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Dealing with Litter Box Use Issues

Updated on October 11, 2012

It's not at all unusual for cats to have litter box issues. The good news is in a lot of cases there are proactive things you can do to solve the issue(s). The best news of all is the fact that you know your cat better than anyone else, so there is no one better than you to troubleshoot the problem. If you are dealing with a new cat, never fear... there are common reasons a cat may not be taking kindly to his or her cat pan.

So, read on... Chances are one of the solutions I offer will be the one that gets your kitty back on track!

First Things First- Litter Box Problems as a Sign of Illness

If you have a cat who has always had excellent bathroom etiquette and suddenly begins using your home as a litter pan, you need to consider some sort of physical cause. Cats with bladder infections, Feline Cystitis, food allergies and a host of other illnesses can cause inappropriate urination or defecation. With both bladder infections and Feline Cystitis, you may see blood in the urine. Bear in mind, that's not always the case though. But, it's definitely a clue something's going on with your kitty. If you see your cat is losing weight, not eating, is excessively thirsty, lethargic or the coat looks unkempt, it's time to see your veterinarian.

A sick cat will begin to associate their box with pain if it hurts to urinate or defecate. This is a common reason they seek out alternative locations for their business!

Some cats prefer the privacy of a covered hood.  Booda Dome Cleanstep Cat Box
Some cats prefer the privacy of a covered hood. Booda Dome Cleanstep Cat Box | Source

Common Reasons Cats Won't Use Their Pans

The cat has a physical problem (see above)

The cat pan isn't clean enough

Cats are fastidious creatures; they want to keep clean. They are turned off by a dirty cat pan, plain and simple. In human terms, it's just GROSS to them. Depending upon how many cats you have, it needs to be cleaned out twice per day... minimum.

Make sure to fully swap out the litter often. How often will depend upon how popular that particular pan is: once per week for a heavily used one, once every couple of weeks for a lightly used one. Also clean the pan with warm water and a mild soap with every full litter change. Do not use any ammonia-based products as cats don't like the odor.

There aren't enough litter boxes

Make sure you have enough litter boxes in enough locations. If you have multiple levels, make sure each level has a pan. Stick to this rule of thumb for the proper number to have in your home: numbers of cats + 1 = number of cat pans you need. So, for one cat you need two, for two cats you need three, for three cats you need four, and so on.

Some cats despise sharing, too. They may stake their claim on one as their private little John... It may irritate Fluffy when Ginger starts trying to use his special toilet. You may need to goad Ginger into using an alternate one. You can always set up Ginger's in the same location, perhaps in another corner, if this appears to be her preferred territory for elimination.

The cat doesn't like the litter you're using

Some cats are funny about the type of litter you use. For example, the crystal-type litter bothers some cats. Others may not like strong smelling deodorant litters. Some prefer pellets. The list goes on and on. If your cat suddenly starts eliminating outside of the box and you've recently switched litters, you should return to the original brand. If you have the problem with a new cat, you need to find out what he or she previously used (if possible).

There isn't enough privacy- location, location, location!

Most cats don't want to use the bathroom in the middle of all the family action. Like us, they want a little peace and quiet! You may need to move the location of the box to a more secluded setting. Cats also don't want their food and water to close to where they use the bathroom.

The cat doesn't like the type of litter box

There is a surprising amount of variety in the types of boxes available today, not only in size, but also function. Your cat might take offense to one that's too small, for example. Another might not like ones with hoods and another might prefer the privacy of a hood.

We have a large cat... she really needs a lot of space to move around. We've had great success with a cat pan called the Booda Dome Cleanstep Cat Box. It's very large, has a filter to keep odors to a minimum and it is the only pan I've ever had that GREATLY reduces litter tracking. You should check it out if you have a large cat.

Solutions for Litter Box Issues

If you've tried the tips above and still find your pet inappropriately eliminating, there are still some options. Even if you've solved the original issue (such as illness or an aversion to a litter brand) you may still find the problem exists. Once cats start urinating in a particular area, they will tend to return. There are a number of things you can do.

  • Make sure you clean the area THOROUGHLY. You need to use an enzymatic cleaner to properly get rid of the urine smell. I have had great success with Nature's Miracle. The catch is you need to make sure it has a chance to thoroughly dry. If you have carpet, this can be tricky. While it's drying, it can still smell like urine, which in turn attracts the cat to re-soil the area.
  • Cover the carpet with aluminum foil or a plastic office chair mat. Cats do not like to walk on aluminum foil- they don't like how it feels or sounds. So, placing that over the wet area will keep the cat away. You can also buy a plastic office chair mat, the kind with spikes on the bottom to keep it adhered to the carpet. You want to turn that spike-side up to dissuade the cat from the area. No, it won't cause an injury to the paw, but it's sharp enough to act as a deterrent. You can find these at office supply stores or online.
  • Make sure to reward you cat for going into the pan. No, don't do it while she's IN it! But, be ready with a treat to give her when she emerges.
  • Change as much as possible about the cat's bathroom environment. Cats can and do remember pain; and they want to avoid it in the future. A cat who has a negative association with using the litter box (from illness, for example) may continue to use your house as his bathroom. In this case, you want to change as much about the environment the litter box is in as possible. You should move the pan to another corner, purchase a new box with a new shape and size, etc... Basically, your mission is to change the environment enough to break the negative association.
  • Seek ongoing advice from a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.


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    • MissDoolittle profile image


      6 years ago from Sussex, UK

      Yes, couldn't imagine life without my animals, especially my feline prowlers, who lurk in the kitchen in the morning, waiting for breakfast. And they say humans are the best on earth!

    • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

      Elsie Nelson 

      6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Thanks for stopping by, MissDooLittle. My cat had Feline Cystitis, caused by an allergy to some food she'd been eating. She was suddenly urinating all over the house. She's young, but it becomes particularly important to rule out illness in older cats. I've had one with Diabetes and the other with Chronic Renal Failure- both starting peeing on the carpet. A HUGE pain, but my life is sooooo much better with my three furry felines.

    • MissDoolittle profile image


      6 years ago from Sussex, UK

      I agree with you about cats suddenly using the home as a toilet when they have been clean all their lives being physically ill. Two of my three cats have had this problem, and both have had problems that needed to be seen to by a vet. One of them had a tumour growing on his foot, which wasn't just affecting his foot but making him feel generally unwell. I think he started toileting in the home because it hurt to get up and walk on the foot. Since he has had the tumour removed, he has reverted to going to the toilet outside.

      My other cat, older than the other, as he is 14 years old, has recently been toileting in the home due to a dental infection that spread to his bladder. He has been on anti-biotics and is now going to the toilet outside.

      Also when my 14 year old cat was a kitten, he was run over and had to use a litter tray. At first it was out in the open, so he lacked privacy and wouldn't use it. We moved it into a quiet corner and he used it. I think cats are very private animals, like us really.


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