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Why won’t my cat use the litter box?

Our gray tabby cat Scout has had issues with the litter box on and off.

Scout is a very sensitive cat – sensitive to change, picky about his food, fussy about being held, and yes, a princess when it comes to litter-box cleanliness.

I’ve hopefully managed to get Scout’s habits under control by keeping his two litter boxes spotless.

I scoop the boxes twice daily, add a bit of fresh litter each time, change out all the litter weekly, sweep the area around the boxes often, etc.

The solution for us seems to be that simple. Keep the boxes very clean.

By offering Scout several options I figured out that in addition to extreme cleanliness, he prefers a litter box without a lid. We can forget about those covered boxes with the kitty doors – Scout will not use them. So now we have two non-covered litter boxes side by side for our two cats.

If your cat has stopped using the litter box, below are some suggestions that might help you solve the problem or at least figure out what the problem could be.

The main thing is to avoid sudden changes.

I covered some of these issues in a previous post, but I thought the subject was important enough to go into further detail since one of my cats is still having some problems.

How do I get my cat to use his litter box?

1. Ask yourself what has changed recently in your home.

If you can come up with something that has changed at about the same time your cat started having “problems,” you can attempt to help your cat feel more comfortable.

Have you had long-term visitors? Weekend visitors? A new pet? Have you recently moved? Have you changed your cat’s food? Have you moved the box to a different room? Did you get a new washer and dryer? Even a new rug next to the litter box could be enough to scare or confuse a sensitive cat like Scout.

2. If you get a new litter box, keep the old box out temporarily.

All change should be gradual. If you buy a new litter box for any reason, don’t just throw away the old box. Instead, keep them side by side for a few weeks so your cat gets used to the new box. If he’s been using the new box for at least a week, you should be safe to set aside the old box.

3. If you move the box to a new location, temporarily offer two options.

Some kitty litter box problems begin when the owner decides to move the box to a new location.

If your cat has been using the litter box in the same corner of the same room for months or years and you suddenly move it to a different room he might get confused and continue to go to the bathroom where the box used to be. I guess some cats are just a little slow 🙂

To avoid this problem, simply add a new litter box where you would like it to be. For two weeks, keep both options available. Once you know your cat has been consistently using the new box, remove the old. You might consider temporarily blocking off access to where the first box was so your cat won’t be tempted to continue using that area as a bathroom. After another week or so you should be fine.

4. If you want to change the type of litter, do so gradually.

If I want to change the type of litter I use for Scout’s litter box, I have to keep one box with the old litter for awhile and one box with the new litter. After a week or two, if the cat is using the new type of litter just fine, it would most likely be fine to switch to that litter.

I have never actually combined the two types of litters into one box, but that might be an option for some as well. Heck, you could even line up three litter boxes – 0ne with the old litter, one with the new and one with mixed litters until the cat seems to adjust to the new litter. I know it sounds a bit nuts, but it beats having a cat that won’t use the box at all.

5. Block off access to “problem” areas.

Unfortunately, we have to keep all our bedroom and bathroom doors shut so Scout doesn’t go into those rooms and pee on rugs, towels, laundry, etc. I don’t know why he started peeing on these type of surfaces in the first place, but he did. Most likely the problem started because he is so picky about having a clean litter box. The rug surfaces became more appealing. If you have a cat that keeps peeing in a certain room, just keep the door to that room closed or find another way to block your cat from that room.

6. If your cat keeps peeing on a certain rug, remove the rug.

Rather than continuing to re-wash or replace certain rugs, sometimes it’s better to just remove the rug temporarily in order to break the habit.

Scout always peed on the mat below Ace’s dog bowls. Don’t ask me why, but he did. We tried replacing the mat, and Scout would just pee on the new mat so eventually we decided to go without a mat. Who needs a mat under a water bowl, anyway?

You can also try switching to a different material. Recently I received a plastic dog mat as a gift, and Scout has left this alone for about three weeks since it’s not “fluffy.” He also tends to leave flatter rugs alone vs. the softer rugs.

7. Have at least one box per cat.

The rule of thumb seems to be one litter box per cat, and some say to also have one extra. So if you have four cats, you would have five litter boxes. Now, who would want four cats? 🙂

We have two cats and generally two litter boxes, sometimes three. That seems to be OK for our cats. Scout’s issues seem to be cleanliness rather than sharing a box. My cats have their pecking order established, and they pretty much do everything together.

I’ve even walked into the litter box area to see this:

Paint drawing of two cats
Yep, my cats will pee in the same box, together.

8. Don’t scold your cat unless you catch him “in the act.”

If I actually catch Scout peeing on a rug, you bet he will get a firm correction – “Hey! No!” But if I don’t notice until later, there’s no point in scolding him. He’s already a sensitive cat. Scolding him will only make him more cautious.

Good trainers will tell you not to scold a puppy for having an “accident” unless you catch the puppy in the act. The reason for this is because the puppy won’t be able to make the connection between her pee puddle and the reason you are upset. Scolding her will only confuse her, or worse, teach her to be more sneaky about where she pees indoors.

Although most cats seem more intelligent than puppies, I don’t think they are able to make the connection, either. I don’t have any stats or examples to back that up. It’s just my guess. I think you are better off ignoring “accidents” and doing all you can to prevent them.

9. Make sure the box is kept in an attractive area for the cat.

Most cats prefer their litter boxes to be in a quiet, private area of the house, but not in a completely inconvenient area.

For example, keeping the box all the way in the basement may not be the best option if it is cold and damp down there or if you have a steep, slippery staircase.

We keep our cats’ litter boxes in the laundry room, which is a somewhat secluded room on the main level. I know my cats don’t mind the laundry room too much because it’s a room they go to often in order to find a quiet corner for a nap.

10. Make sure your cat’s food and water bowls are not too close to the litter box.

Who wants to eat in their bathroom?

If you can, keep your cat’s food and water in a different room or at least across the room from the litter box.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments.

Have any of your cats stopped using the litter box? How did you solve the problem?

Have you ever re-homed a cat due to litter box issues?

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