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Reasons Why Cats Stop Using the Litter Box

Cats can be finicky creatures. As easy as it is to train most cats to use a litter box, sometimes cats stop using the litter box for reasons that aren't always clear. Here are a few things to try; if one thing doesn't solve the litter box problems, try another.

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  • The litter is too dirty. This is the most common reason. Clean the litter box more often to see if it helps. Try emptying the entire box once a week and giving it a good wash, rather than just scooping out the soiled litter.

    If cleaning the litter box is a task you truly hate, consider getting a self-cleaning litter box. There are many types available and they all work differently. You'll still have to throw away the waste, but you won't have to scoop every day.

    Another option to make clean-up easier are litter box liners. These are exactly what they sound like - liners that fit inside the litter box. When you're ready to change the litter, simply tie up the liner, lift the entire thing out of the box, and throw it away. Then you need only refill the box with fresh litter.

  • Stress. Many cats hate change - so even something as simple as moving the litter box to a new location may upset them. Or perhaps your cat is anxious about a move, new furniture or carpeting, a new person or animal in the house. If you can figure out what is upsetting her, then you can try to remove that stressor.

  • Your cat is attracted to a previously soiled location. If your cat keeps returning to one spot, it may be a spot where another pet previously soiled. Make this spot less attractive to your cat:

    • Put her food bowl there. Cats do not like to eliminate at the same place they eat.
    • Neutralize the odour. A half and half solution of white vinegar and water will help to rid the area of any smell. Many commercial cleaning products are also available.
    • Cover the area with a plastic sheet. This will make it unpleasant for your cat to walk on and will discourage her from eliminating there.
    • Put another litter box in that spot (don't remove the existing box - get a new one). As your cat gets accustomed to using it, gradually move the box towards its permanent location.

  • Your cat may not like the type of litter. If you've recently changed the type of litter used, change it back. If not, experiment with other brands until you find one that your cat likes. Many people use basic clay litter, which is readily available and affordable. But clay litter tends to kick up a lot of dust and it's heavy, too, which some cats may find less pleasant to use as they get older and arthritic.

    Many lightweight cat litters are available these days. For example, there's cat litter made from corn; cat litter made from wheat; crystal litter; litter made from wood pellets or chips; even litter made from newspaper.

  • Your cat may not know where her litter box is - or doesn't like the location. Young kittens or a new cat may not know where the litter box is. Cats may also be disoriented after a move to a new home. Place the litter box in a clean, accessible, and relatively quiet location and show your cat where it is. To begin with, you may want to put the box in an area where the cat spends most of its time. Move it gradually to its permanent location.

    Sometimes cats get frightened by a strange noise or sight in the area where their litter box is located. In this case, they might be too scared to go back. Move the litter box and see if it helps.

    Older cats may also need a change in the location of the litter box. As they age, flights of stairs get harder to navigate, and moving the litter box to a more easily-accessible location could help.

  • Maybe it's not a litter box issue - your cat may be marking his territory. Male cats in particular sometimes spray urine to mark their territory; this is yet another good reason to be sure you neuter your pet, which makes them less likely to spray.

  • Medical issues may be causing the litter box problems. If your cat has always been reliably litter trained but has recently started to make a mess, he or she may have a medical issue that needs to be addressed. Examples include pain from arthritis (which could make it harder to get and out of the box; using a box with lower sides may help), or conditions like senility (where your cat doesn't remember where her box is; moving it to a location where she spends a lot of her time may help).

    Because there are so many medical conditions that could cause behavior changes, cats should be taken to the vet for a complete health assessment.

Cats stop using the litter box for so many reasons. Sometimes these reasons are easily fixable, and sometimes they're not. With patience and effort, many litter box problems can at least be improved.