This article is the first in a 3 part series from Cat Network member Cindy Hewitt.  She shares her tips for determining why your cat is not using the litter box and how to solve the problem.

Inappropriate elimination is the leading cause when cats are relinquished to shelters, and urinary issues are one of the most common health problems for which cat guardians seek veterinary assistance.

Cats naturally seek somewhere to eliminate that will allow them to bury their waste.  When cats don’t use the litter box, there is usually a reason:

  • For some reason the litter box is unattractive.
  • There is a medical issue.
  • There is a behavioral issue.

6 Reasons a Cat May Find a Litter Box Unattractive

Cats can be very particular, and a variety of issues affect their willingness to use a litter box.

1. Location: should be in a quiet, peaceful location away from noise and traffic.

2. Type of box: some cats are hesitant to use a hooded litter box; other cats prefer the privacy.

3. Type of litter:

  • Most cats prefer a small grain litter such as scoopable litter. Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract Litter is formulated to encourage cats to use the litter box, and may be helpful in retraining your cat.
  • Scented litters can be very offensive to cats.  Try an unscented plain clay or scoopable litter.
  • Dust from litter may bother the animal; use a low dust brand.
  • Try different types of litter (scoopable, clay, etc.) in different boxes (open vs. hooded) at the same time, preferably in the same location, to control for all variables. If your cat has a preference for one type of litter, use that litter in different boxes and locations to further understand your cat’s needs.

4. Litter box liners: some cats dislike liners; when they dig their claws get caught, and they don’t like the feel of the plastic.

5. Number of boxes vs. number of cats: most animal behaviorists recommend at least one box per cat plus a spare; if there are litter box problems, they recommend two boxes per cat because some cats won’t urinate and defecate in the same location.

6. Frequency of cleaning: cats don’t want to step into a landmine (theirs or another animal’s).  If the box is dirty, they will seek another location.  Clean boxes at least once daily, more often if possible.

Hint: make cleaning litter boxes as convenient as possible.  If using flushable litter, place in bathroom near toilet.  Consider having an old-fashioned diaper pail for easy disposal of waste, and containment of odor.  There are automatic boxes that will keep at least one box clean even if you aren’t home.

In part two of this article series, Cindy covers medical issues in cats that cause them to avoid the litter box.  In part three of the series, she explains the behavioral problems that cause cats to avoid the litter box.

Thanks to Dr. Jim Dugan of Pinecrest Veterinary Hospital for contributing to this article.

Photo credit: eviltomthai