  HELP!


Inappropriate elimination in pets is easily one of the most common and frustrating problems pet owners will encounter at one point or another. The underlying issue of the problem will determine the solution more often than not. When evaluating the potential causation, whether you have a cat or dog also influences the process of elimination. For this article, we’ll be focusing on your feline counterparts. With felines, we want to go down a list and make sure that we eliminate some very key things.

  1. Is this a medical issue? Cats are known for being able to hide their pain. When cats eliminate in a basket of clothes or on the bed sheets, this is usually an indication that it hurts them to eliminate, and they’re looking for somewhere soft and comfortable. To make sure that any improper elimination isn’t due to medical concerns such as Urinary Tract Infections, take your cat to the vet to get a clean bill of health. Negative association of litter usually goes under this category as well. I see it most often with cats who have urinary tract infections that are seeking anywhere comfortable to relieve themselves, associating their discomfort with their litter boxes. I also see this in cats who have been declawed. They go to use their box for the first time after the operation and due to the pain on their healing paws, can have a negative association and avoid using the box because of it.
  2. Once the feline has its clean bill of health, the next thing I look at are stressors. This could be from any number of things: Moving to a new home, seeing or smelling another animal outside the home, having another animal visit, getting new furniture, a change in routine, to name a few. These are just some causes that I have come across. Sometimes, this can be very difficult to deal with, especially if you can’t pinpoint the source of stress. Never hesitate to contact a professional to help address the problem, and in finding solutions to restore harmony within the home. If your cat is darting in and out of their box, sometimes before they’ve finished eliminating, or are going right outside or next to their box, this is usually indicative that your cat is worried about using her litter box, especially if your cat has consistently used the litter box in the past.
  3. Litter preference can play a factor to a cat choosing to use the litter box or elsewhere to relieve themselves. If you’ve just switched litters from one to the other, the change could be too drastic to kitty. When switching my cats from Tidy Cats to World’s Best litter, it took about a month to switch them over completely. I went ahead and just started adding the new litter with the old. The first week was ¼ new litter with ¾ old litter. The following week was half and half. Third was ¾ new litter and by the fourth week I threw out the old litter, scrubbed the boxes down, and filled them with new litter. There are all sorts of litter types, the most popular being clay-based clumping litters, but there are other types as well. There are silica crystals, non-clumping clay, recycled paper, pine, walnut, corn, grass, and wheat based litters. The easiest way to see which litter would work best in your household is to get a few different brands that you would like to try, and set up several shallow trays, each with a different type of litter. You’ll know which ones your cat doesn’t care for, since those litters will sit untouched.
  4. Location, location, location. Having cats is all about compromise. One reason your cat may not use its litter box is due to the location. If it’s not easily accessible, or in a cramped space, your cat might choose the comfort of inappropriate spots. Be sure that the box is in an area where your cat can see anyone who may be approaching, and where the have the option of different escape routes should they choose to leave the litter box quickly. Also, be sure to keep food and water completely separate from the litter box. Cats are fastidious creatures, and like dogs and humans, can have preferences to where they eliminate.
  5. Last but certainly not least, are sanitary conditions. I cannot stress this enough: Litter boxes need to be scooped out at least once a day with routine discipline, especially if it’s an unscented brand. This will help prolong the life of your litter between box changes as well. Cats don’t like a dirty litter box any more than we like a dirty bathroom. If your kitty does go outside of the litter box, be sure to use an enzymatic cleaner wherever your cat has eliminated as soon as possible and follow the labeled instructions. You can also put upside down carpet runners, double sided sticky tape, or tinfoil on the areas your cat has eliminated to discourage future behavior.


Changing the way your cat feels about her litter box can be done, and requires patience with consistency. Never hesitate to contact a professional to help you figure out what may be causing the root issue, and determine the best approach to solving this issue that best suits you and your cat.


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