Some cats never have a problem with their litter box but others do reject the litter box for a variety of reasons. There is no one fix for every problem, so like everything else to do with kitty, some sleuth work may be required.
We all know that cats are inherently very clean animals so what causes them to change their behavior towards using the litter box?
It may come along totally unexpectedly, so a cat that has always had impeccable litter box manners may suddenly start urinating or pooping on the bed or on the floor or on the sofa or somewhere else that is undesirable.
This is also not confined to older cats as this behavior can also develop in young cats and male or female. It can be a different issue in senior cats relating to medical issues or dementia.
The first and most obvious thing to do is visit the vet to see if there is a medical problem. This may seem unnecessary to some however it will rule out medical issues. If there are medical issues you can deal with them before they potentially become worse. Medical issues may include a urinary tract infection, bladder inflammation, urinary stones and more. These are all issues that will need to be dealt with by the vet.
If the cause of the litter box rejection is not medical then what is the cause?
These are the most common causes of litter box rejection.
The litter box may not be clean enough for the cat. Quite often this is the solution and it can be be as simple as ramping up the cat litter cleaning duties.
Kitty is saying not to take offence here, it is just the way it is. It is important to scoop the litter box daily, regularly change or top up the litter and wash the litter box. There is detailed information here about how to look after a litter box.
Hint: Cats have a very strong sense of smell. If they have urinated elsewhere it is really important to totally get rid of that smell otherwise the cat will be drawn back to pee at the same spot.
Hard surfaces such as a tiled or hardwood floor can be cleaned thoroughly with your normal household cleaner however fabric and carpet really need to be cleaned with a bio enzymatic cleaner like the ones below to really do a good job.
It can be the actual litter box itself which is causing the problems. The following are all things that you have control over so therefore you can make a plan to ensure that all is working properly.
It may be the type of litter that is being used.
Consider having a couple of litter boxes with different types of litter to see if there is one that is definitely a preference. Most cats like an unscented clumping litter.
Have you recently changed to a perfumed litter? This could be problematic for the cat.
If you have had or have a need to change the type of litter a cat is using the best way to introduce it is by adding a little at a time over the top of their usual litter and then gradually replacing the litter as the cat becomes accustomed to the new litter.
What about the location of the litter box? Has it became a scary place for the cat to visit? Does the cat have to pass a dog’s bed to get to the litter box or is it in a noisy thoroughfare. Cats do like quiet places to pee and poop so it may possible that the litter box is in a less than desirable location.
Is the litter box covered? Although covered litter boxes can be practical for humans, cats don't always like them as they can trap odors inside unless they are diligently cleaned.
Plus the cat cannot see what is happening outside the box when he is in the box, so he cannot be eyeing an escape route should one be needed.
And while we may not think the cat needs to plan an escape route, this is something that is programmed into him from ancestral times and living in the wild.
If your cat is senior and has arthritis or stiff joints, it may be painful for him when entering and exiting the box.
A box that has a low entry point is essential. There are various litter boxes that suit senior cats. Read more to find out about the features to consider in a litter box for a senior cat.
Stress and anxiety in the cat can sometimes be a cause of litter box avoidance. Cats are very attune to different types of stress in the household.
Things like, other animals coming into the house, new people in the house, conflict with neighboring cats (if your cat is an outside cat) and even moving furniture can all contribute to stress for the cat and cause litter box problems.
Even when some of these stressors are removed, the cat may still continue to urinate and poop outside the litter box thus compounding the problem.
It can become a habit. Humans are the same, we form bad habits that make no sense but we still have them. This makes it another good reason to try and find a solution to the problem as soon as we are aware that there is a problem.
If your household has multiple cats there is usually one that is dominant and this can cause stress for a more timid cat. If you don’t already, make sure that you have multiple litter boxes so that the cat doesn’t have to fear meeting up with his arch enemy on the way to the litter box.
Another potentially and more difficult issue to solve is that cats can develop a surface preference and they choose places to urinate or deposit stools based on how the surface feels to them.
Sometimes you will read this referred to as the cat developing a substrate preference. This can be carpet or fabric or it may be a hard surface such as a tiled floor or a soft surface such as bedding.
Quite often the cat will have a preference for one or the other so will always choose a soft surface or always choose a harder surface. One solution is to change the litter based on the cats behavior so choose a softer litter if the cat is urinating on fabric or soft surfaces.
If the cat is choosing to do his business on a carpeted area, consider putting some carpet in the bottom of the litter box (which can be disposed of or cleaned) covered with a small amount of litter. If you can locate some old carpet squares that would be a relatively easy solution or alternatively if the cat is choosing a hard tiled surface try putting some tiles in the bottom of the box, covered with a small amount of litter.
Gradually add more litter and then remove the carpet or tiles.
Often however the problem is cleanliness and if you put extra effort into ensuring that the litter box is in top notch shape you may save a lot of time and frustration. There is detailed information here about keeping litter box clean.
One thing is clear your cat is not doing this on purpose to annoy you even though sometimes you think this might be the case.
Even if you catch the cat in the act he is not going to connect your “crossness” with what he is doing. Cats do not see their urine and faeces as dirty or disgusting.
Treating the problem as soon as it is observed is the best way to solve the problem. First of all take the cat to the vet for a check up and if no medical problems are evident the next thing to do is address any litter box problems and this make take some investigating on your behalf.