4 things to consider if cat stops using litterbox
By Mark Robison
• Question: My cat is no longer using the litterbox. What do I do?
• Answer: This is an important problem to know how to solve because some people “solve” it by taking the cat to the nearest shelter, which will have a hard time finding a new home for a cat labeled as having litterbox issues. This is best corrected in the cat’s current home. A vet visit may be needed, but here are five things you might consider first:
1. New stressors in your cat’s life.
2. Too few litterboxes – or dirty ones.
3. New scents around the litterbox.
4. Litterboxes that are inconveniently designed or positioned for your cat.
A colleague came to me at his wit’s end because his cats had stopped using their litterboxes. He had started cleaning them daily – cats do prefer a clean litterbox – but it didn’t help. He had two litterboxes for four cats, but read online that having one per cat helps so he tried this as well, to no avail. (In fact, one litterbox more than the number of cats is recommended by the ASPCA.)
My first question was: Has anything disrupted your cats’ lives? Like most of us, cats don’t like disruptions to their routines.
He and his wife just had a baby so they’d moved the litterboxes to a new room. Because of our discussion, he moved one litterbox back to the old room, which made the change less drastic for the cats; eventually they transitioned to the new, less noisy room with a greater choice of litterboxes.
Another colleague had a cat who stopped using a litterbox because a new air freshener was placed right over it. Sometimes the scent of strong cleaners, or new scented cat litter, can also deter a cat. Febreze makes a scentless spray that works well around litterboxes.
Some cats don’t like covered litterboxes or plastic liners that their claws get caught on – in which cases, take off the hood or dump the liners. Sometimes a box can be too small or the rim too tall, making it difficult to navigate; try a larger or shallower one. Not all litters are created equally – they can have scents or textures cats don’t like; try a different kind or go back to the old one the cat prefers. And litter that is too deep can creep out your cat – generally an inch or two is plenty with most litters; specialty litters made out of walnut shells and other nontraditional materials sometimes need to be deeper. Cats prefer enough to cover their waste and not much more.
All of this is to say there may be a simple reason why your cat has stopped using the litterbox. But if none of these suggestions fits your situation, make a vet appointment. The issue may be more serious. Especially get your cat to a vet if he or she frequently urinates only a small amount, meows or cries while urinating, or has blood in the urine or licks in that area of the body more than usual. It may be a urinary tract infection or blockage. Your vet can help, and your cat can get back to using the litterbox properly.
• Got a pet question? Send questions about cats and dogs to me, and I'll try to answer them in future columns.
Mark Robison is co-executive director of Maddie's Pet Project in Nevada. He lives in Reno. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.