Cats Not Using The Litter Box: Causes and Tips To Resolve It

Cat using several litter boxes

When our cat does not use the litter box we have to deal with several situations not very pleasant, such as bad odor around the house, cleaning up the mess every time we find it.

Urinating outside the litter box could be a behavior that your cat is doing on a daily basis and determining the cause of this could be a puzzle. If your cat has only occasional “litter box accidents” that you can’t figure out the cause and you give your pet catnip, you may want to learn how catnip could trigger cats to urinate outside the litter box.

When we start smelling cat urine where we never did before, the inevitable million dollar question comes to our mind: why is this happening with my cat?

This problem can occur because of these factors: Illness or your cat trying to communicate you something.


Your cat might be having a health issue such as arthritis, constipation or urinary infection. Cats usually avoid using the litter box when they have urinary issues because they associate the pain they suffer when urinating with the litter box so they stop using it. A visit to your vet is the first step to discard any illness.


By not using its litter box your cat might be expressing unhappiness, anxiety, stress or fears about its environment.

If a health issue is discarded you need to do a complete assessment to determine why you cat is not using the litter box.

Causes of Stress or Unhappiness:

Cat with its litter box

Cat with its litter box

  • Territorial marking when competing with another pet at home
  • When a cat feels threatened or neglected
  • When a cat doesn’t like the litter box, due to not having a clean litter box or other reasons.
  • Bad location of the litter box
  • If your cat doesn’t have its own space at home, if you recently moved to another house, due to lack of exercise, and much more.

Territorial Competition

When there is more than one cat at home the first thing to do is finding out what cat is doing its business outside the litter box. During this investigation, do not discard more than one cat doing this. You will need to turn up your powers of observation to catch the “perpetrator” in the act, if this does not happen, you will just have to make a “best guess”.

Usually when dominant cats compete for territory one of them or both stop using the litter box. If on top of that they don’t get along a good system is train them to be friends through positive reinforcement with food or treats. This technique, along with giving each pet enough and individual spaces at home with their own food and water bowls, beds, toys, etc, will make a huge difference. Not all cats need to have their food or bed separated, but it’s essential if the two cats don’t get along due to dominance.

Spraying Marks To Show Discontent or Threat

Cat resting in its litter box

Cat resting in its litter box

Cats communicate with urine. When this happens, their tail position is not the same as when they use the litter box: the tail will be straight up and oriented to the object to be sprayed. This behavior takes place whenever the cat tries to communicate something to its owner. For example, if you leave your pet alone for too long when you are back your cat may start spraying your bed. If your cat urinates your luggage it is because of the association with you taking a trip.

If your cat sees another cat outside the window it will feel it as a threat and will display this behavior of spraying.

A cat with anxiety and stress will mark vertical surfaces trying to eliminate house odors (detergents, fresheners sprays, perfumes, etc.) imposing its own odor in the house to leave a clear message about something the cat does not like.

The cat does not like its litter box

This sounds as simple as it is. If your cat does not feel comfortable in a little box, it won’t use it. It can be materials which the box is made, it may be a dirty litter box, if could be bad odor from an enclosed type litter box, the entry height making it hard to access the litter box, the litter, and could be anything else. Cats are unique and very picky animals, so you just have to try through trial and error method to find out why your cat does not like the litter box.

Usually cats don’t like a dirty litter box so it’s not a bad idea getting a self cleaning litter box to ensure a clean place that your cat will appreciate.

Litter box location

Make sure to put the litter box away from your cat food bowl or water fountain. Also, don’t put the litter box where your cat usually take a rest either. Cats are very clean animals so the litter box must be always away from these places. Avoid putting the litter box where there is high traffic in the house, cats don’t like that. They need tranquility when doing their business.

Cat using the litter boxIf your cat is stressed

Your cat stress could be related to the following situations:

  • When you don’t play with your cat to relief its energy.
  • When your cat does not have a position to look outside through the window.
  • When it does not have well defined spaces at home as its territory nor hiding places.
  • When your cat does not have anything to scratch on it.

To help your cat, you will have to take actions and eliminate these problems, playing with your cat in a daily basis, defining spaces for your cat to be comfortable and happy and getting a good scratcher for it.

If your cat is angry

If your cat is not happy it could be related to lack of attention, no hiding places or in general lack of excitement in its life. Whatever the cat is lacking in its territory, it will make your pet mad and will express it by stop using the litter box. You will know your cat is angry if he doesn’t come to the door to receive you or if he receives you hissing at you. Another sign of an angry cat is biting you out of the blue or hissing at you if you try to touch him.

It is crucial to have a very good observation skill to figure out what makes your cat angry. A dominating cat will more likely experience anger about its environment, leading him to stop using the litter box.


Litter Box

This is the checklist to ensure your cat litter box is not an issue:

  • Check that the litter box has a good size for your cat and an easy access to it.
  • Clean the litter box at least twice a day so your pet has room where to place its paws when standing on the litter to do its business. Various health issues occur with dirty litter boxes so you want to keep it as much as you can.
  • If your cat is using an enclosed litter box observe if this may be the reason for your cat not to use it. Not many cats take to enclosed litter boxes.
  • Make sure the location of the litter box is not next to its food nor located in a place with high traffic, remember that cats appreciate privacy when doing their business just as we do.
  • If you changed the litter recently or are using crystals this may be something your pet is not approving. If your cat is declawed make sure to use a fine sand type litter for its sensitive paws.


Make sure to provide your cat hiding places, high spots where he can observe the whole panoramic through a window. A good idea is to get a scratching post where your cat can scratch and get on top of it, they really love these things.

If you have another cat or dog you must strengthen your cat territory by providing its own food and water bowl, bed and space in general. Try to define a specific area for each cat where both feel comfortable. If you have a dog make sure it won’t reach your cat hiding spots or food.


Your cat needs your attention and if you neglect your cat by leaving him alone for too long or not playing with it your pet will get depressed and anxious. Make sure to dedicate at least 15 minutes of your time to play with your cat and try not to leave him alone too often.

If there is a new member in the household you need to encourage this person to bond with your cat through playing, this way your pet will establish a friendship with this new member and won’t perceive it as a threat.

In general when cats are unhappy or anxious there is always an underlying reason, it could even be your own behavior as cat owner. Try not to yell at your cat or don’t interrupt its relaxation times too often.

Don’t give up

Cats sharing territory

Cats sharing territory

When a cat stops using the litter box the situation gets complicated at home, not only for the cat that is showing illness or unhappiness, but also for the cat owner who has a hard time handling the urine smell. Sometimes the problem get to the point of people thinking about putting their cat to sleep and this should never be an alternative, because cats, as human, have always a motive for not using the litter box and once the problem is solved they will start using it again. If you think you can’t determine the underlying causes of this behavior in your cat you can consult an animal behaviorist who can determine the root of the problem.



Lorena Avila is a Marketing Engineer, Writer, cat figures collector, cat lover and cat owner as well but above all a very passionate investigator of felines. She started investigating cat products 5 years ago when she couldn’t find reliable reviews on the internet to buy an automatic feeder for her own cat and since then she has been helping others providing honest information online.

Hide Comments

4 Responses to “Cats Not Using The Litter Box: Causes and Tips To Resolve It”

  1. Wow. I never had an inside cat so it wasn’t a problem. We had ton’s of cats on the farm but they were pretty much on their own. Our daughter has two cats and has had a few problems. I’ll pass this along to her

  2. Lorena Ávila says:

    That is a good idea John, especially if she has two cats.

  3. Dominic Wells says:

    fussy little things sometimes aren’t they?