My parents gave me my first kitty for my 11th birthday. I named her Skipper, after Barbie’s little sister. She was a Russian Blue with sleek fur. I loved her immediately. But there was a problem. She didn’t know how to use the litter box, so we needed to learn why my cat was not using the box and how to train a cat to use a litter box.
Sometimes, cat owners, like my family, may have a challenging time trying to determine why the precious kitty is not using a litter box. There are many reasons that can be the cause for this behavior and why they are having a litter box problem.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 10 percent of felines develop elimination issues.1 Some older cats may stop using their boxed-in bathroom, period.
It’s up to the cat owner to do the detective work to determine why baby Simba isn’t using the bathroom. It could be that the kitty may not like some of the other older cats or animals in the home and may decide to stop going to the bathroom in protest. Or the kitty may not like the litter box – it could be too small. There’s even the possibility the kitty does not like the litter box location.
Whatever the issue may be, the goal is to nip the problem in the bud once it’s first noticed. If the cat continues to avoid the litter box for a lengthy point of time, the behavior becomes a chronic condition that becomes more difficult to solve.
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Consult the Vet
Before conducting any detective work, the first step is to take the kitty to the doctor. Not using the cat’s litter box could mean your cat is sick. A medical problem can cause painful urination and discomfort during potty time, which can cause your cat to develop a litter box aversion. Some examples of those illnesses2 can include urinary tract infections, kidney and thyroid diseases, diabetes mellitus, and digestive tract problems. One of the benefits of health monitoring litter is that the colors can help you identify those potential health issues. However, once your cat is cleared of any medical issues, then the kitty may be struggling due to one of the following situations.
If you are still wondering, “why is my cat pooping outside the litter box?”, here are the most common reasons your cat will ditch the box and the solutions for getting her back on board.
Too Many Cats Using the Same Litter Box
Are there multiple cats in the house? Bingo! Having only 1 litter box for multiple cats is the most likely reason why kitty isn’t using it.
Cats are territorial by nature. They’re in a constant battle for dominance. If necessary, a kitty will fight over their territory. There are no limits on the territory’s size – it could range from a neighborhood to a yard to a bedroom or living room. Therefore, one cat may try to hold dominance over the other cats to make the submissive kittens feel unwanted. The dominant cat will intimidate the other cats from using the bathroom in his litter box.
Some cats, especially adopted adult cats, may be poorly socialized and may not know how to get along with other kitties. The adult cat may be a loner and want to stay away from his other housemates, thereby claiming stake in his own litter box too.
If an owner has multiple cats, there’s bound to be a time when multiple cats need to go potty at the same time. Most cats don’t like to soil the same spot right after another cat. There is something about the odor of the other cat in the same litter box location. And most humans wouldn’t want to use the toilet right after another person has used it.
It’s easy. Get another litter box. Many veterinarians suggest multi-cat homes havemore litter boxes than the number of cats. Although it is one of the things your cat needs you to pay attention to, not all pet parents get the needed number of litter boxes. Therefore, getting that extra litter box can do the trick. In addition, the “one more litter box than the number of cats” rule is not set in stone. If you already have one more litter box, and there are still issues with a kitty peeing out of the litter box, try purchasing or finding an additional box. It’s better for little Scout to have more restroom options than to soil your favorite part of the bed.
People are known to have obsessive-compulsive disorder. As the Mayo Clinic states, obsessive-compulsive disorder “features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.”3
When cats have OCD, they have the same symptoms; they, too, engage in repetitive cat behavior. For instance, little Scout may be constantly grooming himself to the point where he is rubbing his fur off of places on his body. Or, he may be repeatedly eating, sucking, or even fabric chewing. (Some call the constant chewing on fabric wool-sucking.)
The recurring pattern could include avoiding litter boxes. For instance, the kitty may eliminate solids in the litter box but urinate outside. Or, perhaps, vice versa is what’s happening.
Each of these activities/patterns may have started out normally for the cat, or the behaviors may have been triggered by environmental or physical factors. As time passes, the behaviors will become a normal part of the kitty’s routine. In addition, these behaviors may also be a way for the tabby to cope with stressful issues.
Get another litter box. Sound familiar?
Some cats are particular about how, when, and where they go to the bathroom. Actually, some kitties may only use the litter box for one form of bathroom deposit and then feel comfortable using another method for the other bathroom deposit – eliminating solids vs. eliminating waste.
Another litter box or changing the sand with different types of cat litter could be the answer for the finicky cat. If he continues to have trouble staying within one or the other box when going to the restroom, see if there are any other details emerging from his bathroom pattern.
Some cats prefer to use the restroom on a particular type of surface, like a smooth, cool bathtub or on a furry shag rug. If that’s the case, try lining one of the litter boxes with the material the cat prefers. If the cat starts using the makeshift “litter” box, then the detective work is complete, and you have found the true cause of the kitty’s issues.
With all of that being said, the veterinarian may also have some recommendations when dealing with OCD behaviors in cats.4 A vet may recommend not to soothe or reward the kitty when partaking in the OCD action. Sometimes, reinforcing the behavior can cause the kitty to continue with the routine. A veterinarian may also suggest using natural remedies to reduce the kitty’s stress level. Cats with severe cases of OCD may need to take prescribed medication. If patterns continue, you may want to consult the vet to ensure there is not an underlying medical issue.
In addition to being clean freaks, territorial, and OCD, cats are also private creatures.
Cats feel vulnerable when they’re using the bathroom. So, while they may like to follow mommy and daddy into the bathroom, they don’t want anyone around when it’s time for them to use the restroom.
Therefore, if the cat’s litter box is in a high-traffic or noisy area, the distractions may be keeping him from using the litter tray. Even placing the litter box in the laundry room can be problematic as the running washer or dryer may scare some cats away. (It’s true – cats can live up to the term “scaredy cat”).
It’s time to move the cat’s litter box from a noisy or busy location to a more private area. If there are no quiet spots available where the kitty feels he has the privacy he needs, a pet owner may want to become creative with the litter tray setup. Some examples of creative areas include:
1) Placing the litter box behind a privacy screen.
2) Putting the litter box inside a cabinet.
3) Placing it in a drawer or create a litter box out of a drawer.
4) Creating a location behind a wall.
5) Making room for a litter box underneath the stairs – Harry Potter is not the only one who may have had his own stairwell bedroom.
Many pet stores and companies also sell furniture that is designed to hide litter boxes, such as large houseplants or a makeshift cabinet. Other factors to keep in mind when moving the litter box are – don’t trap your cat in a small area, make them climb the stairs, and keep the box away from any cat food.
Another way to help your cat better use their litter box is to fill your cat’s box with quality cat litter they will love! High-quality cat litter includes the following: it traps odor effectively, is lightweight to optimize cat usage, and is non-tracking. Bonus points if it tracks the cat’s health! Now that you understand the top reasons why your cat isn’t using the litter box, it’s time to helpget them to love their litter box.
- ASPCA. Litter Box Problems. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/litter-box-problems
- Cornell University Feline Health Center. Feline Behavior Problems: House Soiling. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-behavior-problems-house-soiling
- Mayo Clinic. Obessive Compulsive Disorder. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432
- The Spruce Pets. OCD in Cats. https://www.thesprucepets.com/ocd-in-cats-4178122