Cats are famously known as “clean animals,” discreetly depositing and burying their waste in a secluded spot. It’s this natural behavior that has allowed us to invite our feline friends indoors, where, ideally, they can do their business within the confines of a litter box. But some cats are finicky, and subtle changes can cause them to select a less desirable potty site.
So what can you do if your cat won’t use the litter box? Let’s dive into some of the more common litter box problems below.
1. Litter Box Isn’t Clean Enough
Cats, like us, are prone to turn their noses up at a toilet that needs cleaning. Can you blame them? One of the most common reasons your cat might be going outside the litter box is that she prefers a clean spot to go. By cleaning out her litter box more frequently, you can ensure she always has some fresh litter to dig her paws into; then she won’t have to make the regretful choice of pooping on your pillow or peeing in the bathtub.
Scooping a litter box can be hard work – that’s why we’re big fans of self-cleaning litter boxes. These game-changing litter boxes reduce odor and automatically sweep waste out of sight, so you can stop scooping and your cat can enjoy a fresh place to go every time.
2. Location isn’t Private or Easy to Access
If you have a dog or small children, you’ve likely learned the lesson that the litter box needs to be somewhere only you and your cat can get to; keeping toddlers’ hands and pups’ paws out of the box can be tricky business. Many cats enjoy their privacy, but it can also mean your cat has to do some acrobatics to get to her box. If it’s too much work, your cat may go the easy route and potty on the floor nearby.
So how can you balance privacy and accessibility for your cat’s litter box needs? Consider switching to a covered litter box. Front-entry and top-entry options are available. Another way is with an indoor cat door designed to let you keep (human) doors closed and unwanted visitors out. Both options also help stop odor from spreading around the house – a win-win!
3. Litter Box Has Too Much Litter
This one is an easy fix. Did you know it’s possible to have too much litter in the box? Many cat parents don’t. Each cat is unique, but a good rule of thumb is that cats tend to prefer just one to two inches of litter. This can be another win-win, as it can help you use less litter, saving money and reducing waste.
4. Cat Doesn’t Like the Size or Shape of the Litter Box
Have you ever felt a little cramped in a bathroom stall? Cats can have a similar experience. If your cat doesn’t has enough room inside the litter box, she’s more likely to do her business outside of the litter box.
When selecting a litter box, consider the size of your cat. It’s crucial that she has room to comfortably turn around. Litter box shape can also be an issue; if the sides are too high, too low, angled too much, etc., your cat may feel uncomfortable in the box. There are many sizes and shapes available to try if you think your cat doesn’t like the litter box you’ve provided.
5. Cat Doesn’t Like the Litter
Just as there are many litter box types to consider, there are also many types of litter, and your cat may be picky about which type you use. Traditional clumping litters, often made of clay, can become a sticky mess on long-haired cats or cats with lots of fur on their paws.
Some litter may be too hard (or too soft) for your cat, and some cats may not like litter that is scented to reduce odors. Crystal litter, made from safe, absorbent silica compounds, is a good option to try because it doesn’t become hard or sticky like clumping litter, it absorbs moisture well and it’s great at reducing odor.
6. Cat is Too Young or Too Old
Keep in mind that your cat’s litter box needs may change throughout her life. Kittens tend to use the box more often than adult cats, meaning a young cat’s litter box may need more attention than a mature cat’s.
Likewise, when cats get older, their bathroom habits and frequency may change. A senior cat not using the litter box may be having trouble getting in or out of the box depending on size and location.
7. Not Enough Litter Boxes in a Multi-Cat Home
Cats can be quite friendly with one another, but they are naturally solitary animals, so don’t be surprised if your cats hang out together all day then decide they don’t want to share a litter box. The ideal situation for a multiple cat home, from the cats’ perspective, is to have at least one litter box for every cat. This isn’t always doable, especially if you have a lot of cats, so the next best thing is to make sure the litter boxes you do have are large enough and spaced out well enough that each cat can feel secure and private whenever she has to go.
8. Cat is Experiencing Stress
Changes in the environment like introducing a new pet or moving into a new home can lead to anxiety that alters your cat’s normal activities, like eating, sleeping or using the litter box. Sometimes a cat just needs time to get used to her new situation, before going back to normal.
However, if the changes in litter box usage patterns are prolonged, consider what might be causing your cat to become stressed and find ways to help her feel more comfortable. A change in litter box habits, including going outside the box, can also be a sign of illness, so if these problems persist or worsen, always consult your veterinarian.
Helping Your Cat Be Comfortable with the Litter Box
Each of these factors should be considered if you notice your cat is not using the litter box properly. Often a minor adjustment can make all the difference. Whether you’ve adopted a new cat, moved into a new home, or purchased a new type of litter box, it can be helpful to take an active role in training your cat to use the litter box.
Remember to be patient and considerate of small changes that might be having a big impact on your cat’s state of mind. With a little help, she’ll likely be back to business in no time!