7 Reasons Your Cat Is Not Using The Litter Box

cat not using the litter box
Written by Amy Wallace

It can be frustrating when your cat decides, for no apparent reason, to suddenly stop using the litter box. Unfortunately, a cat not using the litter box is the number one reason for being given to a shelter. This is extra sad because often, the issue can be remedied. You just need to take the time and make the effort to see things from your cat’s perspective.

Cats are extremely particular about their litter boxes and the whole pooping experience, just like we are. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all at least once walked into that public bathroom that just crossed the line and we decided that it was better to hold it. Or at least weighed up the option of holding it vs using this sub-par bathroom. Cat's are no different.

To help you out with thinking like a cat to solve the litter box avoidance problem, here are some of the top reasons that cats will suddenly decide that they are not using the litter box any more.

It’s Not Clean Enough

cat not using the litter box

Just like you wouldn’t want to use a bathroom that hadn’t been cleaned in a while, cats also don’t want to use a litter tray that’s full of waste. No matter if it’s their own. Cat’s also have a significantly better sense of smell that us. So while we might think the litter box will be fine for another day, your cat could be gagging on the stink. It’s no wonder then, that the cat will look for somewhere more pleasing to use.

To keep the litter box in cat-standard, usable condition, scoop out the clumps every day and replace the litter once a week. Empty the litter box and clean it out with soapy water at a minimum every month. Every week would be ideal, but this can be quite time consuming. If you have more than one cat using the litter box, you should clean it out more often.

Your Cat Has A Medical Issue

Peeing outside of the litter box is very often a sign that there is something wrong with your cat. Quite often, cats with urinary tract infections (UTIs) or kidney infections will prefer to pee somewhere cool, such as on tiles or in the bath. These infections can cause burning sensations with urinating, so your cat is looking for something cool to ease the pain a bit. It may also be the case that they have started to associate the litter box with pain. If you can’t find any reason at all for why your cat is suddenly going somewhere else to pee, take it to the vet for a check-up.

The Litter Box Is Just Not Quite Right

Cats are exceptionally particular about their litter box. They won’t use it if it’s too close to their food and water, if they don’t like the location, if they don’t like the litter, if the box is too small, if it’s covered and they feel trapped by it, if they don’t feel like it’s in a safe space, if the litter isn’t deep enough to dig in… 

cat not using the litter box

When you first start litter training your cat, experiment with these things and find out what your cat’s preferences are. Just like people, every cat is unique and will prefer one thing over another for no other reason that it likes it better. Once you have a litter box location and system that works, stick with it. When it comes to selecting the right litter box, you need to choose one that your cat can grow into and will be able to use for a while.

Something Changed

As we mentioned above, cats are very fussy about their toilets. Have you changed the type of litter you’re using? Did you move the litter box to somewhere new? Is there a new litter box that your cat didn’t transition well to?

cat not using the litter box

However, it’s not just litter box changes that cause stress to your cat and disrupt its behaviour. Perhaps you’ve moved home or there’s been a new addition to the family. This could be a new human or a new pet being introduced to the house. Maybe someone has moved out or you’ve redecorated or you left a sock on the floor. It’s hard to say what has caused the stress, but take some time to think if anything has altered in your cat’s day to day life.

Territorial Issues

Cats are very territorial animals and this can be particularly true when it comes to the litter box. Male cats especially will spray urine to mark their territory out against other cats. If you catch your cat standing straight up and peeing on vertical surfaces, this is probably what he’s doing rather than avoiding the litter box to empty a full bladder. A new cat in the house or even on the street can trigger this behaviour.

cat not using litter box

Some cats will also not share a litter box with other cats. Again, this is due to the scent marking the territory of another cat. They may not feel safe using this space as a toilet or they may want to have their own bathroom territory. The general rule is to have one litter box per cat. Location is important in this issue as well. Some cats won’t want to walk past another cat’s territory to get to their litter box.

If you have multiple cats, it may be possible that a hierarchy has formed between them with one cat being bullied. This cat may then not feel safe sharing a litter box with the more aggressive cat/cats. In this case, having a spare litter box in another location could solve the problem. It gives the more timid cat options for when it needs to use the toilet. It’s also a good idea to avoid covered litter boxes in this situation. Your timid cat will feel safer being able to see its surroundings and have multiple exit points from the litter tray.

Physical Limitation

Cat not using the litter tray

As your cat gets older, it may find it more and more difficult to use the litter box. This can also be true for small kittens and arthritic cats. If your cat is not getting into the litter box, consider getting one that has lower sides or a low cut entrance for easy access. If you have an older cat that just doesn’t make it to the litter box in time, you could move it closer to where this cat tends to hang out. Generally, cats will have a favourite spot for sleeping, etc. Having the litter box closer could make all the difference to a slow-moving feline.


There are so many reasons that your cat isn’t using the litter box. As a responsible cat owner who loves their cat, you should be taking the time to figure out why. Cats are very intelligent creatures and they don’t just forget their litter training out of badness. Changes in behaviour like this are a sign that something is distressing your cat and you should figure out what it is. Don’t just give up on your cat and send it away. If your child suddenly started peeing the bed, you’d try and work out what was wrong. Your cat deserves the same love, trust and support.

Not using the litter box is the number one reason for cats being given away. It’s also probably the most unjustified reason. This is an issue that can be easily resolved with some patience and problem solving.

Cat of The Week

This little cutie is a stray that I scooped up in Rustenburg, South Africa. She had just woken up from under a bush and was meowing sleepily as I went by. If I hadn't lived 2 flights away, I would have taken her home!

About the author

Amy Wallace

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