Ask the Vet: Why Did My Cat Stop Using the Litter Box?

Ask the Vet: Why Did My Cat Stop Using the Litter Box?

Over time, it’s not uncommon for some cats to develop what we call elimination problems — the most common of which is avoidance of the litter box for urinating and/or defecating.

For cat owners, this can be both a worrisome and a frustrating problem. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common causes of this issue — and hopeful solutions.

Possible Reasons Your Cat May Have Stopped Using the Litter Box

Cat Litter Box

Cystitis (Urinary Tract Infection or UTI)

UTIs cause discomfort for cats, which they then may associate with using the litter box, and this is why they avoid it. Bladder stones and bladder tumors can cause similar symptoms.

Gastrointestinal conditions

Again, gastrointestinal problems cause discomfort, which a cat may attribute to using the litter box, causing them to avoid it.


Often, the location of the litter box is stressful to cats. For example, a litter box in the laundry room or garage means loud, scary machines. The subsequent avoidance of these litter boxes can lead to inflammation of the bladder, which leads to discomfort, and the cycle continues.

Ohio State University has a great website for pet parents, with tips on reducing kitty stress. Check it out here.

Too Few Litter Boxes

The general rule-of-thumb is to have one litter box for each cat in the home, plus an extra one. You should also ensure that there’s at least one litter box available on each floor.

Again, try to ensure there are no stressors around the litter boxes. Furthermore, remember that inter-household cat social disharmony can lead to one cat controlling access to specific litter boxes. This makes having enough boxes around even more important.

Substrate Preferences

Some cats develop preferences to certain litter types, so if you randomly change the litter type or brand, cats may start avoiding the new litter and/or decide they like to go on the rug or a laundry pile.

Other Medical Conditions

Finally, overall painful conditions like arthritis or an injury, or debilitating conditions like kidney or heart failure can make it difficult for cats to use the litter box; therefore, they’ll avoid it.

Cat Litter Box

Tips for Getting Your Cat to Use the Litter Box Again

1. Keep Litter Boxes Clean

Ensure consistently sanitary litter boxes by changing the litter frequently and cleaning the boxes at least 1-2 times per day.

2. Have an Adequate Number of Boxes

Ensure you have enough litter boxes available and accessible throughout your home.

3. Reduce Stress

Identify and remove stressors from your cat’s environment as much as possible.

4. Rule Out Possible Medical Issues

Finally, rule out and/or treat any underlying medical conditions by consulting with your veterinarian. You can schedule an appointment any time with me or any of our other highly-skilled veterinarians at Sunset Veterinary Clinic. Contact us today to schedule a visit.

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