What to do When Your Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box
This is a common issue that most cat owners face at some point. Let’s examine why cats pee outside the box, and how to fix it.
Your cat pees outside the litter box; on your carpet, sofa, bed, etc. We’ve all been there. But why do cats decide to pee in other places? If you have never experienced inappropriate elimination issues with your cat, you are a lucky human! The truth is, most people who have a cat (or cats) do experience peeing outside the litter box issues at one time of another.
You are not alone.
We assume kitty is being naughty, but there are many reasons a cat may stop using the box; none of them is because he is a “bad” cat.
Read on to learn 8 reasons your cat won’t use the litter box, and the mistaken assumptions we humans often make when dealing with kitty poop and pee issues.
8 Reasons Your Cat Pees Outside the Litter Box
- Is Your Cat Ill? The first thing I tell clients is to go to the vet. If kitty has an infection in his urinary tract, bladder, or kidneys, it will hurt when he pees. He may begin to associate the pain with the box and stop using it. First stop is to get to the vet and rule out a physical issue.
- How many litter boxes? The general rule is one box per kitty. If you have two boxes next to each other, the cat will see that as one box. Rule of thumb is you need one separate box, per kitty, plus one extra. Even with one cat, 2 cat litter boxes are necessary.
- Size matters! How big is your litter box? It should be at least as long as your cat’s length and as wide as your cat’s width. If it’s too small, that tiny tabby tushie may hang over and cause urine or feces to go outside, or they may just not be comfortable enough to use it.
- Got Lids? I love a lidded litter box. No one wants to walk past a box and see poop. When my daughter moved back home, her cat, Shadow, was not using the litter box. Shadow is smaller than the other cats, and she is always on guard, looking for bullies. If she goes into a lidded box, with only one way out, she is easily trapped and bullied by another cat. I had to take some of the box lids off, in order to solve this problem.
- Location, Location, Location! As they say in real estate, location is everything. Keep your litter boxes away from high traffic areas. No one wants to do their business with people walking by! You should also avoid tight corners, closets, etc. This creates a trapped space that a cat can’t easily escape. It’s also a bad idea to put it near their food or water. I understand. I don’t want to eat in a bathroom either!
- Type of litter! I love the idea of a scented litter to help cover up that poop smell. Kitty is not in agreement with me. A cat’s sense of smell is 14x stronger than a human’s, so what smells good to us can be obnoxious to a cat! Have you ever stood near someone who used waaaay too much cologne? Yeah. Not good! No one wants to go into a box with an obnoxious scent. Also consider the texture of the litter. Some tender paws just can’t handle some litters. A friend recently switched to a walnut shell litter. It’s a more environmentally friendly way to go. Sadly, those little shell pieces bothered her cat and if it hurts, he’s not going to use it. Try switching litter types to see if that helps!
- Grab that scoop! Scooping is on my list of things I least like to do. It’s a pain. If I’ve had a long day, I just want to go to bed. I don’t want scoop. Can’t I do it tomorrow? Think of it from your cat’s perspective. If he has to step on his own feces to use his box, he won’t like it. Some cats are more tolerant of this than others. I’ve seen cats who will use a box that hasn’t been scooped, although that’s rare. I’ve also seen cats who won’t use it if there is even a little something in there. Tired, or not… I gotta scoop.
- Cleaning! As I mentioned before, your cat has an amazing sense of smell. That nose can sniff out things we can’t smell. If your cat pees on the floor and you clean it with traditional cleaners, you may not be doing enough. Cat urine has pheromones in it. That’s what makes it so stinky. Most cleaners will not eliminate those pheromones. If we see a toilet, we assume it’s the place to do our business. If a cat smells that pee scent, it may decide that’s the place to go. If you have other cats in the household, they may want to cover those pheromones with their own, and then you have two cats peeing there. Look for a cleaner with that eliminates enzymes. They make some great ones! My favorite is Anti Icky-Poo. It will eliminate those pheromones. It’s odorless and colorless so it is a great choice for cleaning on fabrics. I’ve also used it in the washing machine if my clothes have gotten peed on.
Figuring Out Why Your Cat is Peeing Outside Litter Box Avoidance
If you have gone through all of these and are still having an issue with peeing outside the litter box, then it could be behavioral. Cat’s hate change and get stressed fairly easily. A stressed or anxious cat will often exhibit signs of unwanted behaviors.
When we work with our behavior clients, we try to unpack the situation and we ask many questions: When did this behavior start? What changed around that time? Did someone move in or out? Did someone pass away? Did you move? Once we discover some potential causes for the litter box avoidance, we can move forward and make a plan to help kitty, as well as his human.
If you need help figuring out why your cat pees outside the litter box, and how to stop it from happening, please reach out to us or another behavior expert. We can help you get back to a peaceful home, and get kitty back to leaving his pee and poo in the right place!