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Reasons Why Your Cat Won't Use the Litter Box

If your cat won't use the litter box, things can get messy fast. Solve the problem at its root to save yourself a lot of clean-up.

Photo by Hutomo Abrianto from Pexels

As any cat owner knows, there are few things more frustrating than finding a pile or puddle of cat waste on the floor. Not only is it messy, smelly, and potentially difficult to clean up, but it can also be concerning. Some of the reasons your cat might experience litter problems may be health related, so you should always keep an eye on any such changes and behaviors to make sure your little fur ball is doing alright.

Hygiene

Photo from Pixabay via Pexels

One of the most common reasons your cat won't use the litter box is, thankfully, one of the easiest to solve—they're just not happy with the hygiene. The first thing you should do if you find your cat making messes on the floor is begin cleaning their litter box more regularly. This doesn't just mean scooping out the big chunks—you should also be regularly swapping out the old litter for entirely new litter, as smells can be absorbed into the litter over time. You can learn how to make your own DIY cat litter or even mix in a bit of baking soda to the litter to help with this problem as well. Another thing many new cat owners don't realize is that your litter box needs a thorough washing every once in a while. The plastic can absorb the smells that turn your cat away, meaning even the most perfect and clean litter boxes might repel them. Use a small amount of dish soap, warm water, and rinse the box thoroughly before replacing the litter. Over time, you may even need to replace the box entirely.

UTI

Animal behavior and health is subject to many of the same problems that plague humans. And just like humans, cats can get urinary tract infections. Elimination problems may be due to such an infection. If this is the case, you should take your cat to the vet to get the infection diagnosed and get your cat the proper treatment. In the meantime, you can prevent further UTIs by making sure your cat has a clean litter box at all times, plenty of clean water and a hygienic space to live. If you have multiple cats, you may also want to separate them, or at least give them separate litter boxes until the issue is resolved. Otherwise, you'll risk having two cats who won't use the litter box.

Anxiety

Photo by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels

Another problem that many cats and humans share is anxiety. If your cat won't use the litter box, the source may be psychological and behavioral, rather than a matter of health or hygiene. Anxious cats will often leave puddles on the floor. In fact, this might be one of the only real signs that your cat has such a problem. This anxiety could be caused by a whole host of factors, including medical conditions and environmental triggers. Moving to a new environment or making significant changes, such as introducing a new pet or person, could trigger such behavioral problems. You can purchase calming cat pheromones at most pet stores. If the problem persists, a vet may be able to help manage the symptoms. That said, if the cause is environmental, you may want to speak to a cat behavioral expert and find the cause at its root.

Don't Like the Litter

The type of litter matters to cat as much as any other concern. If your cat won't use the litter box after a change in brand or kind, you should switch back to what they're used to in order to get them back in the box. If they just won't use the litter box all of a sudden, this explanation is somewhat less likely, but cats' tastes do change just like humans' do. Your cat may have decided that he or she prefers certain kinds of surfaces and textures over the litter you provide. If this is the case, you can try switching to a new brand, clay litter, or a different kind of clumping litter. You can try a few different kinds to see what your cat likes best, and get them the best bathroom experience they could have, saving both of you a lot of headache.

Age

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With age comes maturity... but also potential health and behavioral problems. Aging cats will begin to need to use the litter box more frequently, and have trouble controlling their urge to go. As with all creatures, this means that sometimes they might not make it to the litter box. It may not be that your cat won't use the litter box, but that they can't always get to it in time. If your elderly cat begins to show signs of inappropriate elimination, one thing to consider is litter box placement. It may help to move his or her litter box to a favorite location, or buy an additional box so they don't have to travel far when the need strikes. 

Past Experience

Humans often avoid places from past trauma or discomfort. Cats are no different. They easily form associations between negative experiences and specific places, smells, and other stimuli. Being suddenly startled or afraid while using it may prevent your cat from returning to the same litter box in the future. Moving the box or placing a new box in a new location may help your cat with their elimination problems by solving the root fear and anxiety causing those problems.

Territory

Photo by Mustafa ezz from Pexels

If you have multiple cats, you should have multiple litter boxes. Finding cat urine on your floor or furniture could be a matter of incontinence, but it may also be a purposeful behavioral problem related to territory marking. Especially if you're finding small amounts of cat urine in various places, rather than large puddles in repeated locations, your cat may be having territory problems. Make sure you give your cats space from each other so they feel that they have their own territory, and don't need to fight for it. You should also make sure they have their own clean litter box within this territory, so they don't have to share. Some cats will get along fine, but even the friendliest cat breeds may need a little extra help to remain comfortable and share their habitat.

Illness

UTIs aren't the only health problems that can cause problems for your cat. Other causes may include feline interstitial cystitis, bladder stones, or other kidney, urinary, or GI problems. If you're sure that your cat's litter box is clean and comfortable, and there have been no big changes in their life, you should take your cat to a vet and make sure they don't have any of these problems. If in any doubt about why your cat won't use the litter box, you should always rule out potentially serious health issues quickly, to make sure they don't develop into much worse issues. You might not notice signs of distress, but elimination problems may be the earliest clue you when you should get your cat to the vet ASAP.

Privacy and Safety

Photo by Laura LaRose via Flickr

Like humans, cats can be sensitive about where and when they use the bathroom. Cramped spaces are one problem that might cause your cat such issues. Other issues for your cat might be concerns about privacy and safety. Some cats don't love using the bathroom in the open and might feel comfortable with a hood lid or location change. Cats also like to have multiple escape routes mapped out at all times. In turn, they may be uncomfortable crawling into a box in a corner or small space. Moving your cat's box to an open, safe, private location could be all it takes to them back on track.

Small Litter Box

No matter how clean the litter box, it has to be big enough to accommodate what your cat prefers. The small, cheap boxes at the pet store will do for a new kitten in most cases, but as your cat grows up, their litter box needs to grow too. If your cat feels cramped in their litter box, whether because the box is too small or the location is too cramped, he or she may decide to go elsewhere. You can't blame them. A cat won't use the litter box if they're just not comfortable in it. How would you like to only be able to go to the bathroom in a small, cramped, smelly box?

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