Caitlin UltimoPotty Training / Training / Training Tips

What to Do When Your Cat Stops Using the Litter Box

Is Your Cat Not Using the Litter Box?

You brag to your fellow cat parent pals about how quickly and easily your new pet took to litter training. Then, years later, your cat is peeing outside the litter box or pooping around the house (or both!).

“Some may only urinate inside, while some may only defecate inside,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH of Animal Acupuncture in New York City. “Some cats abruptly refuse the litter box altogether.” In all scenarios, though, it’s frustrating, to say the least. It’s important to resolve the issue before your cat makes a habit out of eliminating in inappropriate places. But, you can’t resolve the issue until you figure out what the issue is.

“There are many reasons a well-trained cat suddenly stops using the litter box,” says Dr. Barrack. While often the reason is one that is relatively easily resolved, other times it can be more serious. Even if you think you know why your cat is peeing in the house, “If your cat is not using the litter box, it is recommended that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions,” urges Dr. Barrack.

6 Reasons Your Cat Stopped Using the Litter Box

  1. The Box is Different

    Did you move the cat litter box to a new area, buy a new box, or switch litter? It might seem like a minor thing to us, but “cats develop preferences to certain litter and boxes,” explains Dr. Barrack. Cats can actually get stressed out by changes like these, especially all at once.

    You can avoid this by making subtle changes. If you’ve found a new and better spot for the litter box, move it a few feet every couple of days until it’s in the desired location. The same goes when you purchase a new brand or type of cat litter. Try mixing it with the old litter, adding less and less of the old litter with each litter pan cleaning. Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Litter Attractant can also be used to entice your cat to the new litter.

    If you switched an open litter box to one with a hood, the hood itself may be what is putting her off. Many cats do not like them because their instincts tell them that a contained space is dangerous. Even if there are no immediate threats, the fact that there is no space for them to escape in case of an emergency is enough to make a cat uncomfortable and avoid using the litter box.

  2. The Nose Knows

    The reason why your cat is not using the litter box may be right under her cute, little (and very sensitive) nose: It stinks! Cats like a clean litter box and will have no problem opting for a potted plant if their designated space is not up to their standards. The pan should be scooped out every single day, and then washed out and refilled with fresh litter at least once a week. The Frisco Multi-Cat Clumping Cat Litter effectively eliminates any odors your cat leaves behind, and for an extra odor-eliminating boost, try Arm & Hammer’s Cat Litter Deodorizer Powder.

  3. He’s Cramped

    If your cat is peeing outside the litter box, take a good look at both your cat and the box. Did you buy it when your cat was a kitten? Or, maybe your older cat has put on some weight. Make sure it’s large enough—about one and half times the length of your cat is a good rule of thumb. He should be able to easily turn around in it. If he can’t, you should get a bigger box. The Omega Paw Roll N’ Clean Litter Box is 23 inches long, making it the ideal choice for large cats. The Omega Paw Roll’N Clean Cat Litter Box is 23 inches long, making it the ideal choice for large cats.

  4. He’s Being Bullied

    Yes, really. “Multi-cat households develop a hierarchy, and cats can pick on each by other preventing litter box usage to establish dominance,” says Dr. Barrack. Make sure that each cat in the household has his or her own box, ideally in different parts of your home. Some parents of multiple cats have one extra box to ensure this doesn’t happen and to avoid a cat peeing in the house.

  5. Stress

    Cats can pick up on household stress, whether it’s in the form of marital discord, a new member of the family (human or pet), a move, or a new job that requires you to be away more. Cats—much like preschoolers who regress in potty training—can act out when they’re stressed.

  6. A Medical Problem

    If it hurts to urinate and/or defecate, cats can understandably be reluctant to use the litter box, says Dr. Barrack. “Urinary tract infection, feline interstitial cystitis, bladder or kidney stones, and constipation can all be a cause of your cat’s refusal to use the litter box,” she says. Also, older cats may have developed arthritis or another condition that makes getting into and out of the box challenging. Your vet should always be consulted if your normally well-trained cat abruptly stops using his litter box.

Christina Vercelletto is a pet, travel and lifestyle content specialist and a former editor of Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and Woman’s Day. She lives on Long Island with her Chiweenie, Pickles, and 20-pound Calico, Chub-Chub.