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Some Common Reasons Why Cats Stop Using the Litter Box

Litter Box Liners

Litter box liners are created for the convenience of the cat caregiver but they often tear from the cat’s claws. It’s also easy for urine to form pools in the folds of the plastic and that creates an odor problem. Since cats are very tactile you also have to keep in mind how the plastic may create discomfort when a cat is trying to dig and cover his waste.

Not Enough Litter in the Box

Don’t be stingy when it comes to filling the litter box. If you don’t want to create an odor problem, put an adequate amount of litter in the box and keep the level consistent. In general, about 3 inches of litter is a good amount. As you scoop, periodically top off the litter with a bit more to keep a consistent amount.

The Wrong Litter

In general, cats like an unscented, sand-like substrate. They like the soft feel on their paws and the sand-like litter makes it easy for digging and covering. Cats also don’t want to smell all the flowery, perfumed litters. Keep in mind how close your cat’s nose will be to the litter when he’s in the box.  Texture is also important when it comes to litter. There are so many litters on the market that are created to appeal to the convenience of the cat parent but in many cases they are just a litter box problem waiting to happen. While some cats may prefer the texture of an alternative litter, most prefer an unscented, soft, scoopable litter.

Stress and Environment Affects Your Cat

Whether the stress is due to multicat issues, household chaos or sudden changes (such as a move, renovation, new baby, new spouse, etc.), the effect can end up being litter box aversion. Cats are creatures of habit who don’t adjust well to abrupt changes or chaotic environments. A litter box avoidance problem may be the result of your cat being too fearful to even peek his head out from under the bed. Address multicat tension issues and/or environmental factors in order to provide your cat a sense of security and safety in his own territory.

Going High-Tech with the Litter Box

Electronic self-cleaning boxes have so many downsides that I don’t even know where to start. Many of them have motors that are frightening. Some are so big but the actual surface area for the cat is too small. Many self-cleaning boxes have covers as well. Even though some of these boxes are timed to not activate the cleaning until 10 minutes after the cat has left the box it doesn’t account for another cat entering. Some rakes in the boxes easily clog when there’s a large clump due to diarrhea. The other important downside to a self-cleaning box is that you are prevented from monitoring what is or isn’t happening in the litter box. When you clean the box it’s an opportunity to check on your cat’s health. It’s during cleaning time that you may notice constipation, diarrhea, a larger-than-normal urine clump or no urine clump at all.

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Strong Cleansers for Cleaning Litter Boxes

Strong-smelling household cleansers may leave enough of a strong scent on the plastic box that it drives the cat away. When you clean the box use bleach that is heavily diluted in hot water or you can even use dish soap that is very diluted. When you’re done cleaning you don’t want to have any traces of scent on the plastic. To give you an idea of how sensitive a cat’s nose is, he has 67 million scent receptors compared to the 5 million that humans have.

Litter Scatter Mats

These mats are designed to catch the litter that gets trapped on the cat’s paws as he exits the litter box. Some mats may have a texture that cats find uncomfortable.

Punishing Your Cat

I include this on the list because it’s important to know that a cat may avoid the box because he has been punished for eliminating in other locations. When you punish a cat for peeing or pooping outside of the box, the messages he receives are 1) he should be afraid of you, and 2) peeing and pooping will get him in trouble. Even though you think you’re teaching him that his location choice is what you objected to, the message he got was to avoid peeing and pooping when you’re around. Punishment also means you are assuming the cat is misbehaving and in reality, he isn’t. If a cat isn’t using his litter box it’s because he feels he can’t. Your job is to figure out why. Punishment is inhumane and counter-productive.

Need More Information?

For more specific help when it comes to setting up a litter box or dealing with litter box aversion issues, refer to any of the books by best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett. Her books have been called the “cat bibles” by veterinarians, behavior experts and cat parents worldwide. You can purchase Pam’s books at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book retail site and also here on our website.

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Quote from Beth Stern

For more information on cat behavior and training, refer to the articles on our website and the best-selling books by Pam Johnson-Bennett. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior or health, contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a medical diagnosis nor is it a replacement for your cat’s regular veterinary care. This article is for general information purposes only.