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Litter Box Problems With Cats

Updated on February 18, 2009

Cats and Litter Boxes

Cats are pretty clean animals. I mean they are constantly grooming themselves and for the most part they cover up their mess in the litter box. But, not every cat is perfect.

There are several common problems with cats and their litter boxes, and the best way to solve each problem is to figure out what the problem is and then to try to figure out why the problem is occurring. It may take a little trial and error to diagnosing and treating the problem, but it is usually possible.

One of the biggest problems with cats and litter boxes is when you begin to notice that the cat is becoming slack and not making it to the litter box. In this case, you want to first rule out any medical problems and then try to figure out why the cat isn't using his box. You will want to figure out where the litter box is located in the house- is it a dark place, too far away from the rest of the house, or in a room with distractions? Once you figure this out, the problem can easily be corrected.

Cats are not malicious creatures, so a problem with the litter box is often a cry for help.


  • A cat that is frightened while using his litter box could be too scared to use it. While in the litter box, the cat could have heard a loud noise or someone could have startled him.
  • A sick cat may experience pain in when trying to use the bathroom in the litter box, so he may associate the pain with the litter box.

Common Litter Box Problems

Marking and Spraying

Scent marking is commonly done by adult, unaltered male cats but female cats will do it too. Marking is different from regular elimination because the cat is marking his territory.

It's not uncommon for several cats to mark the same territory at different times. Usually, once the scent wears off, the cat will com back to mark it again. In this case you'll need a heavy duty cleaner to rid the area of the ammonia smell.

Sometimes an indoor cat that sees another cat outside, may mark the inside of the house by the door or window. Marking can also be a problem if you bring in the smell of a strange cat; your cat may mark the rug or door.

Marking can, also, be a sign of stress if you have multiple cats, as overcrowding can lead to urination problems. Because cats are not pack animals, they do need their own space, so once an area has been marked, you'll need to thoroughly clean it with an enzymatic cleaner that will rid the area of the ammonia smell.

In terms of a litter box problem, if the litter box is outside the cat's territory, he may not go near it, which will cause him to use another area of the house to eliminate.

Doesn't Cover His Mess

Another common problem is that the cat will use the litter box, but will not cover his daily droppings. This could be as simple as the cat doesn't like the texture of the litter. Have you recently changed brands or litter type?

Because each cat is different in his own, you cat may not like the litter or the amount of litter that you have in the litter box. Try changing to a different type of litter or maybe adding more litter to the litter box.

The cat may not feel that he has enough litter to cover his "mess," so by adding an extra layer, he may feel more comfortable covering his poop.

You, also, want to consider if the cat is altered. Sometimes unaltered male cats may leave their mess uncovered as a territory marking. Larger cats (wild cats) do not cover their droppings as a territorial marking form of communication, whereas most smaller cats do. But even still, male cats may "opt", so to speak, to not cover their feces in attempt to mark their territory.

Personally, try adding more litter to the litter box; if that doesn't work, try changing the litter type.

Also, consider the type of litter box- is it open or closed? Some cats do not like the nearly closed litter boxes, so they may not cover their feces in litter boxes with lids. You may consider another litter box option.

Not Using the Litter Box At All

The most common litter box problem is that the cat doesn't use the litter box at all but is litter box trained. For this case, you will want to rule out or consider the below litter box concerns.

Correcting Litter Box Problems

Find the Problem Cat (or pet)

Most people who have one cat, tend to have multiple cats, so you want to first figure out which cat is having the problem. Or, maybe you have a dog in the house, maybe it's the dog and not the cat.

Rule Out Medical Problems

Once you've figured out which cat it is, you want to rule out any medical problems. A sick cat may have trouble getting to the litter box on time.

Common health concerns may include kidney disease, diabetes, urinary tract infection, kidney stones, or bladder stones. Obese and older cats may also have problems with the litter box.

Litter Box Maintenance and Placement

Some cats may have a problem with a dirty litter box. Again, remember cats are generally clean animals, so if you skipped a cleaning, it may upset your cat into going elsewhere in the house. You should clean the litter box at least once a day, if not twice, depending on how many cats you have in the house and how many litter boxes you have.

The number of litter boxes can be a concern. If you have three cats and only one litter box, one of the cats may decide that he wants his own space. So make sure to provide more than one box for a multiple cat household.

