When cats stop using their litter box this can be a big problem. In fact it’s the biggest reason cats are given to a shelter. Below are some of the most common reasons that can easily be resolved.
Underlying Medical Issues
Before you jump to conclusions that your cat is misbehaving you should first check to see if there is any medical issue going on like perhaps a urinary tract infection or something else that might make it painful to eliminate. Your cat might be associating the litter box with the pain of eliminating and trying to avoid the pain and discomfort. It could also be that your cat might not be able to make it to the litter box in time if there is some urgency of eliminating involved. The first step is to take your cat to the vet to get checked out in order to rule out any medical cause before you move on to exploring other reasons.
Declawing your cat is equivalent to having your fingernails pulled out. In all the spy movies you see this as a torture method to get people to talk. It is an incredibly painful (and cruel) thing to do to your cat’s paws and the pain from this can last long after the physical wounds have healed. The small cat litter granules can be sharp, painful and uncomfortable to their injured paws and could cause them to avoid the litter box.
Putting caps on the nails is a much more humane and safe option for protecting your furniture and may help prevent problems with your cat deciding not to use the litter box as a result of declawing.
Chemicals and Synthetic Fragrances
Cats have super sensitive noses. A cat has 67 million olfactory receptors contrasted to the 5 million that humans have. If you use scented cat litter that is not natural to a cat and may be overpowering and extremely unpleasant to their sensitive noses. Also scented cat litter does not mask the smell of the litter box it just mixes with the other fragrances and FYI… perfume mixed with smell of cat urine and cat poop is worse than just the smell cat urine and cat poop alone. Seriously. Just don’t use scented litter. Clean the box more frequently instead of trying to mask the smell with perfumed litter.
Also using strong smelling chemical cleaners to wash the cat litter box without thoroughly rinsing off all residue might leave behind the scent of the cleaner and the cat could avoid the box because it is avoiding the offensive smell of the chemicals.
Type of Litter
The type of litter you choose might also affect whether or not your cat wants to use the litter box. There are a lot of different types of litter on the market. There is sand like clay litter in clumping or non-clumping options and in scented or unscented options. There’s also natural, biodegradable litter made from recycled newspaper, corn cob, peanut shell meal, processed orange peel, wheat, pine sawdust and shavings or hardwood and cedar chips.
The texture of the natural, biodegradable litter is obviously very different from clay litter. Research shows most cats prefer unscented sand-like litter. If you introduce a new texture to them they often will avoid the litter box even if they want to use it. You might have to mix small amounts of the new texture into the old litter and gradually increase the amount as your cat adjusts.
There’s also crystal litter made from dried silica gel. Crystal litter may be more convenient for you but your cat may have issues with it. The tiny, jagged crystalline particles can be very hard on a cat’s sensitive paws and they could avoid the box to avoid the crystal litter. Also once the crystals have reached their maximum absorption capacity you will be left with a pool of cat urine in the bottom of the box – not pleasant for you or your cat.
Amount of Litter In The Box
There also needs to be enough litter in the box. Having too little amount of litter will cause odor problems. You cat also needs enough litter to bury their waste. Three inches is the minimum and 4 inches is even better. If you use scoopable litter make sure to occasionally top off the litter to keep enough litter in the box.
A Dirty Litter Box
A dirty litter box is kind of equivalent to an out house. If you’ve been to a concert or a fair that had these portable out houses you know what I mean. There is hundreds of other peoples’ waste in the tank below you and you can see it, smell it, you don’t want to touch anything and you can’t wait to get out of there. This is exactly what your cats experience with their litter boxes. Cats are clean freaks and do not like dirty litter boxes. If it gets too dirty they will look for other places to go instead of the box. You should be scooping the box out at least twice a day and completely wash out the box every 3-4 weeks for scoopable litter and weekly for simple clay non-clumping litter.
Covered Litter Boxes
Covered litter boxes may look better in your home and keep you from having to look at and smell your cat’s litter box, however, when you don’t see the contents in the litter box you tend to not clean it out as regularly (out of sight, out of mind). But that isn’t the only issue, covered litter boxes smell more because moisture can’t escape as easily and the soiled litter doesn’t dry out as fast as an open box and if the smell is too strong because it’s not aired out your cat may not want to use the box. Covered litter boxes can also make your cat feel confined and trapped. If you have a multi-cat household your cat may find other places to go that have better escape potential if your cat is worried about being ambushed while using a covered litter box.
