Behavior and Training, Pet Care Basics

Why Doesn’t My Cat Use the Litter Box

Cats that start spraying or stop using the litter box after reliably using their litter box always have a reason for the change. However, it is not always easy to find that reason. Cats may stop using the litter box because of numerous reasons, including medical problems, a litter box aversion, a surface or location preference, to mark territory, or separation anxiety. Determining the reason for why your cat is house-soiling is the first step towards solving the problem.

Why Do Cats Not Use the Litter Box When Sick?

Before you start investigating behavioral reasons for why your cat isn’t using the litter box, you should see your veterinarian to see if your cat is healthy.

  • Causes
    • Certain medical problems, such as diabetes or kidney failure, may cause cats to produce more urine than normal.
    • Other medical problems, such as urinary tract infections or bladder stones, may cause a cat to feel a sense of urgency associated with urinating.
    • If there is a medical problem, cats may not feel well enough or have the time to get to the litter box.
  • Treatment
    • A physical exam and urinalysis from your veterinarian will determine if there is a medical issue.
    • If there is a medical problem, your veterinarian will give you treatment information based on the issue.

Litter Box Aversion

If your cat has had a painful or frightening experience while in or near the box, he may move to a comfortable location with no box.

  • Causes
    • Multi-cat households and housemates that exert dominance can prevent one cat from entering the area where the box is placed.
    • Dogs can be the trigger also – they will often chase the cat as they exit the covered box.
    • A box located close to appliances that make noise can be the trigger.
    • Boxes located too far from the cat’s living area can be an issue for a new cat.
  • Treatment
    • 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 exit the box.
    • Locate the litter box in the cat’s typical living space – away from noisy appliances and away from feeding areas. Try moving 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.

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

Cat Urine Marking Behavior

Cat urine marking or spraying is normal feline communication and not well understood, desirable, or controllable. When marking, the cat usually stands with a raised tail, which may be twitching, and he will spray a small amount of urine on vertical surfaces. 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.

  • Causes
    • The presence of outdoor cats near an indoor cat’s favorite window or patio door is a common trigger.
    • A new cat in the house can be a trigger. Dominance behavior is a sign.
  • Treatment
    • Spaying and neutering decreases the incidence of marking by 89 percent.
    • 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 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 stop the behavior.

Separation Anxiety in Cats

Cats feel the pressure of the life we live. If your cat begins to urinate on your bed, shoes or suitcases, he probably has separation anxiety issues.

  • Causes
    • Cats may develop anxiety if they have experienced a traumatizing event.
    • Another cause of separation anxiety could be that the cat was separated from his mother too early.
    • Cats may become anxious when you add a new cat into your household.
    • Some cats are simply more disposed to anxiety.
  • Treatment
    • Use Comfort Zone® with Feliway Spray – to calm the cat’s anxiety from our schedules or from other cats.
    • Catnip and catnip toys are also helpful to calm an anxious cat. Give them the toys when you leave and pick them up when you return.

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.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.