Troubleshooting Litterbox Issues

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This can be so frustrating when a cat pees outside of their litterbox or doesn’t use the litterbox at all, but don’t give up! Behavior like eliminating outside the litterbox usually is indicative of something else—your cat is likely trying to tell you something. Use the following tips to identify what that is:

Always begin with a veterinary exam to rule out any medical cause for litterbox issues. Cats can suffer from urinary tract infections, bladder infections, emergency urinary blockages, arthritis, musculoskeletal pain, and other conditions which may affect their litterbox habits.

Have your cat spayed or neutered. This spraying and marking is strongly associated with mating behaviors, and usually stops after your cat is spayed or neutered.

Make sure that the litterbox is easy to access and set up in a way your cat likes. One story we know, a cat stopped using her litterbox because she had to walk through the room where a dog was staying to get to it. Moving the box away from the dog threat fixed the problem immediately. So, think through the litterbox location and set up from your cat’s perspective. This means:

  • The litterbox is located in a relatively quiet area of the house the cat frequents.
  • The sides of the litterbox are low enough for the cat to get in.
  • The litterbox is large enough for the cat to stand in and turn around in comfortably.
  • If your litterbox is covered, try removing the lid. Some cats don’t like being boxed in, so consider removing that if you have one.
  • Multiple litterboxes are available for the cat to use.

Try different consistencies of litter, such as:

  • Shredded paper
  • Pine litter
  • Corn litter
  • Clay litter
  • Sand
  • Clumping
  • Dirt
  • Cat attract litter

If your cat uses the litterbox for urine but not for stool, it is almost certainly an aversion to the type of litter. The amount of litter your use can also be a factor. Some cats prefer having litter several inches deep.

Remove access to all fabric and carpet. Your cat may be attracted to these items. It may be a marking behavior or a preference for the texture. If it’s clear your cat prefers fabric and carpet as a litter material, you might try using towels to put in the litterbox, remove them multiple times daily, place them in an airtight container and then wash weekly.

Use an enzymatic cleaner in the soiled areas. Enzymatic cleaners actually break down the organic matter in urine. This can help remove any “urine marker” which draws cats back to the same area to eliminate.

Consider non-pharmaceutical behavior modifiers such as Feliway, Rescue Remedy, or Composure Soft Chews.

Does the cat prefer to go to the bathroom outdoors? If so, consider creating an indoor/outdoor environment.

Restrict the areas of the home the cat can access to easily cleaned hard surface areas.

If these ideas don’t work, consult a cat behaviorist. They may be able to observe your cat and pinpoint the cause of their behavior. You can learn more about cat behavior with our Cat Behavior webinar series.

As a last resort, consider behavior modifying medication. Ask your veterinarian about these options and possible side effects.

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