Reasons Cats Stop Using the Litter Box

Cats that start spraying or stop using the litter box after having been reliably using their litter box always have a reason for the change. It is not always easy to find that reason. Cats do so because of a litter box aversion, a surface or location preference, or to mark territory. Determining the reason that your cat is house-soiling is the first step toward solving the problem.

Aversion to the box

  • Having had a painful or frightening experience while in or near the box, can move a cat to a comfortable location with no box.
    • Multi cat households and housemates that exert dominance, preventing one cat from entering the area where box is placed can be another.
    • Dogs can be the trigger also –- often they will chase the cat as they exit the covered box.
  • Box located close to appliances that make noise can be the trigger.
  • Boxes too far from the cats living area can be an issue for a new cat.


  • Ease of entering and exiting the litter box is critical. Identify and move the box to an area where the cat can comfortably enter and especially exit the box.
  • Locate litter box in the cat’s typical living space – away from noisy appliances and away from feeding areas. I often move the box to the area they are using and slowly move it to the back of the room when the cat returns to normal use.
  • Remove the cover if you have one and have one more box than the number of cats you have in multi cat households. Dominant cats sometimes guard the litter box.

Substrate Aversion or Preference:

  • Cats start by perching on the side of the box and urinating or defecating over the edge of the box eventually moving to a preferred texture or carpet.
  • Cats start aversions for a variety of reasons. Cats are very clean and a dirty box can start the behavior, as can minimal digging, scented litter, or texture of litter.
  • Some cats develop a location or surface preference. This occurs when a cat finds a room or type of surface they prefer more than his box. Typical surface preferences include soft materials -- as beds and carpets, or cool smooth surfaces such as sinks and bathtubs.
  • Scented litters are for you – cats rarely share our love for flower smells.
  • Cats that show a location preference will usually choose an area of the home that is quiet and protected or a spot where a litter box was previously kept.


  • Studies show that cats prefer a finely textured clay litter. Return to clay litter until problem is solved.
  • Go to unscented clay litter, especially if you have changed litter recently.

Urine Marking behavior:

  • Urine marking or spraying is normal feline communication and not well understood, undesirable, and controllable. When marking, the cat usually stands with a raised tail, which may be twitching. A small amount of urine is sprayed on vertical surfaces rather than a bladder full as is voided in litter box. Cats generally use the litter box appropriately when spraying behavior exists. Target areas often have social significance, including curtains near a window and owner suitcases. Urine marking does have triggers.


  • The presence of outdoor cats near an indoor cat’s favorite window or patio door is a common trigger.
  • New cat in house and dominance behavior is a sign.
  • Spaying and neutering decreases the incidence of marking by 89%.


  • Placing opaque film on the window to impair visual sight or installing motion detectors outside the window to move cats away could control the situation.
  • Cleaning all surfaces and neutralizing urine with Urine-Off® or Dumb Cat® Anti-Marking & Cat Spray Remover is important. A darkened room and a black light will let you know where the urine is being sprayed. Dried urine fluoresces under black light. It is important to get old and new urine markings to extinguish behavior.

Separation Anxiety:

  • Cats feel the pressure of the life we live. If your cat begins to urinate on your bed, shoes or suitcases you probable have separation anxiety issues. The same type of anxiety happens when you add a new cat.
  • Use Comfort Zone® Diffuser with Feliway® – pheromone product to calm the cat’s anxiety from our schedules or from other cats.
  • Catnip and catnip toys are also helpful to calm the anxiety cat. Give them the toys when you leave and pick them up when you return.


  • Cats that urinate small amounts on flat surfaces are not marking. Often they use sinks or bathtubs and likely have bladder infection. Some will have tinges of blood from straining and all will have bacteria. A urinalysis from your veterinarian will rule out this cause. See your veterinarian if the reason for the behavior is not obvious.

Even well trained cats may occasionally stop using the litter box and develop a house-soiling problem. If this problem should occur in your cat, it is important to first determine the underlying cause and then change the unwanted behavior.

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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