When the cat doesn’t use the litter box we have to deal with several situations and not very pleasant ones, such as bad odor around the house, and cleaning up the mess every time we find it. If your cat is urinating outside the litter box all the time you need to find out the cause of this behavior. Sometimes litter box “accidents” can be simply the catnip use. See how I learned the hard way that catnip could trigger cats to urinate outside the litter box.
When we start smelling cat urine at home the inevitable question comes to our mind: why is this happening with my cat? This problem can occur due to two main factors: Illness or your cat displaying a behavioral issue due to a specific situation in its territory, which is your home.
Main Causes For Cats Not Using the Litter Box
The following are the most common reasons why your cat is not using the litter box.
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. Senior cats need special litter boxes due to arthritis or other medical condition that makes them eliminate outside the litter box. A visit to your vet is the first step to discard any illness.
Stress & Unhappiness
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 your cat is not using the litter box. The causes of stress or unhappiness could be:
- 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.
When there is more than one cat at home the first thing to do is find out what cat is doing its business outside the litter box. During this investigation, do not discard more than one cat. 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”. A good idea is to confine one of your cats temporarily to determine which cat is urinating outside the litter box. If you don’t want to do that you can take one of your cats to the Vet to get fluorescein. This is a harmless dye in the form of a pill that makes the cat’s urine glow blue or green under ultraviolet light, during 24 hours.
Usually, when dominant cats compete for territory one of them or both stop using the litter box. If, on top of that, the cats don’t get along a good system is training them to be friends through positive reinforcement with food or treats.
This technique, along with giving each pet enough individual space at home with their own food and water bowls, beds, and toys, will make a huge difference. Not all cats need to have their food or bed separated but if cats don’t get along this is essential. If one cat is sleeping in the litter box, this is a clear sign of territorial competition where the cat that is confined to the litter box feels threatened by the dominant cat.
Spraying Marks To Show Discontent or Threat
Cats communicate with urine. When they spray due to territorial marking, 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 mark its territory or 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 the materials from which the box is made, it may be a dirty litter box, it could be the bad odor from an enclosed type litter box, the entry height making it hard to access the litter box, the cat litter, and it could be anything else. Cats are unique and very picky animals, so you just have to try through trial and error methods 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 to get 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’s food bowl or water fountain. Also, don’t put the litter box where your cat usually takes 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. In my article choosing the location of your cat’s litter box I explain in detail the best way to accommodate the cat litter box in your home.
If your cat is stressed
Your cat’s stress could be related to the following situations:
- When you don’t play with your cat and your pet needs to relieve its energy.
- When your cat is unable to look outside through a window.
- When your pet doesn’t have well-defined areas at home as a territory or hiding places.
- When your cat does not have anything to scratch on it.
To help your cat, you will have to take action and eliminate these problems, playing with your cat on 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 stopping 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 very good observation skills 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.
How to Solve The Litter Box Issue
Regarding the 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. The kitty must have at least room to extend its paws to dig without having to arch its body too much to do it.
- Clean the litter box at least twice a day so your pet has clean areas 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 do your best in keeping the litter box clean.
- 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 get used to hooded litter boxes or top-entry 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. An unconventional idea, if you have a food-driven cat that is urinating or pooping right next to the litter box, is placing its food bowl close to its litter box. This may discourage your kitty from doing this.
- 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. Using cat-attract type litters can help to make your kitty use the litter box.
About the Cat’s Environment & Territory
Make sure to provide your cat with hiding places, and high spots where he can observe the whole panoramic through a window. A good idea is to get a scratching post that will allow your cat to scratch and jump on top of it right after. Cats really love this. If there is a neighboring cat, it may not be a good idea to let your cat watch through a window. This may encourage house soiling due to the stress of feeling its territory threatened. If this happens close the blinds and try to get your cat a spot where it can see outside, but away from the area where the neighboring cat appears. You can set up a bird feeder so your cat has some excitement watching birds, keeping its attention occupied.
If you have another cat or dog you must strengthen your cat’s territorial dominance 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. Learning ways to stop the dog from eating the cat’s food is a good start.
Unhappiness or Anxiety
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 playing 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 a cat owner. In my article how to gain your cat trust I explain some common human actions that could trigger fear and anxiety in cats.
Don’t give up
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 gets to the point of people thinking about putting their cat to sleep and this should never be an alternative, because cats, as humans, 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.
John Stewart Sr says
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
Lorena Ávila says
That is a good idea John, especially if she has two cats.
Dominic Wells says
fussy little things sometimes aren’t they?
Lorena Ávila says
Yes, they are Dominic, that’s for sure!