Has your cat been urinating outside the litter box? Don’t give up on your kitty. Believe it or not there are a lot of important things your cat could being trying to tell you with that behavior. Here are 5 big reasons why your cat might not be using the litter box.

Reason #1: You may have a sick kitty.

If your kitty is not using the litter box, the first thing you need to do is rule out a medical cause. Take a trip to the veterinarian ASAP because there are several illnesses (some of which can quickly become life threatening) which may cause a cat not to  use the litter box.  Some of these medical problems include:

  • 5 Reasons why your cat won't use the litter box - wicker litter box

    Photo Credit: Wicker Paradise via Flickr

    Inflammation of the urinary tract

  • Cystitis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Thyroid problems
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Inflammation of the colon or rectum
  • Kidney problems
  • Liver problems

Take note of your cat’s behavior when they are urinating or defecating. Does it seem painful? Is it frequent? Urgent? Is there any blood in it?  You can save yourself a lot of time by bringing a sample with you if the veterinarian needs it, so ask about it when you make your appointment.

Reason #2: Something isn’t right with the litter box itself.

If your cat is a young kitten, has a disability, or is elderly, the opening may be too high for them to get through easily. Conditions like arthritis may make it difficult for your cat to step over a high opening.

The height of the sides of the litter box can be an issue for your kitty too. A covered litter box is great for humans since it traps the odors inside, but may be intolerable to your cat for the same reason (think port-a-potty). A litter box with high sides is great for a kitty who feels a sense of privacy from the walls. However, some kitties like to be able to see all of their surroundings and will feel uncomfortable inside a litter box with high walls.

5 Reasons why your cat won't use the litter box -black cat in litter box

Photo Credit: Laura Bittner via Flickr

Your cat’s litter box may be too small for your cat. A cat needs to be able to stand up inside and turn all the way around. They need plenty of space to get in, squat, turn, and dig.

You will need multiple litter boxes to handle multiple cats. Veterinarians tend to recommend having 1 litter box per cat plus 1 extra. Cats are very territorial and may claim a box as their own, not letting any other cat use it.

Where is your litter box located? Is it easy for your cat to get to? If you have more than one floor to your home, it is wise to have a litter box on each floor. This will help older cats and cats with mobility problems to be able to make it into the litter box on time.  Is the location of the litter box noisy? Is it too close to the cat’s food and water? Consider whether or not the placement of the box would cause anxiety to your cat.

Reason #3: Your kitty doesn’t like the litter you’re using.

Cats are high order creatures capable of having true preferences. Each cat has their own set of likes and dislikes. Consider these aspects of litter:

  • Material (clay, pine, corn, etc)
  • Smell (most cats prefer unscented litters)
  • Texture
  • Depth
  • Frequency of cleaning

If you are changing brands of litter, do it slowly and mix the new litter with the old litter. Take hints about texture from the places where the cat is choosing to eliminate. Does he/she always choose a soft place like a carpet or bed? Does he/she always choose a smooth place like a tiled floor or bathtub? Incorporate these ideas into the litter box. Be mindful of the scents of the chemicals you use when cleaning the litter box.

Reason #4: Pain when using the litter box or previous traumas.

5 Reasons why your cat won't use the litter box - cat with paws up

Photo Credit: Eddie via Flickr

A declawed cat may have pain in their feet for the rest of their lives. The surgery amputates the cat’s toe at the last knuckle. They may also develop problems with their ankles, legs, and hips due to the unusual way the surgery has forced them to walk. Walking on litter may be very painful, so they will avoid the litter box. Using sheets of newspaper rather than litter may work out better. Of course, not getting the cat declawed in the first place would completely avoid this issue.

Sometimes a cat is startled or receives some other sort of trauma while in the litter box. Cats respond to this trauma by avoiding the litter box. Do you have other cats that could have ambushed the problem cat while in the litter box? Have you used the litter box as some sort of punishment for the cat? Is there a noisy machine somewhere near the litter box that could have startled the cat? If this is the case, you will need to use positive reinforcement as well as potentially moving the location of the litter box or getting this cat its own litter box.

Reason #5: Your kitty is spraying.

Spraying is different than any of the other problems your cat might have with the litter box. Cats that spray may use the litter box as well. One indication that this is spraying and not one of the problems listed above, is that spraying tends to be done on vertical surfaces like walls and the backs of chairs.

There are 3 main reasons that a cat sprays: 1) to mark territory, 2) to display sexual availability, 3) because they did it before. Spaying or neutering your cat will be the most helpful way to get rid of this. According to Cornell University, only 10% of neutered males and 5% of spayed females will spray. Using products with synthetic cat pheromones to clean up urine will help the cat not to go back to the same spot.

What kinds of litter box preferences do your cats have?