When Your Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box

cat litter box

It happens on your linoleum floor. Or worse, on your carpet. Your cat has done her litter-box business somewhere other than in the litter box.Why? And what can you do?


Make sure the litter box is kept clean. Cats are fastidious about cleanliness, and if they have to get dirty to use the litter box, they may choose to relieve themselves elsewhere. Long-haired cats are known to be particularly picky as dirty litter may cling to their hair.

A thick layer of litter makes a litter box harder to clean, and therefore less likely to be cleaned. Provide just enough litter for your cats to bury their urine and feces no more than an inch or so thick, and less for kittens. Liners may contribute to an odor problem, since cats can puncture liners with their claws, leaving moisture trapped below the liners.

A litter box cover has advantages and disadvantages. As long as the cat can be upright inside the litter box, a cover is usually okay for the cat, and it may give your cat a sense of security and privacy. It also keeps a dirty litter box out of sight. On the other hand, if you don’t see a dirty litter box, you’re less likely to clean it. In addition, the extra task of removing the cover each time to clean the box lengthens the time required for a simple chore.

If you don’t have time to clean the litter box as often as your cat would like, provide your cat with two litter boxes.

Location, location, location

Just as most people don’t like to eat in the bathroom, cats don’t like to eat near their litter boxes. It isn’t sanitary. Also, because the smell or urine can attract enemies in the wild, cats generally avoid urinating too close to where they sleep and play.

Cats like privacy when relieving themselves, and some may avoid a litter box if it’s in a noisy or high-traffic area. Then again, if the litter box is too far out of the way, your cat may not use it for that reason. Cats are territorial, and they might not leave their territory to use a litter box.

Cats with arthritis or other mobility problems may have difficulty walking far when nature calls. Older cats may have a failing bladder that simply doesn’t hold its urine long enough any more. These cats will benefit from having more than one litter box, placed in different locations around the home. It may also help to confine these cats to one area of the home.

Who’s been using that litter box?

Some cats don’t like to share their toilet facilities with other cats. In a multi-cat household, it may be necessary to have one litter box per cat. Some experts recommend having one more litter box than the number of cats in the household.

Type of litter

Litter comes in a variety of types: cedar, clay, recycled newspaper, silica, and others. Your cat may prefer one type of litter over another. Experiment if necessary. Mix the old and new types of litter when changing the type so that your cat can get used to the new litter gradually.

Health and litter box use

Cat bladder and urinary tract conditions have similar symptoms:

  • The cat strains to urinate, often producing only a small amount of urine at a time.
  • Urination is painful, and the cat may also react in pain from pressure to the abdomen.
  • The cat doesn’t always use the litter box to urinate and instead leaves small puddles of urine around the home.
  • There may be blood in the cat’s urine.

Both male and female cats can develop these conditions, but they can be more serious for male cats. Urine blockage causes toxins to accumulate in the cat’s bloodstream and is life-threatening. If you suspect a health problem behind your cat’s litter box behavior, take your cat to a veterinarian right away. Immediate medical attention is especially crucial if your cat is unable to pass any urine.

Behavior concerns

If your cat isn’t using the litter box to urinate but otherwise appears to be in good health, the reason for the behavior may be personal or not. Some people see a cat’s leaving messes around the home as a message to the owner. Has there been a change in the household, such as a new pet or a new person? Has the cat felt neglected? Another line of thought is that cats wouldn’t deliberately mess in their own territory to make a statement, but that the stress of the situation aggravated the health problem that caused the accident.

Either way, punishment is not the answer. Cats don’t associate punishment with past actions. If the action was deliberate, extra attention will help, and if it wasn’t, the health concerns need your attention.

Cleaning up the act

After a cat has urinated on your carpet, floor, or furniture, she’ll associate the smell of urine with the place to urinate. Completely eliminating the smell will remove this association. Petrotech Odor Eliminator removes urine and fecal odors immediately, and it’s environmentally friendly. For particularly strong or stubborn odors, Odor Destroyer (liquid or dry formula) is recommended.

Preventing future litter box incidents

  • Keep the litter box clean.
  • Provide more than one litter box if necessary.
  • Experiment with types of cat litter and with litter box locations.
  • Have your veterinarian check and treat your cat for any health problems.
  • Remove messes and odors thoroughly.