When your cat begins soiling outside the litter box, you’ve got big problems. Unfortunately, it can take some real detective work on your part to get to the root of the issue.
A health issue may be causing your cat to avoid the litter box. A urinary tract infection, cystitis, or kidney blockage can make urination painful. If your cat associates that pain with her litter box she may begin avoiding the box and eliminating in other areas of the home. Likewise, cats with diabetes will find themselves urinating more frequently – and they may not always make it to the litter box.
Common causes for litter box avoidance
In addition to medical issues, there are many common behavioural causes for litter box avoidance. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the problem, so you’ll need to do your homework to rule out each of these common causes.
- Odour – A cat’s sense of smell is about 14 times more powerful than ours. So while you may not notice any traces of odour coming from the litter box, your cat’s sensitive nose may tell a different story. If the litter box smells unpleasant, your cat may just decide to go elsewhere. Odour eliminators or baking soda may help. Also, make sure to completely change out the litter and thoroughly clean the box with warm soapy water every week. Never use harsh cleaning products or bleach.
- Cleanliness –Your cat doesn’t want to walk through piles of waste to find a clean spot in the box. So keep it clean by scooping at least once a day.
- Type of litter – If your cat has become accustomed to a certain type of litter, she may dislike the smell or texture of a different litter. If you decide to change litters, do it gradually. Add a little of the new litter to the existing litter and increase it slowly. This will give your cat time to adjust to the change.
- Litter level –If the litter is too deep, your cat may not want to walk on it. Cats prefer about two inches of litter in the box.
- Type of litter box – Your cat may dislike the litter box you have chosen for many reasons. It may be too small for your cat to comfortably move around inside. It may have a hood which not only traps odours, but may make your cat feel confined or “trapped”. If you use a litter box liner, your cat may not like the scent or feel of the liner.
- Location of litter box – Most cats prefer a quiet, private area. Avoid putting the litter box next to a noisy heating unit or washing machine, or in a high-traffic area of the home.
- Number of litter boxes – You may not have enough litter boxes in your home. Veterinarians recommend one litter box per cat, plus one extra. A single cat needs two litter boxes. Two cats need three litter boxes. If you have a multi-level home, put a litter box on every floor.
- Access to the litter box – If your cat finds it difficult to get in and out of the litter box, she may avoid using it. This is even more important for elderly and overweight cats. Make sure the sides of the litter box aren’t too high. Top entry litter boxes may help keep litter off your floors, but if your cat doesn’t like accessing the box from the top, she won’t use it. Likewise, your cat may not like entering through the hinged flap of a hooded box.
- Conflict among cats – If you have more than one cat, the dominant cat may become territorial over the litter box. In fact, any conflict between cats can cause a cat to avoid the litter box. Provide multiple litter boxes in different areas of the home.
- Environmental stress – Cats are creatures of habit. They don’t like change. Moving, adding a new pet or family member, noise, visitors, increased activity in the home, or changing your daily routine can all make a cat feel anxious. Even the smallest changes can create enough stress to cause litter box issues.
- Neutering – If your cat is male and you have problems with spraying or eliminating outside the litter box, neutering may help.
Cats are finicky. They can develop litter box issues for many different reasons and it can be a difficult issue to solve. So put your thinking cap on and keep trying until you find the right solution. In the end, both you and your cat will be much happier. The most common reason for otherwise healthy cats to be re-homed or euthanized is due to issues of inappropriate elimination, so respond immediately and seek veterinary advice, if you notice this behaviour in your cat.