Why Won’t My Cat Use His Litterbox?

why won't cat use litterbox

Cat litterbox problems are gross and frustrating, to say the least. When your cat is peeing and pooping outside of the box, it can feel like you spend all of your time cleaning and worrying.

In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re tackling this problem head-on. So…

Why does my cat pee and poop outside of his box? We have tried everything! We added a second litter box in the basement (he messes there consistently). We clean out his litter box daily- and he still poops next to it or in other places. We cannot have any sort of mat by the front door to wipe our shoes, because he will pee on it. So we got rid of that. He also will pee on the bathroom rug if we leave it on the floor- so we put it up after every shower. Everyday we wake up to a new mess. The only area of the house he doesn’t use as a litter box is upstairs where the bedrooms are. I have had to get rid of so many pairs of shoes because if I leave them by the door he will pee on them. He will still use the litter box daily, but he seems to be a one and done kind of cat. Help us!! We are tired of the messes!!

Sincerley, Cat Pee on The Floor

This is a tough case, because it truly seems like Cat Pee On The Floor has already tried most of our basic recommendations.

Generally, when your cat pees outside of the box, we suggest:

  1. Adding another litter box.
  2. Cleaning the boxes more often – at least daily.
  3. Removing and super-cleaning areas that have been peed on. We recommend using Nature’s Miracle to help really remove the cat pee scent.
  4. Finding litter that works for your cat.

That said, there are still a few steps left that Trouble With The Box can try!

Cat Pee On The Floor told us that their cat hasn’t yet been to the vet for this issue. The cat is also declawed in the front. He’s always been finicky with the box, but the problem has gotten much worse lately.

If I were Cat Pee On The Floor, here’s what I’d do next:

  1. Take the Cat to the Vet. It’s possible that there’s a pain-related reason for the cat peeing outside of the box. There are tons of medical conditions that can lead to a cat avoiding the litterbox. Many of these medical conditions will be missed in a normal health screening, so it’s important to tell your vet what’s going on and ask about this in a separate visit. Declawing can also contribute to cat litterbox problems, but we can’t undo that surgery. That said, the vet may have suggestions for litter that’s easier on tender paws.
  2. Confine the Kitty. Reducing the space available to the cat can help in some cases. Using baby gates or closed doors, confine the cat into a smaller section of the house. When I recommended that in this case study, the owners saw a huge change in their cat’s behavior. This will also allow you to keep your most expensive and hard-to-replace items safe from the cat. In this case, we might want to consider blocking the cat’s access from the basement or the entryway, if that’s where he pees most often.
  3. Reduce the Cat’s Stress Levels. This cat seems to have a pretty good life, but it’s still possible that stress levels contribute to the litterbox problems. Regular play therapy with a Da Bird toy, swapping food bowls for kitty puzzle toys, and even Feliway diffusers can all help reduce the cat’s stress levels.
  4. Some cats also calm down some (and then become more reliable with the litterbox) when they can’t see outside – the desire to go outside and chase away marauding cats and capture birds can actually cause stress, rather than relaxing your cat. Try it.
  5. Add (Another) Box – This Time Somewhere Different. Experiment with several different types of boxes and litter. Some cats like baking pans with soft, sandy litter. Other cats don’t mind hooded boxes with scented litter. Many people also make the mistake of adding a second litter box that’s right next to the first. To the cat, that’s not really helpful! That’s just two toilets in the same bathroom. Put a box on every floor of the house and vary their size, depth of litter, type of litter, and wall height. You might find one that works better for your kitty.
  6. Clean the Boxes More. I know, Cat Pee On The Floor already cleans every day. That’s great! But you probably flush every time you pee, not just once a day (unless you still live in my eco-friendly college dorm – no judgment). Try cleaning the boxes several times per day and see if that helps. A coworker of mine scoops her box every time she goes into her bathroom (that’s where her cat’s litterbox is). If she misses a cleaning, her cat will pee in the tub instead.
  7. Try Not to Get Frustrated. Yelling at your cat or swatting your cat will only raise her stress levels. It’s also very unlikely that your cat is doing this willfully or spitefully. Your cat is probably stressed out or in pain. Taking it personally and getting angry won’t help. My blog post about frustration in dog training might help.

My main concern with this particular cat is ensuring that there’s not a medical reason for the litterbox problems. Even if nothing comes up, this very well could be related to declawing. The vet might have suggestions for pain-reducing measures that can help! It does seem odd that the cat is using the box almost every day, but will pee elsewhere after. That suggests to me that extra-vigilant cleaning may help.

If you have tried these suggestions and had success, please let me know! I’d love to hear what helped. If you have tried all of these tips and still aren’t seeing an improvement, reach out to a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant for more help.

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