As for placement, make sure to place the litter box in a place where your cat can easily get to it. IE don't put the litter box in the basement. You may consider putting one litter box at each end of the house, so that your cat(s) have an option; plus it prevents you cat from waiting till the last minute and having to dart to the other side of the house to pee. He just may not make that sprinting session.

You, also, want to make sure to place litter box(es) in private, well-ventilated areas. Cats are private creatures and like to do their business alone.

Psychological Problems

Once you've ruled medical and litter box maintenance and placement problems, you may consider a that psychological or behavioral factor could be causing the problem. Because cats are highly sensitive and focused creatures of habit, slight changes in their environment can disturb your cat.

Have you recently:

  • Changed the carpets, furniture, paints, etc
  • Changed your routine
  • Changed cat foods or feeding schedule
  • Changed placement of the litter box or changed litter boxes
  • Changed the cat litter
  • Started the cat of flea prevention or other medications
  • Introduced a new member to the house, whether human or animal
  • Illness in the house
  • Had more visitors than normal

Any of the above can contribute to stress in your cat(s), which can be what has caused the litter box problems. Because cats tend to live a relatively calm and predictable life, a significant change can cause problems.

Cat Toilet Training

 Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a veterinarian.


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    • profile image

      mandy smith 6 years ago

      i love my two cats snowey and shearor .... my shearor follows me to the loo and goes to sink in bathroom and has a wee down the sink hole? does anyone elses do that?

    • David Alderson profile image

      David Alderson 6 years ago from Cat Lovers, Indiana

      From one cat lover to another....Great Hub!! A lot of good ideas that can be put to practical use just like my Litter Clump Art. If I had toilet trained Max there would be no Clump Art in this world.

    • profile image

      marion 7 years ago

      Help! I just adopted (provisionally) a 4-yr old female Himalayan,who uses the litter box but REFUSES TO COVER HER DEPOSITS! This behavior could be a deal breaker, even though she is sweet-tempered and beautiful. Is there anything to do? I don't know if I can handle this for the rest of her natural life!!

    • profile image

      Roslyn 7 years ago

      I changed my kittens litter and now he thinks it's a play box. He keeps digging and chasing after the rolling litter or I would find him just laying in it looking at me. It has been hours and he has not used it yet. How do I make him use it again?

    • profile image

      jason  7 years ago

      I have 4 year old female cat who is and has been litter box trained since she was a kiiten, but recently has been using my carpets and floors as her litter box. She has been getting outside alot lately because kids dont look before opening door. So i know she likes going outside and i think the fact that our carpet is green she thinks its like the grass and just goes when she has to. But i dont know for sure I need some ideas as to why she suddenly stopped using her litter box. We havent changed anything in her rutine or litter or food or even where her box is kept. Any help or thoughts would be great thank you

    • profile image

      Hana 7 years ago

      Maybe you can put the litter box somewhere in garage? Or try toilet train.

    • profile image

      Catman 7 years ago

      my kitten has grown a little and i decided to get him a new litter box. Somehow the fella's not adjusting well and he plays with his poo and breaks it apart making it harder to clear. Sometimes he'd scoop his mess out of the box and play around. He gets excited and plays inside the little box messing his paws and staining the floor as he walks off. Please tell me there's a way to solve this. I used to have a cat who didn't even want to look at his own poo. This one's crazy... help me

    • profile image

      Beth 7 years ago

      We adopted a 5 year old cat 3 months ago. She is litter box trained, but in the last month she has been going by the front door and the sliding glass door which happens to be by her litter box. She also uses the litter box sometimes. She always goes right next to the doors, never out a ways. Any suggestions?

    • profile image

      Rachel B. 7 years ago

      My cat refused to use the litter box when we first adopted her. I quickly realized that she didnt like the lid on top of the box, probably because the litter boxes at the animal shelter were lidless and that's what she had become familiar with. I took of the lid and voila! She has been happy with her litter box ever since.

    • profile image

      Donald 8 years ago

      My cat is litter box trained but started pooping on the floor next to box but still wets in the box

    • profile image

      elle 8 years ago

      i have a female cat she is fixed and about 10 years old. She will use her litter box and not cover but also poop in other places. the only thing that is new is im pregnant. im taking her to the vet but what else could it be. her litter is cleaned all the time.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      That I am not 100% sure as when my cat had urinary problems, and after treatment, she would go straight back to the litter box to do her business. Starting over like you've done with the bathroom trick, may be the way to go. Otherwise, you may want to consult the vet for other suggestions.

