What to do when your cat isn’t using the litter box

It’s cats! cats! cats! at Tails of Fort Collins! From a profile of Jake, The Amazing Therapy Cat to 7 Reasons We Love Cats to today’s post addressing inappropriate urination, it’s all about cats!

Are you more of a dog person? Never fear, more dog stories are coming soon!

Let’s talk about litter box problems- an unpleasant and all too common issue cat owners face.

Having lived with one or more cats my entire life, I’ve dealt with my share of inappropriate urination. The good news is every time I had to deal with litter box problems, I was able to find a solution that did not involve giving up my beloved pet.

Reasons Your Cat Isn’t Using the Litter Box

There are many reasons for inappropriate urination and with your veterinarian’s help, and a little trail-and-error, litter box issues can usually be resolved.

The most important thing to remember is cats (and dogs and all other pets) do not act inappropriately out of spite. Animals aren’t as petty and vindictive as humans can sometimes be- isn’t that part of the reason we love our furkids? They’re much nobler creatures than we.

Health issues

Cats experiencing health issues may eliminate outside the litter box because they are in pain or incontinent.


Have you ever held it in to avoid using a portable toilet? Cats do that, too! If their litter box is gross and smelly to you, it’s gross and smelly to your cat.

Negative associations

Cats may avoid using the litter box if a past experience was frightening or uncomfortable, such as experiencing pain during urination as the result of a urinary tract infection, or being ambushed by another cat, dog, or child while using the littler box.

Location, location, location

If your kitty’s litter box is located in an inaccessible, inconvenient, or noisy location then kitty may just find a more pleasant area of your house to go.

It just doesn’t feel good

Cats are influenced by how their litter and litter box feels- it’s it too rough, too smooth, too deep, too shallow? Using the litter box may not “feel” good to your cat and he’ll find someplace that feels better.

My sweet kitty, Uly (short for Ulysses)

My sweet kitty, Uly (short for Ulysses)

Resolving Litter Box Issues

I have dealt with two cats that were urinating inappropriately- seemingly out of the blue! Both cats, Uly and Palo, were previously using the litter box appropriately and suddenly started urinating outside the litter box.

In both cases the reason for inappropriate urination was not health-related. The solution came from making several changes- from changing the brand of litter, moving the location of the litter box, to getting a new litter box, and varying the amount of litter and size of the litter boxes.

Get a veterinary check-up

Always rule out health issues first.

Keep the litter box clean

Try scooping the litter box daily and sanitizing the litter box monthly. If you have multiple litter boxes you may be able to scoop ever-other-day.

Add a litter box

In a multiple cat household it’s recommended to have one litter box per cat, plus an extra litter box.

I have three cats and four litter boxes.

Vary the size and height of the litter boxes

Some cats may prefer a low-height litter box- especially older cats that have stiff limbs.  Try different litter boxes until you find one that your cat prefers.

I have found each of my cats prefers different litter boxes depending on the size and height of the box. Uly prefers the lowest-height litter box.

Change the depth of the litter

Most cats prefer to eliminate in litter that is 1″ – 2″ deep.

Just like the litter box size and height, my cats have definite preferences about the depth of the litter they prefer. One box has about 1″ of litter while another is 2″ deep. Uly’s favorite is the box with just about 1″ of litter.

Change the brand of litter

If your cat stops using the litter box, try changing the brand of litter. Different brands have different textures, scents, and ingredients.

I had always used the same brand of litter until my cat Uly stopped using the litter box. On my veterinarian’s recommendation I switched to Precious Cat and haven’t had a problem since!

Change the location

Try changing the location of the litter box, making sure it’s in a safe and comfortable area of your home. You can even try having different litter boxes in different rooms and levels of your home.

Don’t scold or punish

Scolding and punishing your cat is scary and confusing to your cat and doing so may make inappropriate elimination issues worse and strain the bond between you and your pet.

Keep trying

Many litter box problems can be resolved. Try different solutions until you find one that works for you. Partner with your veterinarian for help! Keep trying for you and your cat!

Special thanks go to Dr. Julie Smith at Friendship Hospital For Animals for troubleshooting litter box solutions with me when Uly started eliminating outside the litter box. Many of the great suggestions I’ve shared with you are the very same suggestions Dr. Smith told me. Dr. Smith is also a top-notch bunny vet!

Share your success story!

Have you found a solution for litter box problems with your cat? What did you try? What worked? What didn’t?

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