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June 8th, 2021 | 0 min read

The Most Common Litter Box Problems (And How to Avoid Them)

Written by
Sharilyn Vera

Having a kitty means having a litter box, and when your cat is having litter box problems, it can be frustrating. Litter box problems are one of the most common reasons why cats are re-homed or surrendered to shelters. But we want to end that! By understanding why your cat is having litter box issues, you can understand what you can do to help. 

Here, let’s talk about why your cat might be having problems using the litter box and what you can do to avoid these undesirable litter box habits from resurfacing in the future. With a few simple modifications, both you and your cat can live healthier and happier. 

Looking at Litter Box Problems

For most cats, using a litter box correctly is second nature to them. Most kittens can even use a litter box before they’re a month old! The act of digging in a substrate and burying their waste is evolutionary and getting your cat to use the litter box requires very little training, if any. Most cats get right to it! However, there are certain circumstances where you may need to learn how to litter train a kitten.

But, what if your cat is having litter box problems, such as going to the bathroom outside of the litter box or refusing to use the litter box completely? 

Not using the litter box or going to the bathroom in inappropriate places are the most common litter box problems. Now, let’s look at what can cause these occurrences and, most importantly, what you can do to avoid them. 

Why Do Cats Have Litter Box Problems?

There are many reasons why cats may have litter box problems, and the reasons range from underlying health conditions to preferences. 

Here are some of the most common reasons why your cat might have a litter box issue:

Metabolic Issues

If your cat has a metabolic issue, including diabetes or kidney problems, they may be producing more urine than usual and might not have time to make it to the litter box in time. 

Arthritis

Older cats who have arthritis can find it challenging to get up and down the stairs to get to the litter box or might even have problems getting in and out of the litter box itself. If you have an older cat or a cat with joint issues, you may want to consider a more accessible litter box and litter box location to prevent inappropriate urination and house soiling. 

Urinary Issues

We’ve talked before about UTIs in cats and other urinary health issues such as urinary obstruction or urinary crystals. These conditions make it painful for your cat to urinate. Therefore they may urinate somewhere else besides the litter box since they have less control of their urination. 

Elimination Issues

In addition to having issues urinating, your cat may also be having problems going #2. These conditions include diarrhea and constipation in cats, both of which can impact how well they use the litter box. 

Anxiety

Another reason why your cat might be having litter box problems is that they are suffering from some form of anxiety. This could include anxiety over using the litter box or anxiety in general. An anxious kitty is an unhappy kitty and unhappy kitties are more likely to exhibit litter box avoidance. 

Your cat may be anxious about moving to a new home or if you brought home a new pet or baby. They can also get anxious over any change in their routine. 

Stress

Like anxiety, stress can also trigger a litter box issue. This could be stress associated with using the litter box itself, or your cat could be stressed about something else and it carries over into their bathroom behavior. 

Issues with the Litter Box

When there are issues with the litter box itself, your cat may not want to use it and might choose to go to the bathroom in other areas of the house instead. Issues with the actual litter box could mean that it:

  • Isn’t clean enough for your cat
  • Has the wrong type of cat litter
  • Has too much or too little litter
  • Is in the wrong place in your home
  • Is too small

Later, we will explain each of these in more detail so you can ensure that the multiple litter boxes in your home are perfect (or should we say purr-fect) for your kitty. 

Negative Litter Box Association

Lastly, your kitty might be experiencing litter box issues if they have negative associations with using the litter box. This could be the case if something happened while your cat was in the litter box, including painful defecation or urination from some of the conditions we listed earlier. If your kitty has memories of a not-so-easy bathroom experience, they could associate the litter box with bad feelings. 

As you can see, there are many reasons why a cat might not use the litter box or stop using the litter box after years of consistent use. These can range from behavioral issues to health issues or could be a combination of a few. If you notice that something isn’t right with your kitty, talk to your veterinarian immediately. 

How to Prevent Poor Litter Box Habits From Forming

While figuring out the root of your cat’s litter box problems may be a bit of trial and error, there are a few things you can do to make sure they have the best experience possible. 

Litter Box Sanitation

The easiest thing you can do to avoid a litter box problem is to practice good litter box hygiene. Even if your kitty isn’t having litter box issues, these are good tips to follow!

Clean the Litter Box Regularly

Of course, the first thing you can do is clean the litter box at least every day (if not multiple times a day). Not only will this help prevent a foul litter box smell, but it will also help decrease the chances of litter box problems because your kitty will always have a clean place to go. 

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Make Sure the Litter Box is Big Enough

As we mentioned above, not having a big enough litter box might deter your cat from using it, especially if they are older and have a hard time moving around. Make sure the litter box is big enough for your cat to comfortably turn around. 

In addition to making sure the litter box is big enough, also consider the type of litter box you choose. Some cats don’t mind using a covered litter box, while others feel trapped using them and will avoid going in. 

Make Sure You Have Enough Litter Boxes

Another important tip is to make sure you have multiple litter boxes. You should have one more litter box than you have cats. So if you have 2 cats, have 3 litter boxes. In addition, you should have at least one litter box on each floor of the house. This makes it easier for your cat to go because they don’t have to climb up and down the stairs every time they need to use the litter box. 

Use the Right Kind of Litter

Lastly, the type of cat litter you choose does matter! Some cats respond differently to different types of litter. For example, pellet litter might be too hard on sensitive kitty paws. Our crystal litter is super soft and gentle. 

In addition to using the right kind of litter, consider how much or how little litter is in the litter box. Most experts recommend about 2 inches of litter. This gives them enough to dig in, but not too much that they don’t want to use the box. 

Stress Relief

If you suspect that the reason your cat is having litter box problems is that they are stressed or anxious, there are a few things you can try to put their nerves at ease. 

Pheromone Diffuser

Pheromone diffusers emit a substance that mimics natural cat pheromones, which can relax even the crankiest of cats. We can’t smell the pheromones, but our cats sure can!

Move the Litter Box

When cats do their business, they like to be in a secluded, quiet spot away from people and other pets. If you notice that your cat is apprehensive when using the litter box, it may be because they don’t like the location. Move it somewhere quieter where they can have a little privacy. 

Eliminate Environmental Stressors

Although most cats act as cool as a cucumber, cats can get stressed by a lot of things in their environment, from construction outside to a new piece of furniture to a change in routine. When possible, try to stick to the same environment to not stress out your cat. If you do need to make a change, do so slowly. For example, if you’re introducing a new pet, do it very slowly and be patient as your cat adjusts. 

Talk to Your Vet

If you have a kitty that seems constantly stressed, talk to your veterinarian about other alternatives. They may recommend CBD or even some sedatives, depending on the severity of your cat’s stress. This course of action may help your cat relax and can even relieve some litter box problems that are most commonly caused by stress. 

Underlying Health Conditions

Lastly, there’s always a risk of underlying medical conditions if your cat is having constant litter box problems. If this is the case, talk to your vet immediately. 

Most of the time when cats are having litter box issues, they are trying to tell us something and aren’t just doing it to be naughty (despite what the internet videos might say about cats!). Whether there is something wrong with their litter box, they are stressed, or there is an underlying health condition, litter box problems are a great reminder to check on our feline friends and make sure they have everything they need!

Sources:

1. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/solving-cat-litter-box-problems#1

2. https://be.chewy.com/8-common-litter-box-problems/

3. https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/6-common-litter-box-no-nos

Written by
Sharilyn Vera

Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!