    • profile image

      chelsea 9 years ago

      I need some suggestions.... My cat has always used the litter box until she developed a urinary problem. She has since been treated by a vet and the problem is resolved (after several months), however, she still poops on the tiled floor. She urinates in the box but will not poop it in yet. She is currently confined to the bathroom (approx. 2 wks now) with a new litter box and we are even trying new litter, still no progress. Any suggestions????

    • profile image

      Chyree 9 years ago

      We've had 2 cats for a while. One an older male and the other a slightly younger female. Both are fixed and after the initialintroduction were fine with each other. We recently took in another cat (male) about the same age as the female, but she isn't getting along with him at all and is having problems with the other cat as well. She would gaurd the food and litter box so the other two cats wouldnt be able to eat or relieve themsleves. We tried separating the female to see if the other two male cats would get along without her and they seemed to be fine. The we tried separating the new cat to see if our original cats would go back to their normal behavior, and they were also fine; however, when we brought our female back into the common rooms with the other cats, our older cat started relieving himself outisde the litter box. Is there something we're not doing right? Are wegoing to need to find another home for the new cat?

    • profile image

      Rusty 9 years ago

      My wife and I found caring for the cat litter is much easier and not such a chore since we purchased the litter-garage. We have had it for about 6 months and it’s so awesome, take a quick look for yourself.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      He could associate the box as painful since he did have hard time that one time. So he does his deed and gets out without covering.

    • DJ Funktual profile image

      DJ Funktual 9 years ago from One Nation Under a Groove

      Yup, that is what I feared.

      He only cried that once but it was hilarious because it was longer than his whole little body. He must have been holding it awhile. LOL!

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Have you consulted a vet about him crying when he pooped (when younger). You may consider more litter. Otherwise, it may be something that he's always going to do.

    • DJ Funktual profile image

      DJ Funktual 9 years ago from One Nation Under a Groove

      My cat Leopold (Mr. Boy) is the one who doesn't cover anything but I'm not sure why? When he was really little he would cry when he pooped. He never covered it them and doesn't now. Never once actually. He shares a box with two females and is fixed, never goes outside the box, spraying minimum. I just don't know what to do. We've tried new litter, new box, new location all in the three years since he was born. Nothing new has helped and the three of em always go IN THE Box so....I don't know.

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I wish we had those. Unfortunately, most pet stores here in the Philippines only specialize in dogs. We couldn't even find cat collars for sale anywhere. I found cat litter at the mall, but it's a bit costly. I might consider letting my kittens do their business the old-fashioned way (in the backyard) when they're bigger.

      Thanks, Whitney. :)

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      I personally wouldn't. It's not the most sanitary. You can use the refillable cat litter at PetCo. They sale like a 5 gallon tub for like $10 or something. I forget. Just buy the initial filled tub and just go back to refill it when you need to. (and pay of course)

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I've also noticed that my kittens don't like to use the litter box when it's not fresh anymore. They gingerly scrape around and then hop right back out. Changing it with fresh cat litter solves the problem.

      I have a question about cat litter though. Is it all right to let it dry in the sun and then reuse it? My 3 kittens use up a bag in no time and I was wondering if it was safe to "recycle" used cat litter.

    • fishskinfreak2008 profile image

      fishskinfreak2008 9 years ago from Fremont CA

      So you're an animal lover. That's cool.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Oh, sorry about that. Yes it is normal. Many cats who are provided the opportunity to go outside will. Many cats prefer to go outside and refuse to use the litter box.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Yeah, we know he's going outside, I was just asking if that was normal. He may just be copying our dog.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      Peter, I would say with the doggie door, he's probably going outside to go to the bathroom. If he was going in the house somewhere, you'd definitely notice. Cat urine has a unique smell.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Our cat is one that stopped using the litter box altogether. He was perfectly trained and used it regularly. We did move the litter box, though, but he used it in the new location for a couple of weeks just fine. We have a doggie door, so he goes in and out all the time. We assume he relieves himself outside somewhere, which is why we haven't been too worried. Is this normal? He's our first cat.