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Reasons Your Cat isn’t Using its Litter Box


cat using litter boxA common issue that cat owners run into is having their cat struggle to use its litter box.  For some cats this can be a long-term challenge and with others it may come in spurts and after a few weeks things go back to normal.  No matter the case, it is important to try to get to the bottom of why your cat isn’t using its litter box because it not only can be an inconvenience but can also point to potentially more serious issues.

The first thing to understand is that cats are instinctively driven to want to cover their waste, and that it is something that typically doesn’t require a lot of teaching to get them to do.  Because of this, it is essential that you accept that if a cat is struggling with using their litter box it is likely because of outside influences that are affecting its ability to follow its instincts.  Your cat isn’t ignoring the litter box to get back at you (despite how it might seem) so punishing your pet will only cause additional stress and make things worse.

There can be several causes of cats not using their litter boxes, and we will summarize each one and then break down each in more detail.  While this list won’t completely capture every scenario it is likely that in most cases one of these will be the problem.  Remember, identifying the problem is the first step to finding a solution.


 

Some common reasons for cats struggling to use their litter boxes are:

Health issues

Dirty Litter box

Struggling with being declawed

Type of litter being used

Litter box location

Too many cats for a given litter box

Litter sticking to fur

Type of litter box

Depth of litter

Age issues

Punishment

Outside environment


 

Health issues

The most important first steps to check are to make sure your cat is healthy and the litter box issue isn’t being caused by a medical issue.  The most common cause of a cat not wanting to use its litter box due to medical reasons related to its digestive system.  Specifically, urinary tract infections can be very common, especially in male cats.  Essentially, this can plug your cat’s urethra, making it painful if not impossible to use the litter box.

Some common signs to keep an eye out for beyond cat litter box issues are visual discomfort when releasing waste, blood in urine/feces, and excessive licking of the genital area.

Dirty litter box

dirty clumps litter boxA litter box that is not taken care of can be very off-putting to a cat.  More specifically this means a litter box that is overwhelmed with waste, fur, etc.  This is no different than us humans going to a nasty gas station restroom and deciding that holding it in until the next step is worth it, except in this case that one restroom is all that your cat has!

It is important to clean and maintain your cat’s litter box in a timely manner.  This includes removing clumps and saturated urine areas in clumping litter and refreshing the entire litter box in non-clumping litter before things get out of hand.

Struggling with being declawed

It is very common to declaw your cat, especially indoor cats.  While this might increase the life expectancy of your furniture, it can sometimes leave your cat’s paws very sensitive and sore.  While most of the time this issue will heal and go away, it is important to monitor your cat’s comfort with its litter immediately following claw removal.  Some litters (especially clay and crystal) can be very hard and sometimes abrasive, and if the pain is too much your cat may decide to use the restroom elsewhere.

To help avoid this, you might consider temporarily changing to a softer cat litter for a few weeks following surgery.  Some popular and softer material alternatives include paper, cardboard, and wood pellets.  Check out our “natural” litter category for a great selection of these products.

Type of litter being used

There can be quite a lot of variance from one litter to the next, and your cat may simply not enjoy its current litter for a range of reasons.  These can include the litter’s size, smell, weight, roughness, dust levels, etc.  While it may be hard to figure out the specific reason out of this list that is making your cat not enjoy the litter (unless you can learn to speak cat!) simply trying out some different product might alleviate this issue.

Litter box location

litter box locationHaving your litter box in a bad location might turn off your cat from using it.  If the box is in a high-traffic area with lots of hustle and bustle your cat might not be receiving the privacy it needs, and it can turn it away from using the box.  Have you recently moved their litter box to a new location?  Cats are creatures of habit, so moving their items around can affect their comfort levels.  However, this is generally a temporary issue and they should become acclimated to their new litter box location after a couple of weeks.

 

Too many cats for a given litter box

For those multi-cat households, having a single litter box or not enough litter boxes for a large cat family can cause some cats to decide not to use them.  Again, cats like a bit of privacy when doing their business, and having a busy litter box and is constantly being accessed by cats can make issues arise.

Always be sure to have adequate cat litter boxes.  Our general rule of them is that we like no more than 2 cats to each litter box, but find a number that works for you and your cats.

Litter sticking to fur

Some lighter litters can sometimes stick to cat fur, especially in long-haired cats.  This can be uncomfortable and inconvenient to your cats on top of making a huge mess.  Cats like to do their business, cover it up, and get out.  If they are constantly carrying out pieces of litter with them then it might make them think twice about continuing to use the litter box.

If you are having issues with litter sticking to fur then try out some heavier, less pointy types of litter.  There are also a few options that are optimized specifically for long-haired cat varieties.

Type of litter box

The litter box itself might be causing an issue.  Is it too small for your large cat?  Is the access area too tall or too narrow for your cat to get in?  If there is a roof, is it high enough up?  Make sure that your cat can easily enter, do its business, and exit.

Depth of litter

Many types of cat litter will have recommended litter depths either printed on the bag itself or posted on its website.  This is important for two reasons: first, the litter depth has been researched and optimized to perform best at that level and second too shallow or too deep of litter can be uncomfortable or burdensome to your cat.  Remember, there is a huge range of sizes of litter boxes so a given bag of cat litter might be way too much or way too little, depending on the particular litter box.

If you go out and purchase your cat a new litter box be sure to check the litter depths at first use.

Age issues

kitten using litterVery young kittens or elderly cats might develop some struggles with using the litter box.  This can oftentimes due with difficult accessing.  While the issue with kittens might also be a partial learning curve, both the learning curve and access issues should go away as it gets older.  However, for your more elderly cats you might have to shop around for a more senior-friendly litter box with an easier access point if you notice your cat struggling to get in and out.

 

 

Punishment

Remember, your cat not using its litter box isn’t it getting back at you for not sharing your fish dinner with it.  Your cat instinctively wants to use the litter box.  However, in the case that it does have an accident outside the box avoid punishing it by scolding it and then taking it to the litter box.  Repeating this process multiple times could potentially make your cat associate punishment with its litter box since it is always taken back there after being scolded.

Outside environment

Beyond these variables there could be a host of outside environmental issues that could cause your cat to hesitate using its litter box.  Make sure that there aren’t any overpowering smells or fumes around its litter box, excessive noise or commotion, dangerous obstacles, etc.

If you decide to move your litter box do an initial check of the area and look for any issues that might cause your cat to struggle to become acclimated to the new area.

Conclusion

We hope that this list of potential reasons your cat isn’t using its litter boxes was helpful and that if you are having issues with this that it opened your eyes to the underlying issue.  Remember, the first thing you want to check for is health-related causes as these can be potentially life-threatening.  If your cat comes back with a clean bill of health then start tackling the other potential causes.