Hefner Road Animal Hospital Blog

The Scoop: Why Your Cat Won’t Use The Litter Box

Black cat sitting on human toiletIf your cat won’t use the litter box, it’s probably for reasons unrelated to the environmental impact of his or her litter. However; one in every ten cats will develop an aversion to using the litter box at one point or another, and it’s important to try and understand why.

 Sadly, litter box issues are one of the top reasons cats are surrendered to shelters every year – even though the problem is often solvable, and can be indicative of a larger (and often treatable) health concern. Whether your cat’s litter box lament is a behavioral choice or a medical malady, we’ll explore the possible reasons why your cat won’t use the litterbox.

 Primal Instincts

 Kitty litter was developed in the late 1940’s as an alternative to ash, sand, or dirt getting spread throughout the home by little paws. The litter we know and employ now speaks to a cat’s primal need to dig and bury and usually has a fine, sand-like texture. The feel of the litter under your pet’s paw is particularly important for guaranteed success, and once you find a litter your cat prefers, stick to it.

 Litter Box Basics

 Perhaps you adopted a new kitten or cat that needs proper training, or you are pulling your hair out regarding an older cat that previously demonstrated litterbox success. Keep in mind that your cat’s litter box and it’s surrounding areas should have the following tried and true qualities:

 The Spot – Avoid tight corners, loud appliances, high-traffic areas, and please, keep your cat’s box away from food and water dishes.

 The Boxes – The rule is to have one litter box per cat, plus one more (two kitties = three boxes). You’ll want the boxes to be set apart from each other, and suggest keeping a box on each level of the house, if applicable. You may like hooded or covered boxes to control odor, but your cat may feel trapped inside or offended by the retained odor – regardless of your preference, we suggest taking your cat’s lead on this to avoid litter box aversion.

 How Big? – The box should neither be too small for a larger cat, nor too big for a small kitten. Make sure your cat can access it easily; some boxes are too deep for senior or smaller cats. You may want to consider using a low-slung rubber container instead of the pre-sized boxes you commonly find.

 Keep it Clean – Cats detest a dirty or full litter box and will find other places to eliminate as a result. Litter should be scooped once daily and the entire box should be emptied, washed, and refilled with fresh litter at least once a week.

 What Could It Be?

 It’s possible that your cat’s litter box refusal is a symptom of a serious illness or medical condition. Infections in the urinary tract can cause painful urination and an association between pain and the litterbox is obvious. These following can also inhibit proper habits and should be tested for and treated immediately:

  • Diabetes
  • Colitis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Arthritis
  • Constipation
  • Anal sac disease
  • Kidney or liver disease

 Stress can also manifest in litterbox hygiene as cats are extraordinarily sensitive to changes in their routine and environment. Consider the following as examples that easily cause feline stress:

  • New baby
  • New or missing pets
  • Furniture changes
  • Relocation
  • Vacations
  • Work schedule changes
  • Overnight guests

Feliway can support your pet’s emotional state and may reduce anxiety about eliminating in the proper place, please don’t hesitate to ask for information if you’re interested.

 Assisting A Cat Who Won’t Use The Litterbox

 Limiting your cat’s access to parts of the home you’d rather not have soiled may be a good idea until regular service is resumed. Otherwise,

  • Zero-in on your cat’s newly marked spots and place certain surfaces (sandpaper, knobby or spiky plastic sheets) that cat’s generally dislike on top of them
  • Cats are less likely to spray an area where food or water is located; place your cat’s dishes near or on top of his or her recently preferred spot
  • Spay or Neuter your pet to reduce spraying

 Positive Results

At best, it’s disheartening when a cat won’t use the litterbox, but can quickly become maddening for owners trying to understand a refusal. Never punish your cat or make him or her fearful; doing so may allow symptoms to persist. Try to give your suffering or stressed cat a little extra love and attention to survive and solve his or her litter box problems. And please, don’t hesitate to call us with any questions or to make your cat’s appointment.

posted in:  Cat Health  |  Litterbox Hygiene  |  Pet Health