Why Won’t My Cat Use the Litter Box?

There are few behaviors more frustrating to cat owners than the cat who suddenly begins to soil outside the litter box. In fact, it is one of the main reasons owners abandon their cats or drop them off in shelters, where they’re often euthanized. Cats who exhibit this behavior are mistakenly labeled spiteful or angry when in reality, neither is true. This behavior is a call for help. Something in their life has gone seriously wrong! Most often the underlying cause relates to the home environment, a natural instinct to mark, or underlying illness. Let’s take a look at what might be happening.

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The Home

What condition is your litter box in? A dirty litter box will automatically deter your cat! By nature, cats are very clean animals who prefer clean litter. Whether you have one cat or several, keep that litter box clean by removing solids and freshening litter regularly. In a home where multiple cats reside, have multiple litter boxes! Remember, litter boxes are meant to be “single occupancy!” Having to wait your turn can have unwanted consequences. Furthermore, there’s no need to place multiple boxes throughout your house. They can be placed right next to each other, facilitating use and minimizing  disruption!

Like real estate, when it comes to litter box placement location is everything!  Cats prefer quiet, low-traffic areas when they’re using the “facilities!” Make certain to have unfettered access. A closed door between kitty and the litter box means you’ll have a mess to clean! Keep them away from appliances that can erupt into frightening noises, and away from entrance and exit doors.

When your cat is using the litter box, leave him alone! Any negative experience associated with litter box usage will result in a cat who soils outside the box.  Never use the box to trap a cat, never touch them or remove them from the box when they’re using it, and never do anything to startle or disturb them when they’re in the box. Respect their space.


Cats mark their environment. Usually, domesticated cats use their whiskers, rub their bodies, or scratch to deposit their scent. While urine spraying and fecal deposits are also methods of marking, they are most often associated with non-neutered males and non-spayed females as part of the mating ritual. Spay and neuter to reduce/eliminate this need.

Stress, fear, and anxiety also lead to unwanted marking. Keeping their space in the home free from unnecessary changes and stressors will help them maintain calm. During periods of unavoidable stress, such as having construction or home repairs, new pets, small children or long-term house guests, extra attention should be paid to maintaining your cat’s quiet, safe environment.


Never assume unwanted soiling outside the litter box is behavior-related. The first step in dealing with this problem should always be a trip to the veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical issue.

Urinary infections, kidney disease, arthritis (which makes it difficult for your cat to jump into the litter box), and diabetes are some of the most common conditions that can lead to house soiling.

Feline idiopathic cystitis, also known as FIC, is a common illness-related cause of house soiling. Cats with this condition experience difficulty releasing urine, and experience pain urinating. This chronic condition will flare up at various times throughout a cat’s life, especially during periods of stress.

To diagnose an underlying health condition, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam, including bloodwork and a urinalysis. Depending on what the examination reveals, they may recommend x-rays or an ultrasound.  Parasite checks will also be recommended when fecal soiling is present.

Depending on the cause, steps to eliminate out-of-the-box soiling may include modifications to the environment, stress reduction, and/or medication. It’s important to remember there are options for restoring harmony in your home, as well as in your relationship with your cat. Your veterinarian can help. Call us today at (732) 671-3110.