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Help! My Cat's Not Using Their Litter Box!

Cat in bathroom

Cats can sometimes get a bad rap for being a little standoffish, choosing to snub their nose at you when they feel like it. You might shrug it off when your pal's in a mood and ignores you, but when they start ignoring their litter box, it's an entirely different story.

Most of the time, cats instinctively find their litter boxes, doing what they need to do with little to no issue. However, during other times you might need to spend a few days getting your feline friend acclimated to the litter and its location. Either of these situations is plausible and normal, but what happens when your cat starts going to the bathroom outside of their litter box?

Reasons Your Cat's Not Using Their Litter Box

Several reasons can be to blame for your cat's refusal to use their litter box. For example, it could just be you're overdue on cleaning the litter box. Alternatively, your cat might not like your litter of choice, or another cause could be the presence of an underlying medical condition.

Here's a look at some of the potential reasons why your cat has decided to avoid their litter box and start doing their business elsewhere.

You Need to Clean the Litter Box

Think about it, how appealing do you find a messy bathroom? The likely answer is it’s not very pleasant. Therefore, why would you expect your cat to use a filthy litter box? But, here’s the thing, even if you regularly scoop your cat’s litter and switch out the litter every week, it might not be enough for your cat. Every cat is different, which means each cat has their own preferences, so yours might prefer fresh litter every few days or might even expect you to scoop every time they poop, etc.

Now, it’s understandable that you don’t find cleaning your cat’s litter box the most appealing task, but luckily, there are products that make it much more manageable and even a breeze. Scoops like the Neater Scooper, for example, enable you to scoop and bag your cat’s mess with one swift motion. You never have to touch it or worry about it getting on your hands. Plus, you can order handy boxes of refill bags, so you never miss a beat.

If cleanliness is the issue, you might notice your cat trying to balance on the edge of the box, not even wanting to set foot on the litter. They might also dash out of the box as soon as they go, not bothering to bury their waste.

Aim to scoop your pal’s litter box at least two times a day and switch out the litter once a week. You can always try out different types of litter that might require less upkeep, too. Ultimately, the goal is a clean, fresh litter box that your cat will want to use.

You Have a Finicky Feline

If your kitty starts messing outside of their litter box, you might need to put on your detective hat. If cleanliness isn’t the issue, it could be the litter or the litter box itself. For example, your cat might not like the texture of the litter you’ve selected. Or, perhaps it possesses too strong a scent or feels too rough on their paws. As a result, you might see your cat shaking their paws as they leave the litter box or refusing even to put their feet in the litter.

Additionally, your feline might have an aversion to the actual litter box or where you keep it. For example, many cats prefer low-sided boxes they can access easily. Other cats like boxes with covers because they feel safer, while others prefer boxes with no lids because they feel less threatened (plus lidded litter boxes tend to trap odors inside, which might be good for you, but not so much for your cat). Also, if the litter box is somewhere with lots of noise or in a busy part of the home, it could be a bit off-putting for your furry friend.

If you suspect the problem is the litter box’s location, try moving it to a more calm, less intrusive space. If this doesn’t quite do the trick, you can try setting up a couple of different litter boxes along with several other litters to see which one your cat seems to choose the most. It might take a bit of persistence and investigation on your part, but eventually, you should find the magic formula that works for your pet.

Possible Health Issues

Your pet could be dealing with a medical issue, such as a UTI, bladder stones, kidney problems, feline diabetes, or other potential illnesses. For older cats, cognitive dysfunction could be at play. This is sort of like the feline version of human dementia and can result in your cat using the bathroom outside of their litter box because they can’t remember where their litter is. Or, some cats simply can’t make it to the litter box in time, realizing too late that they need to go to the bathroom.

If you suspect a medical condition is the reason for your pet’s accidents, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible. In fact, beyond cleaning the litter box first, don’t wait too long to talk to the vet, especially if you notice any other odd behaviors. Any problem, no matter what it is, is always better discovered sooner rather than later.

You Have a Stressed Out Cat

If your cat is experiencing stress or anxiety, they might express it by having accidents. Cats communicate in various ways, and that can include their bathroom routine. Think about any recent changes in your lifestyle that might be stirring up stressful feelings in your feline. For example, did you move? Have children? Get a new dog or a new cat companion? Any of these situations, and more, could cause some intense feelings of anxiousness for your cat. Talk with your vet about possible solutions. Medication might help, and you can also try calming supplements or calming diffusers for cats. If you have multiple cats, you can try setting up litter boxes throughout the house, so each cat has their own space.

Your Cat's Saying, "That's Mine!"

If your cat isn’t spayed or neutered, then they could be marking their territory. This is especially more common for male cats, although females will also spray. If you believe this is the case, it’s worth considering having your cat neutered or spayed.

cats in font of litter box

Need to Switch Your Cat's Litter?

If you determine the reason for your cat peeing or pooping outside of their litter box is the litter, then switching to a different type of litter is your best bet. Your cat should adapt relatively quickly with a gradual transition. First, start mixing some of the new litter into the old litter, increasing the amount of the new litter as you decrease the amount of the old, little by little, over a week or two. You can also try setting up a couple of boxes at once and doing this process with a few different litters to test out several at once.

With a little careful attention, trial-and-error, and patience, you can find the reason for your cat’s undesirable bathroom habits. Once you’ve pinpointed the cause, you can successfully choose a solution. For more helpful insight into raising your pets, check out the rest of our blog. You’ll find all sorts of tidbits that can help you develop your skills as a fantastic pet parent.

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