Wonder why your cat does not use its litter box?

Kitten Litterbox | Cat Evolution

Reasons Your Cat Does Not Use its Litter Box

When you bring a kitten into your home who has recently been separated from its mother, it should know how to use a litter box. It learns from its mother and knows how to use a litter box when it is 3 or 4 weeks old. It is an easy habit for a kitten to master because cats have a natural instinct to eliminate in sand or soil.

There are numerous reasons why things can go wrong and your cat stops using a litter box and eliminates in different places. Most commonly, this will be a dark, unlit area which offers one or more escape routes when people approach and disturb the cat.

Refusal in using a litter box is the major reason for abuse and punishment inflicted on cats and why people abandon their cats to a shelter.

Let’s identify how to deal with litter box problems.

  • Identify the common reasons they occur.
  • Methods for identifying the underlying problem.
  • How to fix the problem.
  • Things not to do to aggravate the problem further.

Common Reasons Cats Reject Their Litter Box

rejected litterbox |Cat Evolution

The reasons are many and you need a systematic approach for identifying and rectifying the cat’s behaviour.

If unsure about the root cause of the problem, your first point of call might be your local Vet. Health issues may include:

  • Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Feline interstitial cystitis with bladder inflammation and associated pain which creates an urgent need to urinate
  • Diarrhea or constipation.


WebMD, in an article titled “Solving Cat Litter Problems” have identified the following reasons besides illness that may cause a cat not to use its litter box.

  • Unclean or smelly litter box
  • An unsuitable litter box that is too small, have sides that are too high or uses a hood or liner.
  • Resentment of the litter used, or the volume used. The maximum thickness of litter should be 5 cm. A change in the litter brand may also cause problems because of its scent or texture.
  • Conflict with other household cats.
  • Uncomfortable litter box location that does not offer privacy and an easy escape route.
  • Negative associations with the litter box. Previous health issues may register painful recollections which the cat associates with the littler box.  Some painful or scary experience while using the litter box can cause a similar reaction.
  • A sudden preference for eliminating on a different surface like a carpet, upholstered furniture, or bedding.
  • Stress factors like the appearance of new household animals or an unfamiliar family member.

Remedies for Resolving Litter Box Rejection

Unless you can identify the reason your cat rejects the litterbox, you may have to use a process of elimination.


Unclean or Smelly Litter Box

Problem. Cats are fastidious and always cover their elimination. They resent scent for  a good reason. By instinct, they know that predators track their prey by scent. Cats are also more sensitive to smell than humans.

Remedy. Scoop out litter deposits and litter hardened from urination at least once but preferable twice a day. Once a week, scrub the litter box with a mixture of baking soda and unscented soap.

You can also try a self-cleaning litter box.


Unsuitable Litter Box

Problem. The cat may feel cramped, the sides may be too high for an old cat, or the cat may dislike a fitted hood or liner.

Remedy Try a different style of a itter box.


Problems with Litter or the Way It Is Used

Problem. The cat may dislike the scent or texture of the litter, or the litter layer is too thick.

Remedy. Try figuring out what litter your cats prefer. Use less litter if the layer is over  5 cm in thickness. If this makes no difference, then try clumping, unscented litter of fine texture. You can also try the type of litter your cat used when a kitten.


Conflict with Other Household Cats

Problem. Cats are territorial and if several cats live in the same house, it can cause conflicts of dominance.

Remedy. Use a separate litter box for each cat and place them in separate locations.


Cat Rejects Litter box Location

Problem. Like humans, cats like privacy when they attend to their toilet needs. They also like one or more escape routes in case something or somebody disturbs them when sitting on the litter box.

Remedy. Select a location for the litter box that offers privacy and where the cat can see one or more escape routes if disturbed.


Negative Associations with Litter Box

Problem. Negative associations can include pain associated with a previous medical problem. It can also be an association with an event that caused fright, stress, or pain.

Remedy. You may need to change the litter box, or its location to remove the negative association.


Sudden Preference for Eliminating on a Different Surface

Problem. This problem may be caused by discomfort with the litter box. It could be scent, litter type, location, and negative associations.  It may cause the cat to start eliminating on surfaces like a carpet, a lounge sofa or chair, or a bed surface.

Remedy. You need to make the cat’s preferred location less inviting. Clean the area soiled with an enzymatic cleanser. Keep the area well lit. You may also need to cover the area with plastic sheeting. If possible, you can also try blocking access to the area for a few weeks.


Stress Factors

Problem. Cats may suffer stress on account of new household pets, or unfamiliar people appearing in the house. This could cause them to fear lack of privacy when using the litter box.

Remedy. This may require genuine demonstration of care and support. Anything you do, must eliminate fear or discomfort caused by the appearance of a new pet or a new household member. Familiar the cat with the newcomer and demonstrate that their appearance does not threaten their safety or comfort.


What Not To Do

Finding a solution to the problem of your cat rejecting its litter box can be stressful and difficult. However, the last thing you want to do is to over-react and take actions which will aggravate the situation. Punishment only causes fear and avoidance.


Here are actions to avoid. Do not:

  • Inflict any physical punishment.
  • Rub the cat’s nose in its wrongful eliminations.
  • Drag the cat to the litter box and try forcing its use.


In summary, patience and persistence should pay a dividend and reassure the cat that the litter box is the correct place for its private needs.