What to Do When Your Cat Is Not Using the Litter Box

Guest Post by Daniela Caride

Your cat may not be using the litter box for many reasons. If you have ruled out diseases by taking your cat to the vet, you should go over this list I came up with. Your cat might be unhappy with one or some of those issues.


Too few boxes

The ideal number of litter boxes in a home is at least the number of cats + 1. If you have two cats, you should have at least 3 litter boxes.

With four cats at home, I keep five litter boxes in the house. I have one in each floor, and two in the basement, the biggest room. It works well for us, even though I would like to have one more. I just can’t seem to find the right place for it (handy for the cats and hidden from visitors).

Box is in the wrong place

The litter box should be in a quiet place — away from the furnace and any other machines that emit noises. Cats don’t like to be surprised while in the bathroom. The box should also be in a place easily accessible for your cat. If it’s too difficult to reach the box, he may not make it there on time, especially if your cat is older and arthritic.

If you have several cats, a lower-ranking cat may have trouble accessing the litter boxes. If he’s trapped by other cats on his way to the loo, he may choose to pee somewhere else, given the circumstances.

Box is hooded

Most cats don’t enjoy hooded litter boxes. They trap the pee and poop odor inside, make it darker and much more difficult or even impossible to escape if another cat blocks the door.

Photo by Daniela Caride

My litter boxes are tall, clear plastic storage containers without the lid. I bought them at Target and drilled a hole in the side of each box (This one might do the trick). This way, my cats can easily access it from a door, see if any other cat approaches and escape from the top if necessary. Since the walls are clear, my cats can see better inside (more light). The fact I don’t cover them help ventilate any scents from a previous visit to the bathroom, so the cats don’t get overwhelmed.

Box is too dirty

If you buy clumping litter, scoop the litter box at least once a day and change the whole content every couple of months. Some people rotate litter boxes every six months so one box can “breathe” (they let the pee scents dissipate) while the cat uses the other one.

If the litter you use does not clump, change to clumping litter. If you can’t, scoop at least once a day and change the litter at least every week.

Box is too clean

If you clean your cat box with harsh-smelling chemicals such as bleach, your cat may avoid the place. Cats are very sensitive to smells.

Unwanted liners

Some cats hate the feel or the crackling sounds of plastic liners — or both.

Wrong litter

Cats can be fussy about litter. Some types of pine litter don’t absorb the smell of pee, which may disgust your cat and make him look for another bathroom. Some clay litters have a strong perfume smell to please humans. But they might displease your cat. I use World’s Best Extra Strength made out of corn, and we’re all very happy (cats and humans).

Litter is not deep enough or too deep

Figure out how much litter your cat wants in the litter box. My cats hate it when I don’t pour enough litter, and they find themselves scratching the bottom of the box to cover their poop. They leave the thing uncovered and vanish. I have to put up with the perfume.

Animosity between cats in the house

If you have cats who don’t like each other, increase the number of litter boxes in your house. Again, make sure they are uncovered and made of clear plastic, so they can see when another cat approaches and can escape safely and quickly. If your cat feels unsafe in the box, he will look for another place to relieve himself.

Daniela Caride is the publisher of The Daily Tail (http://www.TheDailyTail.com), a participatory blog about pets with stories, tips, and reviews. She lives with three cats, Crosby, Gaijin and Phoenix, three dogs, Frieda, Geppetto and Lola, and her husband, Martin, in Cambridge, MA

10 Comments on What to Do When Your Cat Is Not Using the Litter Box

  1. Amanda Elkins
    September 30, 2013 at 9:07 pm (5 years ago)

    Is that tape you used around the opening that you cut? If so, what kind? thank you 🙂

    Reply
  2. Terri
    March 16, 2013 at 9:04 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for this information because now I know I’ve done everything I can possibly do – I even had a cat behaviorist come to my house to see what could be wrong. She said everything was good and had no more suggestions. I don’t know how much more we can do – she is a very loving and happy cat and we will be heartbroken if we had to give her up but I have no other ideas to solve this problem.

    Reply
  3. Ingrid
    May 3, 2010 at 4:25 pm (9 years ago)

    I’m glad everyone is finding this post helpful. This can be such a tough issue, and sometimes it can be as simple as getting a different type of box.

    Daniela, thanks for the excellent guest post and thanks for jumping in here and responding to comments!

    Layla, if Daniela’s clear box with the hole cut in doesn’t work for your guys, you can also try taking a regular litter box, even one with fairly high sides, and cut down one of the sides (the side that your cats prefer to use to enter the box). That way, at least there’s only one side they can kick the litter out of.

    Reply
  4. Mason Canyon
    May 3, 2010 at 1:30 pm (9 years ago)

    I had wondered about the hooded litter boxes. Now I know to try the tall, clear box instead. I like that idea. Thanks so much for the great tips.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

    Reply
  5. Daniela Caride
    May 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm (9 years ago)

    Layla,

    I know what you mean. My clear plastic boxes with a hole might work for you (the one on the picture with my cat). I still have a bit of litter scattered here and there but nothing like before, when my litter boxes had low walls.

    Reply
  6. Layla Morgan Wilde
    May 3, 2010 at 12:02 pm (9 years ago)

    Excellent post. I’m looking for a new kitty litter box that doesn’t seem to be designed yet. Low enough for older cats to jump in but high enough not to track litter. I’ve tried everything and still have a mess on the floor.

    Reply
  7. Daniela Caride
    May 3, 2010 at 10:36 am (9 years ago)

    Literary Feline,

    Thank you for leaving a comment! I came up with those boxes after reading one of Pam Johnson-Bennett’s books. I love her.

    My four cats don’t like dark, hooded boxes. The odor gets trapped inside, and they can’t see well inside or out.

    I bought clear boxes at Target and Staples. Some of mine don’t have holes. Others do. I guess for now, that my cats are relatively young, they are able to jump into the box. But I see they do prefer the boxes with holes. I guess it’s more comfortable, since they don’t want to land on a poop or pee in case I didn’t clean after someone immediately.

    Reply
  8. Literary Feline
    May 3, 2010 at 10:21 am (9 years ago)

    Thanks for this post! I really like the box pictured, the tall one with a hole cut out for the cat to enter easily and the top open. I’ll have to look into trying that.

    I tried the hooded litter boxes early on but quickly learned that they wouldn’t do with my two cats.

    My oldest cat occasionally goes outside of the box when he isn’t happy about something. Fortunately it isn’t often.

    Reply
  9. marg
    May 3, 2010 at 9:18 am (9 years ago)

    That is such a good post. I have read so many articles about cats not using their box and you seem to have lots of new ideas. Unfortunately, I have one cat that will not use the litter box but luckily she stays outside most of the time. Sometimes she will go next to the box so she must not like the kind of litter that I use. I have five boxes in the house and they are all in quiet places. Anyway, a very nice post.

    Reply

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