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Cats not using the litterbox?

Updated on November 9, 2015

How to retrain nervous cats to use the litterbox

How do you train cats to use the litterbox? Many worried cat lovers ask this every day and yet cats are the most fastidious animals in the world. So what should we do when cats won't use the litterbox? When litterbox problems develop the causes can be complex. Sometimes owners can add to the causes without realizing too. What do we do when soiling and marking threatens your relationship with a favourite pet?

The picture heading this page is not a pretty one, but then the topic is not a pretty one either and the consequences for cat and owner can be very upsetting. The picture shows Amberley's extended litter tray. She drew "the cat" in the litter herself which is why we took the picture of course, but she came with a history....

Cats not using the litterbox - this is Amberley - She is posing by her self portrait....


Amberley is a blue cream Persian who was sent into rescue because she had a litterbox problem. She was four years old and her behaviour had deteriorated to the point that her owners couldn't take it any more. She was very well behaved at the rescue and for several weeks in her new home before things started to go wrong. At ten years old we realize that Amberley is not likely to change much. Sometimes she will use her litter tray and at other times this little Persian cat will not use the litterbox.

Amberley reacted to the stress in her home environment by increasing her marking and middening. The family were at their wits end and as stress levels increased all around it became a vicious spiral that could only have one outcome. That was how she came into rescue and we came to be her new family.

When an outdoor cat becomes an indoor prisoner.... - An adorable Persian who came with a potty problem....


Dolcippi came to us directly under similar circumstances. Her "Mum" was at her wits end over marking and middening that was undermining her relationship with her boyfriend. Dolcippi had been used to toileting outdoors although she had been paper-trained as a kitten and knew how to use the box. The problem began when she was "cat-napped" from the garden and after a prolonged absence she came back with "problems". I offered her a home conditional on her being healthy and getting on with my other Persians.

How to understand and cope with your cat's toilet problem.

Pussy's Little Problem: How to Understand and Cope with your Cat's Toilet Habits
Pussy's Little Problem: How to Understand and Cope with your Cat's Toilet Habits
Pussy's Little Problem goes into the stories of Amberley and Dolcippi in more detail and has some interesting solutions and suggestions for coping with marking and middening in the home.

Cats not using the litterbox? Check your cat litter... - The Best Cat Litter

Cats are very fussy when it comes to the right cat litter. One of mine is fine with any litter, but likes World's Best, one prefers unbleached commercial wrapping tissue disposed of immediately and a third has decided on the bath mat. If your cat will go anywhere else but the box cat litter may smell wrong or feel uncomfortable on her paws.

Not all Persians have a toiletting problem though.... - These adorable Persians are as good as gold


How to understand Cat Behaviour - What does your cat's behaviour mean?

Making an effort to understand your cat and his behaviour can often make it easier to track down the reasons for litter box problems.

Cat won't use the Littertray? - Helping your Cat to Relearn Bathroom Behaviour

Here are some useful points to bear in mind when you are coping with marking and middening behaviour in the home and want to retrain Puss.

  • Just as with kittens, older cats need gentle encouragement when they get it right. Praise your cat with a soft voice after she has left her box.
  • If you catch your cat in the act pick her up gently, hold her for a moment in the litter box then stroke her and tell her she is a good girl.
  • Place the litter tray in a quiet spot, it must be easily accessible and have privacy!
  • Provide several boxes if you have more than one cat, some cats are possessive about their box.
  • Scoop the box at least once a day and clean it regularly.
  • Do not use strong-smelling disinfectants to clean the box, cats will not use a box that smells toxic.
  • A mixture of sodium bicarbonate, anti-bacterial washing up liquid and vinegar is great for cleaning up after accidents or deodorizing a smelly box safely. Rinse and dry afterwards!
  • If you must use disinfectant, ask your vet's advice about a non-toxic one!
  • Never EVER medicate, punish, nag, shout, or allow children to play with the cat when it is using the litter tray!!!
  • Introduce any change in cat litter gradually by mixing over a five day period.
  • Rubbing your pet's nose in urine or faeces is cruel, ineffective and disgusting. You would not abuse a child that way, would you?
  • Never use physical punishment on your cat, it is counter-productive and dangerous.
  • It is more effective to ignore bad behaviour and praise good than to reprimand a nervous animal.
  • Neutering your pet will reduce the risk of it straying or spraying!
  • There are some more odd solutions and tips I cover in my book, but to finish here always make sure you have ruled out any medical condition with the vet before you jump to the conclusion that poor potty behaviour is just a bad habit!

