5 Litter Box Problems — And How to Deal With Them

Your cat isn’t avoiding the litter box just to spite you. Often there’s a good reason for it. Here are the most common litter box problems (and solutions).

If your cat is avoiding the litter box, try moving the box to a new location. By: sigmadp2j

Cats are funny creatures. They can be so fastidious about their litter box habits that it drives us a little bonkers.

But what happens when your cat doesn’t use the litter box at all?

There’s no denying the frustration we feel when we come across another urine-soaked rug or scattered poop. Let’s look at some of the reasons your cat is avoiding the litter box — and what you can do about it.

1. Fear

It doesn’t take much to startle a cat — loud noises or being cornered can do it. When a cat is startled while in the litter box, he may associate that fear with the box, making him reluctant to return — this is called negative litter box association.

If you think your cat is scared to do his business in the box, try:

  • Removing the cover
  • Moving the litter box to a new location
  • Using a different type of litter
  • Leaving treats or toys around the litter box

If all else fails, the ASPCA recommends contacting a behavioral specialist: “A professional animal behavior consultant, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), may be able to help you design a successful retraining or counter-conditioning program.”

2. Not Enough Boxes

Keep enough litter boxes in your home to meet all your cats’ needs. In their book Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff, authors Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons and Stephen Zawistowski say, “Be sure to have enough litter boxes for each of your cats, plus one extra. For example, if you have 3 cats, you will need a minimum of 4 litter boxes.”

Multiple-cat households often run into this issue. Cats just don’t like sharing their space, especially when it comes to something as private as a potty break. In some cases, one cat may be overly dominant and block the more submissive cat from the litter box. Having multiple boxes allows your more submissive cat to simply go elsewhere — problem solved!

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In a multi-cat household, the dominant cat may be scaring the more submissive cat away from the litter box. By: stephiestylings

3. It’s Dirty

Scooping the litter box is not high on my all-time list of favorite chores (and yes, I have one such list). But let’s face it — it’s gotta be done.

Your cat doesn’t like a smelly litter box any more than you do, and by not scooping it regularly we’re asking him to step right into it. Scooping and keeping the litter fresh will do wonders for encouraging your cat to use the litter box.

As for frequency, the ASPCA recommends that we “scoop at least once a day. Once a week, clean all litter boxes with warm water and unscented soap, baking soda or no soap, and completely replace the litter.”

So break out the scoop — it will save both you and your cat loads of frustration in the long run.

4. Medical Problems

Some medical issues can cause a cat to eliminate outside the litter box. According to Weiss, Mohan-Gibbons and Zawistowski, these include urinary tract infections, feline interstitial cystitis and kidney problems, such as stones or a blockage.

Watch your cat while he is eliminating to see if he’s suffering from one of these conditions.

Look for signs such as:

  • Frequent urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Abdomen tenderness
  • Mewing or crying during elimination

If you see any of these symptoms, take him to the veterinarian immediately.

5. Urine Marking

This is not a medical issue. “Urine marking is a problem that most pet owners consider a litter box problem since it involves elimination outside the box, but the cause and treatment are entirely different from other litter box problems,” say Weiss, Mohan-Gibbons and Zawistowski.

Urine marking happens because your cat is communicating with other cats or animals to let them know he’s there and what he’s looking for. “To a cat, marking helps keep unwanted individuals away…and it creates an atmosphere of familiarity that makes them feel more secure,” says the ASPCA.

If you think your cat is urine marking, try introducing another litter box, closing blinds to block the view of stray cats, scooping often and cleaning marked areas thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner.

Remember, your cat isn’t avoiding the litter box just to spite you. Often there is an issue that has caused him to avoid his box. When you discover what it is, you’ll be that much closer to helping him back into the box.

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

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