Lit­ter Box Prob­lems

Get­ting to the bot­tom of why your cat is elim­i­nat­ing out­side of the box

Modern Cat - - Contents - BY ROSE FROSEK

Get­ting to the bot­tom of the why your cat is elim­i­nat­ing out­side of the box.

I t’s es­ti­mated that at least 10 per­cent of all cats de­velop elim­i­na­tion prob­lems. Th­ese prob­lems in­clude not us­ing the lit­ter box, some­times us­ing the lit­ter box, and us­ing the lit­ter box for ei­ther uri­nat­ing or defe­cat­ing, but not both. In all in­stances, this proves a prob­lem for cat own­ers and it’s some­thing you’ll want to tend to right away—once your cat has de­vel­oped a par­tic­u­lar non-lit­ter-box sur­face or lo­ca­tion pref­er­ence for elim­i­nat­ing, it can be hard to ad­dress.

Ac­cord­ing to the ASPCA, the fol­low­ing com­mon lit­ter box prob­lems might cause your cat to elim­i­nate out­side of her box:

∙ You haven’t cleaned your cat’s lit­ter box of­ten or thor­oughly enough. Vir­tu­ally all cats like clean lit­ter boxes, so scoop and change your cat’s lit­ter at least once a day. Rinse the lit­ter box out com­pletely with bak­ing soda or un­scented soap once a week.

∙ You haven’t pro­vided enough lit­ter boxes for your house­hold. Be sure to have a lit­ter box for each of your cats, as well as one ex­tra. If your home is multi-story, you’ll need a lit­ter box on each floor.

∙ Your cat’s lit­ter box is too small for her or she can’t en­ter it eas­ily.

∙ Your cat can’t eas­ily get to her lit­ter box at all times.

∙ Your cat’s lit­ter box has a hood or liner that makes her un­com­fort­able.

∙ The lit­ter in your cat’s box is too deep. Cats usu­ally pre­fer one to two inches of lit­ter.

∙ You’ve placed your cat’s food and wa­ter bowls be­side her lit­ter box. Gen­er­ally, cats do not like to elim­i­nate where they eat.

Other prob­lems

Multi-cat house­hold con­flict and med­i­cal prob­lems can also cause lit­ter box aver­sion. Even if you don’t ac­tively see one of your cats block­ing ac­cess to the lit­ter box, this doesn’t mean con­flict isn’t be­hind the re­luc­tance to use the box. Sim­i­larly, if your cat had a med­i­cal prob­lem that caused pain upon uri­na­tion or defe­ca­tion, this could cre­ate neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions with the box even if the med­i­cal prob­lem is now re­solved.


Most cats pre­fer a quiet lit­ter box lo­ca­tion with sight lines—so they can see peo­ple and an­i­mals ap­proach­ing—and mul­ti­ple es­cape routes so the don’t feel cor­nered when us­ing the lit­ter box.

Lit­ter Type

Most cats pre­fer un­scented, clump­ing lit­ter OR they could be

at­tached to the lit­ter they used as a kit­ten—some cats adapt to lit­ter changes no prob­lem but some may feel wary of a lit­ter they didn’t use when young. If you think your cat may dis­like her lit­ter type, try of­fer­ing a few dif­fer­ent types of lit­ter in lit­ter boxes placed side by side. Your cat will use the one she likes best.


Clean all ac­ci­dents im­me­di­ately and thor­oughly with an en­zy­matic cleanser, avail­able at most pet stores, de­signed to neu­tral­ize pet odours. Do not use an am­mo­nia-based cleaner (urine is also am­mo­nia), which can ac­tu­ally cause your cat to want to soil this area again. If your cat has de­vel­oped a non-lit­ter-box lo­ca­tion or sur­face pref­er­ence for elim­i­nat­ing, you’ll need to make that sur­face or area less ap­peal­ing. Try in­stalling a bright light, or bet­ter yet, a mo­tion-ac­ti­vated light, and cov­er­ing the sur­face with tin foil, dou­ble-sided sticky tape, or the spiky un­der­side of a car­pet run­ner.

A Note on Urine Mark­ing

Urine mark­ing of­ten gets lumped in with lit­ter box prob­lems but it is a whole dif­fer­ent beast with dif­fer­ent causes and so­lu­tions. Gen­er­ally, a cat who is urine mark­ing still uses the lit­ter box but is also spray­ing other sur­faces, usu­ally ver­ti­cal, with smaller amounts of urine. You may see your cat, tail held high and per­haps quiv­er­ing, back up to a sur­face and spray it with urine. For urine mark­ing so­lu­tions, see mod­ern­­ing.

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