Too Small of a Litter Box
We often choose a litter box to fit into the size and space of where we want to put the litter box but you really need to choose the size of the box based on the size of your cat. Ideally the litter box should be 1 ½ times the length of your cat.
Number of Boxes Per Cat
If you have a multi-cat household you should have one litter box per cat as a minimum. You may even need one extra one depending on the space. If you have a two story home it would be a good idea to put a litter box on each level even if you only have one cat or if you have a really large home consider putting a box in a couple of locations.
Location, Location, Location
Where you decide to put the litter boxes should also take into consideration what makes your cat feel safe and secure above what is convenient for you. Putting the litter box near things that could scare your cat such as noisy, busy walk ways through the house, near house hold appliances such as washing machines or kitchen blenders could cause your cat to avoid the litter box. It’s also not a good idea to put the litter box next to their food either. If you have multiple cats you need to keep the boxes separated in different areas of the house. If you put all of the boxes together in the same place your cat may avoid the litter box room in order to avoid crossing paths with another cat. Keep the litter boxes in locations that are quiet, away from foot traffic and appliances and where your cat will feel safe enough to use it.
Litter Box Liners
Litter box liners are great for being able to change the litter more conveniently the same way that trash can liners are for trash, however, keep in mind that cats often tear the plastic with their claws when they are digging to cover their waste. This can cause the cat urine to seep down under the liner and create cat urine odor and the urine can also get into the folds of the plastic and create odor issues. The resulting smelly box could cause your cat to avoid the litter box. Keeping enough litter in the box and scooping it out often can help prevent plastic tears that occur more often when litter levels are low or when the box is too full of waste as your cat will need to dig less with a clean, fully litter stocked box.
Electronic Self Cleaning Boxes
Technology is doing its best to make life easier for the cat owner but this invention gets a thumbs down. To start with many of these self cleaning boxes have motors that are scary to a cat. If your cat is frightened of the litter box it will most likely avoid the box. The timers are usually set to go off several minutes after the cat leaves the box but it doesn’t take into consideration another cat entering. If the motor starts to move while another cat is in the box that is game over for that box.
Even if you only have one cat and the cat is out of the box but simply hears the motor go on it will be startled, suspicious and possibly scared of the box anyway and not want to go near it. Remember your cat needs to feel safe and secure with the litter box or they won’t use it and electronic litter boxes don’t foster the feelings of safe and secure. The other issues are clogging in the rakes that can easily happen if there are large clumps to rake out. Also the box itself might be big because it houses the motor but the actual space available for your cat is often quite small. The space for your cat needs to be 1 ½ times the length of your cat.
You also don’t get to keep an eye on what’s happening with your cat. When you clean the box out yourself you notice when the poop changes color, if there is a lot or a little, if there is diarrhea or constipation, if your cat is drinking enough water, if the stools are coal black and smell exceptionally awful (often a sign of internal bleeding). You miss all that when the box cleans itself and you could miss some important health signs your cat’s waste can tell you.
Litter Trap Mats
These mats are great for keeping litter from being tracked all over the house as they are similar to door mats where you can wipe your feet off before you come inside so you don’t track debris all through the house. The litter trap mats clean the litter stuck to the paws upon exit from the litter box. The mats though can often feel unpleasant to their feet and can even get their claws stuck in them. This could cause your feline to avoid the box in order to avoid the litter trap mat.
If you have ever punished or yelled at your cat for peeing or pooping in areas other than the litter box the message your cat may have translated in their mind is that peeing or pooping when you are around is bad and they will avoid doing so and will look for locations away from you and your cat may even start to be afraid of you. Their minds don’t work the same way ours does and even though you were trying to convey you were upset about not using the litter box your cat may understand it as you will be mad if he pees or poops when your are around.
Punishing your cat means there is an assumption on your end of deliberate misbehavior from your cat but that is not usually the case. Cats always have a reason for what they do. If they aren’t using the litter box there is a reason why and it’s up to you to find out what that reason is. Never create negative associations with body functions with any of your pets.
Cool video showing you exactly how to train your kitten to use the litter box.