When Your Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box

Paying attention to a few litter box specifics can eliminate a common pet peeve of cat owners.

Poll any group of cat lovers on which feline behavior is most irksome and you will find that the litter box is ground zero. Cats learn from their mothers how to use the litter box before they are weaned, however, on occasion, even felines with impeccable toileting habits may, for no obvious reason, stop using the litter box. A number of reasons can spark this unwelcome behavior, including:

  • Take your cat to the vet and make sure he is not suffering from an illness. If a cat is in pain when he tries to urinate, he will quickly associate that pain with the litter box and begin hunting for an alternate solution.
  • Make sure you clean your cat’s litter box regularly. Cat’s are fastidious about cleanliness and will get finicky if the litter box is not up to their standards.
  • Check the location of your litter box. Cats prefer quiet, secluded spots for toileting, away from the main flow of household traffic. They also like to feel secure and prefer a litter box from which they can easily escape. Try a new location for your litter box. It’s possible that your cat was scared while using the box and now associates the location with fear.
  • Consider the design of your litter box. Some cats prefer litter boxes with covers. Others prefer an open design.
  • Consider the cat litter you are using. Some cats are very particular about the granularity of the litter. Is the litter sandy or gravel like? Has the product scent changed?
  • Has a new cat moved to the neighborhood? Is there a new baby in the house? Cats are emotionally sensitive to their environment and any change can add stress. Spend some quality time with him and try to normalize his routine.

If everything checks out as normal, you may need to confine him to a small room or cage and “retrain” him. Confinement usually works best because if there is just enough room for a bed, water, food, and the litter box, your cat will be forced to use the box. As confused as he may be at first, his natural instincts should prevail. When forced to choose, he will quickly realize which spaces are for sleeping and eating, and which ones are not.