Why Your Cat Isn’t Using The Litter Box: Behavior Edition

Every cat owner has at one point had the unpleasant surprise of discovering that their feline friend has urinated outside the litter box. Inappropriate urination is either a behavioral issue or a medical problem. Behavioral inappropriate urination is a challenge as there are a number of conditions influencing your cat’s habits. Regardless, your cat is trying to tell you something when he or she urinates outside the box and despite popular myths, your cat does not hate you and is not trying to teach you a urine soaked lesson. Here is a list of behavioral reasons and some possible solutions:

  1. The cat does not like the litter you have so lovingly chosen. No joke guys, this is more common than you might imagine. Your cat is a picky creature and doesn’t approve of the new litter that promises to make it’s droppings smell like lavender or pumpkin spice. Smell, texture and clumping consistency are all reasons cats won’t use a litter box. Dr. Land recently attended a Continuing Education Seminar where she learned cats ‘preferentially use finely particulate sand-like clumping litter.’

  2. The litter box is dirty. Again, your cat is fickle and likes to have a nice clean place to do business in. More frequent cleanings will help both you and your cat!

  3. There aren’t enough litter boxes in your household and your cat doesn’t want to share a box. This holds true for households with multiple house tigers, because cats have their own social hierarchy when it comes to life and litter. The general rule we tell our clients is to have one litter box per cat plus one additional box.

  4. Your cat does not like the litter box. Cat reasoning is a mystery, so we can’t tell you why your cat might not like the shape of the litter box or the hood on top of it. Often, the more ‘fluffy’ cats won’t fit in a small litter box and those older felines with arthritic joints will have a difficult time climbing into high boxes. We can tell you though that removing any hood or getting a litter pan with the appropriate dimensions for your cat can make a huge difference.

  5. You have been out of town and/or have brought back your cat from a boarding facility. In this scenario, your cat is most likely upset with you and is letting you know how he or she feels. Unfortunately there is no easy fix for this situation, other than waiting it out and giving your cat some extra attention.

  6. A new source of stress in the house such as a new pet or a new human. Cats are emotional beings and respond to stress in different ways. It is common for them to stop using the litter box under stress. Give your cat some extra attention and attempt to address the cause of the stress if possible.

  7. The litter box is in the wrong room. Maybe the room you have placed the litter box in is hard for your cat to get too or is too cold or hot. Your cat is Goldilocks and needs ‘just the right’ environment for the litter box.

  8. Another animal ambushes the cat when he or she is using the litter box. To avoid being attacked, the cat will smartly find elsewhere to go to the bathroom. The solution is to remove the animal ambushing and attacking your cat.

  9. Territory is being marked; your cat isn’t upset with the litter box situation at all. Instead, he or she is marking territory and claiming to own areas of your living space. This might be due to a new cat in the household or something new being moved into your living space.

  10. Cat logic. Your cat has nothing medical wrong going on but is still urinating inappropriately. Cats don’t abide by the rules of nature and you can’t reason with them because let's face it, they own you.