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When Cats Develop Negative Associations with the Litter Box

cat paws in litter box

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Negative Associations with the Litter Box

What happens sometimes is since the cat experiences pain when attempting to eliminate, he may associate the box itself with that pain. He thinks if he goes somewhere else it won’t hurt as much. This can happen with urination if the cat experiences burning or pain when attempting to void and it can also happen with defecation if the cat is constipated or if he has something such as IBD where he experiences intestinal cramping. He avoids the litter box because every time he goes there it causes physical pain.

Negative associations can happen for other reasons as well and not just due to a medical condition. If the cat has been ambushed by another pet while in the box or if he has been punished or frightened while near the box he may try to stay as far away from it as possible. It’s not just limited to physical pain and discomfort.

CatWise book and a quote from Dr Lore Haug


The Solution for Helping Your Cat

The way to handle this is to offer an additional litter box with a different type of litter. You can place the box near, but not right next to, the original box. Often, the fact that the box contains a different litter substrate will encourage the cat to attempt to go in it. Coupled with the fact that the cat is now on medication so hopefully the pain is subsiding, he may feel more comfortable about using a litter box again.

Don’t just add a different type of litter to the original box because cats don’t like abrupt changes. The way to do it is to offer a choice to your cat and let him make the decision. In some cases, you may need to offer two additional boxes with two different types of litter or you may need to put the additional box a little farther away from the original one. If your cat is consistently eliminating in a particular spot, place the additional litter box in that location.

three books by author Pam Johnson-Bennett and a quote from Beth Stern


Make sure the litter box set-up is convenient, comfortable and secure. If the negative association is to due to the cat having been frightened or ambushed, make sure you address those causes so you can prevent future negative experiences.

Need More Information?

If your cat is experiencing a litter box aversion problem, please be sure and have him checked out by the veterinarian. If there is a medical reason for the behavior, keep an eye on your cat to see if there is also now a negative association with the litter box. The sooner you address the problem, the better the chances of success.

For more information on dealing with litter box issues refer to any of the books by best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett.

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