Cats learn very quickly how to use a litter box because their instincts in the wild tell them to bury their urine and feces. They’re easily box trained and, typically, never stray from its use. However, when your cat’s burying preferences include your shoes, the laundry basket, or the living room rug, you need to determine what is causing the problem and really understand why your cat stops using the litter box.

We have listed some of the most common reasons a cat is choosing to eliminate outside her box with some ideas on how to change the behavior. Please note: If your cat is straining to urinate or defecate, or you notice blood in the urine, see your veterinarian immediately.

  • Dirty Litter

If a litter box is not scooped or cleaned on a regular basis, your cat may find the odors of standing feces and urine offensive and stop using the litter box as a means of protest. The highly acidic odor of cat urine may hurt your sensitive cat’s eyes and nostrils, and, like her human owner, she may not like putting clean feet into fresh poop or wet, soggy litter.

Make sure you scoop every litter box at least daily, and clean and scoop out dirty litter on a weekly basis. You may need to change the litter more often if you have more than one cat or you notice your pet is not using the box. If you’re using a pet- or house-sitter while on vacation, leave explicit instructions so that the sitter know when and how often to scoop and clean litter boxes.

  • Health Issues

If you notice your cat straining to urinate or defecate in her box, you need to take her to her vet for an examination as soon as possible. She may be constipated, have a urinary tract infection, or, in the case of male cats, be developing “blocked cat syndrome.” This disorder, caused by bladder stones that block the end of the male cat’s urethra, makes him unable to pass urine out of the bladder.

A cat whose urinary tract is blocked can die within hours or suffer irreversible organ damage from the buildup of toxins in his system. Don’t wait around thinking the problem will clear up by itself. And don’t be fooled into thinking that your cat is constipated. It could happen, but it’s more likely to be a urinary problem. Without immediate veterinary treatment, all of the illnesses described here can worsen and become life threatening very quickly. 

  • Too Close to Eating Areas

Cats don’t like to eat and eliminate in the same area. If your cat’s litter box is placed close to her food or water dish, move the box to another room or a different corner of the room so that there is distance between her food and her toilet. This could be a primary reason why your cat stops using the litter box.

  • Box Located in a High Traffic Area

Many cats feel uncomfortable eliminating in front of other pets or people in the household. They, just like their humans, prefer a bit of privacy. Moving your cat’s litter box to a quiet room of the house allows your pet to feel safer and more relaxed when the time comes. You may want to buy a covered litter box if changing the box’s location is not practical.

  • Cat is Sensitive to a Particular Litter

Don’t assume all cat litter is the same. Your cat may not like the smell or texture of the litter you’re putting in her box. Clumping litters are particularly fine and your pet may be getting the sand-like particles up her nose or caught between her paw pads, making her uncomfortable at best, and causing trauma at worst. Multiple-cat litters typically have fragrance added to cover up the odors of feces and urine, and your cat may be allergic or simply not like the smell. It may take several trips to the pet store to test out the litter that works best for your cat. 

  • Behavioral Issues

Some cats learn over time not to use the litter box as a way to get attention from their humans. Others mark their territory when they become nervous as a way to assert themselves or to express anxiety. Look to see if there have been any major changes in your cat’s home environment and try to help her adjust by placing her litter box in a quiet spot in your house and focusing more attention on her emotional needs.

VIP pet sitters always pay close attention to litter box habits while caring for our cat clients. Please contact us to discuss what we can do to help!

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