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8 Common Litter Box Issues & How to Fix Them

Written by: Rachel Giordano

Last Updated on June 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat pooping in a yellow litter box

8 Common Litter Box Issues & How to Fix Them

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Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)

Veterinarian

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It’s a common myth that cats always use their litter boxes without issue. For the most part, cats indeed learn to use a litter box rather quickly, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll never encounter problems with your cat going potty outside the litter box or, worse yet, going in undesirable places, such as your bed or other pieces of furniture.

When a cat goes potty outside the litter box, it’s not an act of misbehaving or trying to annoy you. Your cat is trying to tell you something, and the reasons for the behavior vary from an unclean litter box to a medical issue. Come with us to learn eight common litter box issues and how to fix them.

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The 8 Common Litter Box Issues & How to Fix Them

1. Possible Medical Issue

We wanted to list this possibility first because having your cat checked out by your vet should be the first step in figuring out the problem. A few medical factors could be the culprit for your cat having litter box issues. Let’s take a look.

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in cats are not routine but can occur. Cats with a UTI may urinate outside the litter box, which is a huge red flag. Cats with UTIs may also urinate very little in the box, or they may even cry out in pain while trying to urinate. There may even be blood in the urine. Another sign of a possible UTI is if your cat frequently licks their rear end. If your cat displays any of these signs, take them to the vet for an examination.

woman holding her cat in vet clinic
Image Credit: Vladeep, Shutterstock

Feline Interstitial Cystitis

Feline interstitial cystitis, also called feline idiopathic cystitis, is a medical term used to describe inflammation of the bladder. It’s a diagnosis used when no other causes or clinical signs can be identified. Previously called IFLUTD (idiopathic feline lower urinary tract disease), it’s most common in young to middle-aged cats. Common signs of the condition are bloody or discolored urine, straining to urinate, frequent urination, and urinating outside the litter box.

Bladder Stones/Bladder Crystals

Bladder and kidney stones can cause your cat a great deal of problems. These stones are a collection of crystals, minerals, and organic matter that can be brought on by a disease or a type of inflammation. They can block the urethra, making it difficult or even impossible to urinate, and one sign is urinating in unusual places and not the litter box. If your cat cannot urinate, this is a medical emergency.

vet examining cat in x-ray
Image Credit: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock

2. Unclean Litter Box

It’s vital to keep the litter box clean for your cat’s sanitary use. If it hasn’t been scooped or replaced with fresh litter, your cat may choose to avoid the box altogether and go potty elsewhere. Most cat owners prefer clumping litter for easy scooping, so if you’re not using it, you may want to consider it for easier cleaning.

You should also thoroughly clean the entire litter box once a week with a mild soap or a diluted vinegar solution (do not use bleach or ammonia). Scrub the box and rise completely before adding new litter for your cat’s use.


3. Not Enough Litter Boxes

In a multi-cat household, you’ll absolutely need more than one litter box; otherwise, your cats may not use the box at all. A rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat plus one extra. For example, if you have two cats, you’ll need three litter boxes. If you have a multi-level home, try placing a litter box on each level.

Some cats prefer to defecate in one box and urinate in the other, so ensure you do not place the boxes next to each other.

woman cleaning her pet cat's litter box
Image Credit: sandyman, Shutterstock

4. Bad Location

Cats are reserved beings and prefer going potty in private. If the litter box is placed in a busy location in the home, your cat may avoid the litter box and choose to go elsewhere. Cats will also seek out an area to go potty with multiple escape routes, which is a trait they inherited from their wild cousins, and placing the litter boxes in an area where your cat feels comfortable will help eliminate avoidance of the litter box itself.


5. Litter Preference

The type of litter you’re using may not be a litter your cat fancies. Cats are sensitive to chemical smells, and some litter may have this odor. Studies show that cats prefer unscented, clumping litter with a sand consistency, and if you’re not using this type, consider switching.

Speaking of switching, if you recently changed litters, your cat simply may not be fond of the new product. It may take time to find an appropriate litter for your cat, but once you do, do not deviate from it if possible.

cat poop in litter box
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

6. Wrong Size/Shape of Litter Box

Sometimes, the shape and size of the litter box itself may be an issue, especially if you have a geriatric cat. Avoid litter boxes with hoods, as many cats prefer the litter box to be open so they have plenty of room to maneuver around. Hoods also trap odor and may cause your cat to avoid it. Hoods also prevent cats from standing erect while going potty, which most cats prefer. Avoiding litter boxes with high walls is also advisable for senior or overweight cats.


7. Household Stress/Bullying

Suppose you have multiple cats in the home. In that case, one may be bullying another, which can cause litter box issues. Moving to a new home or a new addition to the family, whether a human or another animal, can also cause litter box issues.

How to Remedy a Bullying Problem: Separate the cats and try reintroducing them slowly. Territorial issues are a common reason why bullying happens in the first place, and separating the cats for a period of time may help. Ensure you share your attention and enrichment with all cats in the home, and if your cats are not spayed/neutered, consider having the procedure done.

black and white cat stepping in the litter box
Image Credit: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock

8. Negative Associations/Stress

Some cats will remember a negative event associated with the litter box. For example, if your cat had a medical issue in the past, like a UTI, the painful memory may keep your cat from using the litter box. The memory of painful waste elimination may resurface, even if your cat is back to good health.

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What to Do if Your Cat Avoids the Litter Box

First and foremost, do not punish your cat if they’re experiencing litter box issues, such as rubbing the nose in the urine or feces. Remember that cats are not avoiding the box to annoy you. There is a reason for the behavior, and it’s likely one of the reasons mentioned above.

After visiting your vet to rule out medical issues, here are more tips:
  • Avoid placing the litter box close to where your cat eats.
  • Do not confine your cat to a small room with a litter box.
  • Place toys and treats near the litter box.
  • Use an enzymatic cleaner to clean up urine and feces. Enzymatic cleaners contain enzymes that destroy bacteria and eliminate the odor so that your cat won’t repeat the behavior in the same place.
  • Do not carry or drag your cat to the litter box, as this will only cause a negative association.

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Conclusion

Some cats avoid the litter box for various reasons, but it’s important to rule out a possible medical problem first. Once your cat is clear from a medical issue, you can then start a process of elimination. Remember to evaluate the type of litter you’re using, the location of the box, the style of the, and the number of boxes you have. Ensure you scoop the litter box daily and replace the scooped area with fresh litter. Clean the entire box once a week with mild soap and water or diluted vinegar, and don’t forget to rinse it and dry it completely before refilling it with litter!

See Also:


Featured Image Credit: Oleg Opryshko, Shutterstock

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