Was Your Kitten Paper-Trained?

Some breeders will use paper training before kittens are introduced to the litter box. This proves to be a handy way back to good potty habits for the erring adult too.

If a cat has become confused (such as an outdoor cat having to learn to be an indoor cat) taking it back to kittenhood may help.

If you use this method it is vital to change the paper as soon as it becomes soiled, otherwise she looks for somewhere fresher outside the box!

Why is my cat peeing everywhere? - Medical Causes of Inappropriate Toileting

If your cat suddenly develops a problem with the litter box, it is wise to rule out medical causes before you look at behavioural problems or stress triggers. Some of these condition, like FUS, can quickly become life-threatening!

Common Causes of Litter Problems - Understanding your cats needs will help you solve his problems....

If toileting problems are due to stress triggers you need to identify them and help your pet get it right!

  • If litterbox problems arise from territorial disputes, introduce extra litter boxes and food bowls to reduce competition.
  • A playful, energetic cat is a happy cat - its energies are redirected.
  • As far as your cat is concerned you are a resource too - share your time fairly with all your pets and if you only have one, make time for a fuss!
  • When any cat smells other felines or anything strange, marking will increase.
  • Spraying is a natural activity for cats - it reinforces their territory - and increasing the generalized stress levels are likely to cause it.
  • A house move, new partner, new baby or increase in financial difficulties causing arguments - all these can lead to increased stress and poor toileting.
  • Any environmental change such as building work, rearrangement of the furniture, party or noisy visitors can give rise to spraying or middening as the cat tries to redefine its territory.
  • If a cat feels at risk or vulnerable, spraying or middening is likely to increase. Conflict within a family can cause marking over the whole house.
  • Cats will return to "over mark" as a smell decays; use this in retraining by putting a new litter box directly over the spot.
  • Having the tray close to food will trigger an innate sense of avoiding fouling eating areas.
  • Sometimes an outdoor cat is under threat in his own territory and if owners do not provide a tray he will urinate where he can in the house.
  • A cat will not use a tray where it feels threatened. It will go somewhere it feels safer.
  • If the cat has experienced a medical problem leading to pain it may well avoid the tray even when cured because it learns to associate that place with being hurt.
  • If the cat smells cleaning agents or the smell of the tray is too thoroughly removed the cat may not recognise its own lavatory.
  • A litter tray that is not cleaned and changed enough may smell too foul to use, especially if it has a cover to concentrate odours!
  • A cat's litter has to feel right. Sometimes it just doesn't suit your cat. The tray might be too small leading to near misses.
  • Cats generally prefer clumping litter with a feel similar to fine soil. Pellets can be uncomfortable to walk on or may contain deodorants which the cat does not like. When this happens, the carpet may feel more suitable as it is like raking grass.
  • Stick to a routine and schedule feeding, petting, playing and exercise times. This reduces stress as well as regularizing bowel movements. Routines are especially important to older cats.
  • Sometimes a nervous cat will evacuate in strange places especially where the owner's scent is strong.
  • Retraining a nervous cat can be a labour of love. If it becomes a battle, then the battle is already lost! Patience and understanding is everything. If you learn to think like your cat, you may at least learn to lessen the problem to a point you can tolerate even if it is well nigh impossible to cure.

CitiKitty Cat Toilet Training Kit (One Pack)
CitiKitty Cat Toilet Training Kit (One Pack)
I once saw our black moggy Puddles using the toilet for purpose and it is not unknown for cats to seek out the bath and the drain hole.... This system apparently trains them to do that!

Teach your cat to use the toilet! - Some People Potty Train Puss

Did you know you can buy books and equipment to train your kitties to use the loo? It looks a little dangerous to me though!

© 2009 Lisa Marie Gabriel


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