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4 Things You Can Do When Your Cat Stops Using the Litter Box

If your veterinarian has ruled out a medical issue, then eliminating outside the box is a behavioral problem.

Kitties may not like using the litter box for several reasons, one being that it’s too far away. By: chrisbrooks

When your cat isn’t using the litter box, it’s something to nip right in the bud.

Many of my clients let this problem go on too long before seeking help. But don’t let it get out of hand.

First, have your kitty checked out for medical issues if she stops using the box. Once you have a diagnosis from your vet that this is behavioral and not medical, there’s a ton you can do to keep cat pee in a litter box — where it belongs.


Identify the Cat

Many of you have multi-cat households. The more cats you have, the more likely it is for some kitty (or several kitties) to stop using the box.

So confine the cats and act like a pet detective: Say you have 2 cats. You don’t even know if 1 or both are using or not using the box.

  1. Put Cat 1 in a safe place with litter. If Cat 1 is using the box and the urination continues, you know Cat 2 is a problem urinator.
  2. If Cat 1 urinates outside the box in the confined space, you know Cat 1 is a problem soiler.

If the house soiling stops after separating and confining the cats to their own areas, you have identified an inter-cat issue and diagnosed a behavioral problem. They may want separate areas, more litter boxes, more space, etc. This problem may not vanish until you find another home for 1 or more of your cats.

Also, try using a nanny-kitty cam. Many people find cat urine in the same place, but they’re not sure who the pee-pee head is. A video camera could help you determine who’s acting outside the box.

All Litter Boxes Are Not Equal

Cats are weird. They can develop litter box aversions. You may never find out why they decided to use your bathroom rug rather than a litter box, but you need to help them out with their neuroses.

Before you think all cats should just use any litter box you provide, treat them as individuals with possible issues. You may be able to solve this problem before your home is ruined.

Test different litter box substrates to help your cat discover her preferences. By: tetsumo

Box Aversion

Your cat may not like:

  • Where the box is
  • What’s in it
  • That it’s too small
  • That it’s dirty
  • That it’s a shared box
  • That there is pee and poo in the same box

In simple terms, the strangest, smallest episode could have made your cat afraid to use the litter box that used to be a friendly place to void.

4 Things You Can Do Right Away

1. Increase the Number of Boxes

Have at least 1 more box than cat. If you have 2 cats, 3–4 boxes are ideal.

2. Use Different Substrates

Studies show that cats prefer the unscented, clumping, fine litters, but I haven’t always found this to be true. Odorless litter is the most important. Although humans might love little green granules that smell good in the litter, cats usually don’t. Go plain when it comes to scents.

If all litters fail, try cloth, carpet swatches, towels and even sand or soil. It sounds crazy, but anything to make a cat use a box rather than your carpet or your bed linens is a plus.

3. Put the Boxes Where Your Cats (Not You) Want Them

Cats may not want to travel to the basement to urinate. You want the box out of sight and smell, but they may not. Put a few boxes around the house as well as nearby night lights.

4. Get Bigger Litter Boxes

Store-bought litter boxes may be too small for your cat’s idiosyncratic preferences. Here are 2 ideas to consider: concrete mixing trays and under-the-bed storage containers.

Here’s a great solution for giving your cat privacy without banishing her to the basement:

Don’t Discount Separation Anxiety

Many cats develop their first litter box aversion when their humans are away. This could be a separation anxiety issue and/or a dirty litter box. Cats hate it when you leave them. If the box isn’t cleaned diligently or if the cat’s routine is upended, he may stop using the box.

Many of my great, educated and caring clients have not done some of these basic steps to try and stop house soiling. My personal veterinary horror? They bring their cats in to be euthanized when all else fails.

I won’t do it.

Early intervention, knowledge and hard work at home to figure out your cat’s issues is the way to go.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed April 5, 2017.