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5 Reasons Why Your Cat Isn't Using the Litter Box

5 Reasons Why Your Cat Isn’t Using the Litter Box


Litter box issues are among the most common and frustrating gripes of cat parents. It’s easy to think your cat is simply eliminating outside the box out of spite—although this couldn’t be further from the truth. Reasons for avoiding the litter box can range from medical problems including a urinary tract infection and kidney stones to behavioral issues such as stress and anxiety. Sometimes the root of the problem lies inside the box itself, when cleanliness is not up to standard or cats become fussy about the physical litter or box. These five major causes of litter box trouble are intended to guide you as you play supersleuth to solve a dirty, unpleasant problem.

1. It could be a medical issue

If your cat suddenly starts going outside the litter box, your first call should always be to your veterinarian. If your cat is experiencing discomfort when urinating or defecating, they may associate the litter box with the pain and avoid it altogether. It may also be that your cat can’t make it to the box in time due to discomfort.

Common reasons for eliminating outside the litter box include urinary tract infections, cystitis (an inflamed bladder), feline lower urinary tract diseases, kidney stones or a blockage. Diarrhea and constipation may also lead to accidents outside the litter box. Any variation in your cat’s behavior, including a change in litter box habits, should be reported to your veterinarian immediately because some issues can be life-threatening.

2. The litter box is in an undesirable location

Location, location, location! Where you place their litter box is important in ensuring that your cat will be comfortable using it regularly.

  • Avoid high-traffic areas. Cats like privacy when they use their litter box
  • Avoid laundry rooms with noisy washers and dryers
  • Never place the litter box in a garage — an opening garage door and the arrival of a car could scare your cat and cause them to run out
  • If you have a senior cat, keep your litter box on the main level of your home. Avoid placing the box on upper or lower levels of the home, such as attics and basements. Older cats may suffer from arthritis and joint issues, which makes climbing stairs painful.
  • Place the litter box in an area that is convenient for your cat to access and for you to clean on a regular basis

3. There’s stress among the felines in your home

Cats are sensitive to change, and even the smallest disruptions to their routines can have a major impact on their behavior. Moving, a new family member or tension with other pets in the house may also lead to litter box avoidance, marking or spraying.

If there is tension among your cats, one often will try to ambush another and trap them in the litter box. Provide at least one litter box per cat, plus one more if possible, and place them in different locations to provide options for your cats. Use uncovered litter pans so they can see in all directions and quickly escape if necessary.

4. The litter box is dirty

Because cats are habitually clean, they expect their litter boxes to always be kept in pristine condition. A dirty litter box is a primary reason a cat won’t use it. Litter boxes must be scooped at least once a day to remove all clumped litter and fecal matter. At the same time, check litter levels and maintain 3 to 4 inches of litter at all times. If there isn’t enough litter in the box, it could deter your cat.

Disinfect the litter box twice a month and replace with fresh litter. Self-cleaning litter boxes are a convenient option, but their noise can scare cats, so make sure to acclimate your cat slowly. If they’re scared, they won’t use it.

5. It’s the litter—or the box

Cats can be fussy about the feeling of litter under their paws. If you have just added a cat to your family, initially provide the litter your cat was using. To change litter type, transition slowly over a period of seven to 10 days by adding small amounts of the new litter to the old until you have switched over completely.

When it comes to your cat’s litter box, bigger is always better. A cat should be able to step inside, turn around, scratch and squat without touching the sides of the box. Some cats prefer the privacy of covered boxes, but others need open space to feel comfortable.

Whatever reason may be causing your cat to avoid their litter box, know that there are many ways to remedy the problem. Your answer may be as simple as getting a diagnosis from your veterinarian and receiving medicine, or you may need to figure out a solution via trial and error. Either way, Petco is here to help you with a wide variety of litter, boxes and accessories, as well as medical knowledge through our veterinary partners in-store.