Why isn't your cat using the litter box?

Living with a cat that doesn’t use the litter box properly is not fun. While my article this week focuses on behavior issues only, inappropriate litter box use can also be because of medical reasons.

One common rule is that if your cat both urinates and defecates outside the box, the cause is likely behavioral.

Litter type

Just as people prefer one brand of toilet paper, cats prefer a certain type of litter. It is your job to figure out what that is, and stick with it. Don’t buy what’s on sale. Don’t buy a new fragrance. In fact, most cats prefer unscented litter.

Don’t buy litter that releases a cloud of irritating powder when you dump it into the box. If it bugs your nose and eyes, it will also bug your cat. If you use a litter that doesn’t feel or smell right to your cat, it will look elsewhere to potty.


Size is important

Cats should be able to stand up and turn around in the litter box. Don’t make them crouch down, or have a box so small that your cat has to choose whether to hang its head or butt over the edge of the box, because you know what will happen.

Make sure the cat can get in and out of the litter box easily. Don’t make it perform the high jump just to get inside. If your cat is old and arthritic, it may not be able to rush all the way downstairs to the basement when it needs to potty.

For portly felines, make sure you provide them with a larger litter box to suit their needs.

Many cats don’t like a cover. Even though it looks and smells better to people, it smells worse inside.

Of course, just to be confusing, some cats want a cover for privacy. You can either guess, or offer both to find out which litter box your cat prefers.

Keep it quiet

Don’t place the box right next to the washing machine, dryer or any other appliance that kicks on and off without warning. This may scare a cat into finding a quieter bathroom.


Keep it clean

Cats like a fresh box. You need to scoop it at least daily, and completely change the entire contents weekly to keep most cats happy.

If once a day sounds unreasonable, think of your own toilet. You get a fresh bowl each time — the least you could do for your feline friends is to clean their toilet once a day.

And don’t use products containing ammonia to clean the box — that smells just like other cats' urine, which can cause spraying issues.

Stop bullying

If multiple cats live in your home, watch out for "litter box bullies." Sometimes one cat thinks the box belongs just to them, and won’t let anyone else near it. Then the victim of the bully has to find somewhere else to go.

One way to avoid this problem is to have multiple areas in your home for your cats to go potty. Most animal behaviorists recommend offering at least one more box than the number of cats in your house. This means multiple locations — not all the boxes in one spot, which is the same as having one huge box.

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