6 Reasons and Solutions for Cats Not Using the Litter Box

Understanding Why Cats Don’t Use the Litter Box

Cats are generally known for their cleanliness and preference for using a litter box. However, there are instances when they refuse to use it. So, what could be the reasons behind this inappropriate behavior? And how can you train your cat to use the litter box correctly?

1. Why do cats go outside the litter box?

There are several reasons that may explain why your cat suddenly refuses to use the litter box:

a. Issues with the litter and litter box

  • Your cat doesn’t like the litter: Cats have sensitive senses, which can affect their response to different types of litter. Once a cat has developed a preference for a certain type, it may resist any changes in the litter’s composition, such as larger grains that are uncomfortable to step on or an overpowering smell. If you suddenly switch to a different type of litter or one that your cat finds unpleasant, it’s normal for the cat to go outside the litter box.
  • Inadequate litter box: One of the reasons why cats may go outside the litter box is due to the size or design of the litter box. If the litter box is too small or cramped, your cat may not have enough space to move around and dig. This can result in your cat going outside the litter box. It’s advisable to choose a more suitable litter box, adhering to the recommended guidelines.
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b. Stress

Stress can also lead to cats not using the litter box. Cats are highly sensitive animals and can become stressed by factors that may not cross our minds. Some common stressors for cats include moving to a new house, changes in their diet, rearranging furniture in the house, the introduction of new family members or pets, and unfamiliar loud noises.

c. Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions can cause cats to suddenly stop using the litter box. Here are a few examples:

  • Urinary tract infections: If you notice your cat frequently using the litter box but only producing minimal urine, it may be a sign of a urinary tract infection. While this condition is rare in kittens, it can be a common cause of urinary problems in older cats. Bacteria in the urine can cause inflammation in the urinary tract, leading to discomfort and frequent trips to the litter box.
  • Bladder inflammation: Cats suffering from bladder inflammation may show signs of frequent urination, straining, and the presence of blood in their urine. Bladder inflammation is a severe condition that can endanger the cat’s life. It’s crucial to consult a veterinarian and seek immediate treatment upon noticing these symptoms.
  • Kidney stones: Cats with kidney stones may exhibit frequent urination, discomfort, and vocalization while attempting to urinate. The abdomen may feel soft and squishy to the touch. It’s important to learn more about this condition and seek proper medical attention.

2. How to train your cat to use the litter box correctly

Resolving the issue of cats not using the litter box lies in addressing the underlying cause. Here are a few approaches:

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a. Address medical issues

For any medical issues, it’s essential to take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible. In certain instances, the inability to urinate can be life-threatening. Signs that you should consult a veterinarian immediately include:

  • Signs of distress (both inside and outside the litter box)
  • Vocalizations, signs of pain, or crying during urination
  • Frequent litter box visits with minimal urine production
  • Blood in the urine
  • Loss of appetite, hiding, seeking new spots in the house, vomiting, or changes in behavior

b. Litter and litter box issues

To address litter and litter box issues, consider the following:

  • Provide an adequate number of litter boxes: If you have multiple cats, a lack of litter boxes can lead to inappropriate elimination. Sometimes, certain cats may dominate the litter box, preventing others from accessing it. This can create stress and result in cats not using the litter box correctly. Remember to follow the “n + 1” rule for litter box suggestions (n represents the number of cats in your household).
  • Choose the right litter box: Senior cats, kittens, and cats with joint issues may struggle with litter boxes that have high entry points or high walls. Using litter boxes with lower walls can alleviate their discomfort. You can even use alternative containers with low sides as litter boxes.
  • Properly clean the litter box: Regularly cleaning the litter box is crucial in preventing cats from going outside the box. Clean the litter box at least once a day, or more frequently if you have multiple cats. Add fresh litter as needed and replace all the litter entirely every few weeks.
  • Consider litter preferences: Cats have different preferences when it comes to litter types. Some cats prefer clumping litter with a medium to fine texture and no strong odor. To determine your cat’s preferences, place several litter boxes with different litter options close together. Observe which litter your cat chooses to use the most. You may need to try different litters before identifying the one that your cat prefers.
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c. Address stress

To address stress-related litter box issues, try the following techniques:

  • Create a stress-free environment: Minimize stress in your cat’s environment by keeping the house calm and providing areas for rest and play. Use synthetic pheromone diffusers or sprays to reduce any tension between cats in the household. Consider using the following products:
    • Feliway diffuser helps create a calm atmosphere for cats.
    • Catnip or catnip-infused toys can help relieve stress.
    • Calming collars can provide a sense of security.

d. Avoid counterproductive actions

While dealing with litter box issues, it’s important to avoid actions that may worsen the situation:

  • Do not punish your cat: Avoid scolding or punishing your cat for going outside the litter box. This will not help rectify the situation and may only make your cat fearful.
  • Avoid using ammonia-based cleaners: Using ammonia-based cleaners to clean up urine and feces can confuse your cat. These cleaners may give off a scent similar to that of a litter box, leading your cat to think that it’s an acceptable place to eliminate. Instead, use enzymatic cleaners specifically designed for cleaning pet messes.
  • Do not force your cat into the litter box: Forcing your cat into the litter box as a means of training is not effective. Some cats dislike being observed during their toileting activities.


By understanding the reasons behind cats not using the litter box, you can take appropriate measures to address the issue. Remember, being a responsible and attentive pet owner is the key to preventing or resolving this problem. Keep your cat healthy, prioritize regular veterinary check-ups, and minimize stress in your cat’s environment. With these strategies, you can tackle the issue of inappropriate elimination and promote a litter box-friendly environment for your feline companion.

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