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Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box? 7 Reasons Why & How to Fix Them

by Ben Doyle | Reading Time: 7 minutes

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Most cats use their litter box with no issues.

Sure, some kittens will have the odd accident while you’re litter training them. And some adult cats stop using the litter box altogether and only go outside.

If your cat won’t use the litter box, it’s up to you to find out why and fix it as soon as possible. If you don’t address it quickly, the problem could get worse.

The good news is that a simple change will often fix the issue.

In this article, you’ll learn;

  • All the potential reasons why your kitten won’t use their litter box, and
  • What you can do to fix it

Why is My Cat Not Using the Litter Box? The Problems and the Solutions

Here’s a list of all the reasons why your cat refuses to use the litter box.

We’ve listed the problem and the solution to it.

1. The Litter Tray Isn’t in a Good Location

cat litter tray in bathroom

Where you put the litter box will have a huge impact on whether your cat uses it or not.

Cramped spaces, noisy areas or places that are too isolated can put your kitten off using their tray.

The Solution

Consider moving their litter tray into a part of the house where they spend most of their time.

Follow these rules for litter box location;

  • Put a litter box on each floor in your home – your kitten shouldn’t have to scale the stairs to go to the toilet. If you make them, chances are they will find somewhere else.
  • Put the litter box where your cat spends most of their time – if they spend most of their time in the spare room, put a litter box in there.
  • Put a litter box where they toilet – if your kitty goes to the toilet behind the sofa, it’s because they feel safe there. So put the litter box there. It might not be ideal for you, but it’s best for them. You can move it bit by bit once they use it all the time.
  • Keep it away from their food and water – cats are hygienic animals. They don’t eat or drink where they toilet. So don’t make them.
  • Keep the litter box away from noisy areas – don’t put it on the landing where people come and go all day. Especially where kids run around. And don’t put it in next to a noisy washing machine.
  • Don’t put several litter boxes together – A dominant cat might guard the whole area. This will prevent your kitten from using them.

2. Your Cat Doesn’t Like the Type of Litter You’re Using

kitten sniffing litter

If your cat doesn’t like the type of litter in their litter box, they might not use it.

The best litter for one cat might not be the best for another. Choosing the right one for your feline can take a bit of trial and error.

Changing away from a litter your cat likes to a different brand or type could put your cat off using the litter tray.

Also, if you run out and have to use an emergency cat litter alternative, your cat might not like it.

The Solution

When you do find a litter they like, stick with it.

If you do change litter, do it gradually, adding a bit of the new litter to their old litter. So add 25% of the new litter to 75% of their old litter. Then, next time clean their litter tray, add 50% new litter to 50% old litter. Keep doing that until the change is complete.

In cases where your cat absolutely refuses to go in their litter box. Try using sand as cat litter. They’re naturally drawn to using sand so this could be an option.

3. The Litter Tray is Unclean

dirty cat litter tray

Cats are hygienic animals and a dirty litter tray might put them off using it. Especially if your cat shares a litter box with other kittens or cats.

Sometimes dirty litter trays can have bugs and flies in them which can also put your cat off using it. Dirty litter can also smell of ammonia which put cats off, especially if they have respiratory problems.

The Solution

There is a couple of things you can do here;

  1. Get another litter tray – in an ideal world, each cat should have their own litter tray, plus one extra. This will prevent one litter box from getting dirty so quickly.
  2. Scoop more often – the other option is to scoop the litter more often. You might also have to clean the litter box twice a week instead of once. A cat litter bin will make scooping the waste quicker and easier so it might be worth investing in one if it will make you more likely to do it.

4. Your Kitten Doesn’t Like Their Litter Box

This happens most often with covered litter boxes and sometimes automatic litter boxes that are too small.

Many cat owners believe a covered box offers kitten privacy, as well as covering the mess we don’t want to see.

While studies show that 70% of cats show no preference between a covered or uncovered litter box, some cats don’t like them.

If the litter box is too small, your kitten might feel like they can’t turn around or dig in it.

Both situations can result in your cat toileting somewhere else.

The Solution

If you have a covered litter tray, either remove the cover or buy a new litter tray without a cover.

Also, make sure the litter tray is t least 1.5 times your cats’ length so they can turn and dig freely.

Read More: The Best Cat Litter Trays and Boxes

5. Conflict With Other Pets

large cat stepping out of litter box

Conflicts with other pets could cause a couple of issues;

  1. Scent marking to claim territory – some cats might spray or poo outside of their tray or in another part of the house to mark an area as theirs.
  2. Avoiding conflict with dominant cats – younger or more submissive cats might avoid using a litter box if they’re fearful of conflict with an older or more dominant cat. This might cause them to go in other parts of the house.

Other pets like a dog could also intimidate your cat.

The Solution

As we’ve already mentioned, make sure each cat has their own litter tray. Don’t put litter boxes together in the same part of the house. Keep them separate and away from areas of potential conflict.

If one cat spends most of its time upstairs, put their litter upstairs. If another cat likes to spend their time in the spare room, put their litter tray in there.

6. Stress

kitten sniffing around it's litter box

Cats suffering from stress around the litter tray might toilet outside their litter box.

There are lots of things that can cause your cat stress. For example;

  • A kitten in a new environment
  • A rescue cat in a new home
  • Conflicts with other pets
  • The introduction of a new pet
  • The arrival of a newborn baby
  • A friend or family member moving in
  • Arguments in the home

The Solution

Use a plugin pheromone diffuser like Feliway Optimum. It can put your kitten at ease and reduce stress around the litter box and make litter training easier.

If this doesn’t work, seek advice from your vet as soon as possible because stress can sometimes lead t medical issues.

7. Medical Issues

If your cat is having trouble using the litter tray, it could be a medical issue.

One of the telltale signs is your kitten trying to use the litter box but struggling to pass urine or faeces. They might also meow or cry while in the litter box.

These could be symptoms of;

  • Bladder inflammation
  • Crystals in their urine
  • A blockage of the urethra
  • Constipation
  • Diabetes

The Solution

If you suspect your cat or kitten has a medical issue, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

Your vet will do blood and urinalysis to work out if there is a problem and how to treat it.

8. You Started Using a Cat Litter Freshener

Cat litter freshener

While cat litter fresheners are good for us, they’re not always good for our cats. Especially if they smell really strong.

Some cats are more tolerant to smells than others so find a cat litter freshener that your cat gets along with can take a bit f trial and error.

The Solution

Try changing it to one of our recommendations in our list of best cat litter deodorizers. Or you could try using an odour blocker like Moodify Pet that hangs above the litter tray instead of going inside it.

In Conclusion

If your cat won’t use the litter box, could be for any number of reasons. It’s up to you to find out why and try to fix the problem as soon as you can.

A simple change can often fix it quickly and what you thought was a big problem might not be.

That said, if you can’t figure out why your cat refuses to use the litter box, consult your vet.

Photo of author

Ben Doyle

Ben Doyle co-owns Pet Checkers with his wife, Vicki. He spends his days looking after all kinds of animals, from dogs to eagles. When he's not taking care of animals, he's writing about them.

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