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.

When this occurs, the inevitable million dollar question comes to our mind: why is this happening with my cat?

This problem can occur because of one of these factors: Illness or behavior.


Illness: your cat might be having a health issue such as arthritis, constipation or urinary infection. A visit to your vet is the first step to discard any illness.

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


An adverse environment or stressing situation can be caused by:

Cat with its litter box

Cat with its litter box

  • Competing with another pet at home for its territory
  • Not having a clean litter box or not having enough litter boxes when there is more than one cat.
  • Not having enough room for your cat to have as its own.
  • New members in the household whether pets or humans.
  • Recent house moving.
  • Lack of exercises that makes your cat develop anxiety.


Multi cat household

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”.


Cats language

Cat resting in its litter box

Cat resting in its litter box

Sharing territory, anger or marking. Cats communicate and mark their territory 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 feels its territory being invaded, whether by another pet or a human.

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. For example, if a cat urinates a luggage it is because of the association with its owner taking a trip.


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, if could be a lid on it that causes bad odor, the entry height, 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. 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.


What we can do to resolve this problem?

Cat using the litter box

Cat using the litter box

Situations are very different from one cat to another, but in general we can follow these steps:

  • Take your cat to the vet to discard possible health issues.
  • When health issues are discarded, most likely you will have to deal with a possible stress in your cat, with anger or territorial competition.


If 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.
  • 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 any of the situations mentioned above.

It is crucial to have a very good observation skill to figure out what makes your cat angry. Usually it is about lack of space and not defined territory for it.


Cats sharing territory

Cats sharing territory

Territorial competition

If you have two or more pets at home, a good system is train them to be friends through positive reinforcement with food.

This technique, along with giving each pet enough and individual spaces at home, will make a huge difference.

If this does not work and you really love your pets, it is worth to consult to a vet or an animal behaviorist to resolve the conflict.



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. fussy little things sometimes aren’t they?

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