It can be really frustrating when your cat simply will not use the litter box. Sometimes they have a favorite place outside the litterbox where they do their business – even right outside of the litter box. You feel like you’ve done everything right, so why are they still going potty outside of the litter box?

1. They aren’t feeling well.

10 Reasons Your Cat Won't Use the Litter Box Obi Wan

Our 1st cat Obi Wan who passed away from a bladder disease. We thought he was just misbehaving at first.

If your cat has gotten a bladder infection, intersistal crystalitis (a painful syndrome that has similar symptoms to a bladder infection) or almost any other illness, one symptom could be that they are not using the litter box. The urge to go potty or the pain from the illness could prevent the cat from reaching the litter box in time. Before you label your cat’s lack of using the litter box as bad behavior, take the cat to your veterinarian to see if there is an illness involved.

2. They are actually marking their territory.

Cats are territorial and will mark their territory with urine. This is common among cats that are not spayed or neutered, cats who have just had another animal introduced to their household, and in households that have many cats. Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to stop your cat from marking their territory.

3. The litter box isn’t being cleaned frequently enough.

Just like you cringe at the idea of using a port-a-potty at an outdoor event, your cat cringes at using a dirty litter box. Cat’s noses are much more sensitive than ours, so they are grossed out by the smell before we are. Using a scented litter is kind of like sticking an air freshener in that port-a-potty we mentioned earlier. Covered litter boxes can trap odors inside them. Try scooping the litter or completely changing the litter more frequently and see if that makes a difference.

4. There aren’t enough litter boxes.

10 Reasons Your Cat Won't Use the Litter Box Cinco and Cuddles

Cinco watching as cousin Cuddles uses his litter box.

If you have a multiple cat home, you need 1 litter box per cat plus 1 extra. Cats are very territorial and they may claim a litter box as their own – the other cats will not touch it.  One of your cats may not be letting the other cat(s) use the litter box. If you add another litter box, the new box could provide a place for cat who does not “own” a box to do their business.

 5. You are using the wrong type of litter.

Cats are picky. It is best not to force compliance, but rather just to find out what your cat likes. Cats are particular about the way the litter feels on their paws. It could be that the size of the granule of clay, corn litter, wood chip, etc is too big or too small. It could be that they don’t like the smell of the litter. It could be the way the litter sticks to their paws (or doesn’t). Maybe they don’t like the picture on the bag. Who knows? Try different brands and different types of litter until the cat picks one. Go to play box sand if you must.

6. You switched litters too quickly.

As mentioned above, cats are picky. They are not big fans of change – especially when it comes to food and litter. Your best bet if you want to change litters (even if it is just brands or variations within a brand) is to mix the old litter and the new litter together and slowly wean them off of the old litter.

7. The cat has been declawed.

It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes when cats get declawed they will refuse to use the litter box. Declawing is a procedure that actually removes part of each of the cat’s toes and thus changes the way their feet work. Walking in litter can be painful for declawed cats and so they avoid it. Once the damage is done, there isn’t much that you can do for the cat except find a way for the litter box to be less painful on their feet. There are special litters that are supposed to be more gentle, you could try newspaper shreds, or even just an empty litter box. These methods may require additional cleaning and maintenance.

8. It’s the wrong type of litter  box.

10 Reasons Your Cat Won't Use the Litter Box baby Manna

Manna was so small when we got her that we had to improvise.

There are several different types of litter boxes: small boxes, big boxes, covered boxes, uncovered boxes, boxes with high sides, etc. Your cat needs a litter box that is large enough for it to turn around in and that gives it some privacy.  Cats are a bit paranoid about getting picked on by other cats while in the litter box. Some cats like the covered box because it keeps other cats out, but other cats like to be able to see what’s coming. Little kittens may have trouble getting into larger litter boxes and big cats might be claustrophobic in smaller boxes. The only way to know what your cat likes is to try different boxes out.

9. Location. Location. Location.

Is the litter box located next some big noisy machine like the washer or dryer? Cats are not fond of those noises and may refuse to use the litter box because of them. Is the litter box near the cat’s food and water dishes? Just like you would not want your toilet located in the middle of your kitchen, cats don’t like to poop near the place where they eat. Is the litterbox near something that has an odor?  Your cat may not like the odor and thus, refuse to use the litter box. Is the litter box located in the basement? If your cat is older or has any physical problems, walking to the basement might be too much to ask. Likewise, a little kitten may not be able to climb up and down the stairs well enough. Does your cat have a favorite place to do it’s business outside of the litter box? Try moving the litter box to that spot (or near that spot). If you are really determined to have the litter box in a certain place, you can start it in the cat’s favorite spot and move it 2 inches per day to your favorite spot.

10. They’ve been scared away from the litter box.

10 Reasons Your Cat Won't Use the Litter Box Manna getting a treat

Manna taking a treat.

Try to make using the litter box a positive experience. If your cat has done it’s business outside of the litter box, don’t have a tantrum and throw them into the litter box. All of the yelling, screaming, and tense behavior from you might actually cause the cat to associate punishment with the litter box. As an FYI – sticking the cat’s nose in their urine or feces will only make their nose dirty. Negative experiences from previous owners or other cats may also play a role. Encourage your cat when they use the litter box rather than punishing them when they don’t.