WHY CATS STOP USING THEIR LITTER BOX November 21, 2011 13:30

Every cat owner knows the feeling – you come home from a long day of work and smell something that is a little off.  Walking around the house, sniffing your way to the stinky culprit, undoubtedly leads you to a damp spot on the carpetand a guilty looking cat.  You provide your cat with a litter box, so why is he or she still making messes on the floor?

Cats stop using their litter boxes for a variety of reasons.  Understanding these reasons and coming up with a solution for the problem is the best way to have a happy cat and avoid those frustrating messes around your house.  Start by taking a look at your cat’s habits and make any necessary adjustments to suit his or her needs.

One of the main reasons cats stop using their litter box is due to a medical problem.  Your cat can’t tell you when he or she is sick, so you’ll need to be diligent about keeping track of any unusual behavior, such as excessive licking in the genital area or consistent urination outside of the litter box.  Urinary tract infections, a blockage or some other digestive issue can cause pain for a cat when urinating or defecating.  The cat may then associate the litter box with the pain and not want to use the box out of fear.  If your cat is displaying unease around the litter box, it may be time to have the vet check for a UTI or other medical issue.

Cats may also stop using their litter boxes for less obvious reasons than medical problems.  Sometimes cats are just finicky and may decide that the litter box you have provided just isn’t cutting it for them anymore.  It’s your job to figure out a way to solve the litter box issue, and get your cat reacquainted with the important routine of using the litter box.  The following list provides some common reasons why cats may stop using their litter boxes, and the solutions for each problem:

 

  • The litter box isn’t clean enough.  Cats are clean creatures, so if the litter box isn’t cleaned often enough, he or she may stop using the litter box and instead opt to pee in a cleaner spot, such as on a rug or a pile of laundry.  Clean the litter box regularly to avoid this problem.
  • The litter box isn’t convenient. Cats are smart animals, but in the case of a litter box, you want to make sure the location is very easy to find and always accessible.  This might mean that you’ll need two litter boxes if you have a large house, two-story house or more than one cat to avoid messes.  Make it as easy as possible for the cat to find the litter box that is in a safe and relatively quiet spot.
  • The litter is not right. Believe it or not, cats can develop a preference for the type of litter that they like.  If your cat isn’t using the scented litter, try an unscented variety.  The same goes for switching clumping, clay, hard and soft litters if they are not working.  Allow for some adjustment time between litter type switches, as cats may not always warm up to the new litter type right away.
  • The litter box has a negative connotation. If something startled your cat while it was in the litter box, or it was put in the litter box after a mess was found on the floor, the cat might associate the litter box with a type of punishment or scary situation.  Gradually move the litter box to a new location or a different side of the room that it is in to give the litter box, and the cat, a fresh start.

Be sure to fully clean any areas that have been soiled with a cleaner made to eliminate pet odors.  This will discourage your cat from urinating or defecating in the same spot.  Also, cater to your cat’s habit a little bit if they keep making a mess in the same spot.  Move the litter box to that commonly soiled spot, and hopefully he or she will go in the litter box instead of on the floor.  Gradually move the litter box back to the spot where you want it to permanently be to lure your cat back into his or her potty routine.

Once you’ve figured out the reason that your cat has stopped using the litter box, you can try a variety of solutions to remedy the problem.  Remember that patience is key, and punishment is not the answer for dealing with the problem.  Cats are much more likely to behave if you give them the positive tools they need to succeed.