Owning a cat invariably means having at least one litter box in your home – but more about that later. Imagine this scenario: you select the perfect litter box, fill it with superior quality litter, and diligently arrange it in a suitable spot, only to have your feline friend decide that it prefers to do its business outside of the box. You might wonder, what exactly is going on?
Grasping the underlying reasons why your feline companion is bypassing the litter box can indeed be a daunting task for many pet owners. Believe me, I empathize wholeheartedly with your perplexity.
If your feline friend is relieving itself outside of the designated area, there could be several culprits at play, some related to behavioral patterns and others linked to health conditions. Many of these issues, fortunately, can be addressed with slight modifications, so don’t let feelings of discouragement overwhelm you if your kitty’s aim seems to be off the mark.
Having dealt with this issue personally, I can assure you, I understand the vexation stemming from a cat failing to hit its target. Rest assured, in this article, we will delve into the most prevalent reasons and provide actionable solutions. So, let’s dive headfirst into this topic.
Throughout this post, I’ve incorporated several additional cat care guides, which might prove beneficial for pet parents seeking more in-depth information on feline care.
Why Is Your Cat Missing The Litter Box?
Your Cat May Be Bypassing the Litter Box Due to Illness
The primary and most prevalent reason cats deviate from their litter box routine, particularly if they have previously demonstrated impeccable litter box etiquette, is due to health-related issues. There are various common ailments that can trigger this change in behavior, and it’s often one of the first discernible indicators of a potential illness.
We sought the expertise of Dr. Megan Conrad, BVMS at Hello Ralphie, to shed light on some of the medical reasons that might cause cats to forgo their litter box.
“Conditions like urinary tract infections, cystitis, or bladder stones could lead your kitty to associate the litter box with discomfort, leading them to seek alternative spots. Kidney disease and diabetes can cause an increase in urination, which can result in inappropriate elimination. Gastrointestinal problems like constipation and diarrhea may cause your cat to defecate outside the box. Arthritis can make a higher-sided box challenging to navigate, and cognitive dysfunction can affect your cat’s ability to locate and access the litter box.”
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) is another common condition. FIC is an inflammatory disease that affects the bladder and urinary tract. Apart from deviating from the litter box, it may also be identified by the presence of blood in the urine, frequent urination in small amounts, or painful urination.
FIC is strikingly similar to a urinary tract infection, with the exception that no infection is present. In fact, its cause remains unidentified and tends to flare up under stressful conditions for your cat.
“FIC is thought to account for around two-thirds of all cases of FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease). As these cats exhibit signs of cystitis but have no obvious underlying cause, it is possible that there is more than one (as yet unidentified) underlying condition that causes FIC. However, detailed studies of a number of cats with FIC have shown that they have many similarities to a condition in humans called ‘interstitial cystitis.”
Urinary tract infection is another condition to consider. Both FIC and UTIs can be diagnosed through urinalysis performed by a vet. In the case of FIC, the analysis reveals a high number of red and white blood cells but no trace of infection.
Read More: Do Cats Need Light To Use Litter Box?
In contrast, a UTI will be identified by a culture showing a bacterial infection. UTIs can be treated with antibiotics under the supervision of your vet.
Surprisingly, UTIs can be induced by stress. My dear cat Moosie would develop a UTI every time I relocated.
Moosie was a meticulous user of the litter box, so when he decided to urinate in a storage container I had recently brought home from college, I immediately recognized something was amiss.
If there has been a significant change in your home, the stress could be the cause of your kitty missing its litter box target.
Urinary crystals are another issue. They represent an imbalance of minerals normally present in the urine. These crystals can cause your cat significant discomfort.
However, the silver lining is that urinary crystals can often be managed by switching your cat’s diet to a urinary tract health formulation.
Constipation or Diarrhea: Bypassing the box isn’t just limited to urination; you might find that your kitty has defecated outside of the box. A case of diarrhea is easily identifiable, but constipation may be a little harder (no pun intended) to spot.
If you discover a solid fecal matter outside the box, constipation could be the culprit.
The challenging aspect of these health conditions is that your cat may continue to use the box, or it may not.
If your feline friend experiences discomfort when urinating or defecating, it might associate the pain with the litter box and start seeking other places. As every cat owner knows, cats are incredibly astute.
If they are unwell, they may intentionally urinate in your presence to communicate that something is wrong.
An important cautionary note: If your kitty ever attempts to urinate, but nothing comes out, it’s crucial to take your cat to the vet immediately. Your kitty might have a urethral obstruction, which can be life-threatening.
As with any significant behavioral change in your cat, your initial course of action should be to consult with your vet and rule out any potential medical problems.
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Location, Location, Location: The Key to Your Cat’s Litter Box Habits
In the world of real estate, location is everything; it turns out that cats harbor a similar sentiment when it comes to their litter box. In the wild, cats are meticulous about selecting a secluded spot to answer nature’s call. This is not due to a preoccupation with privacy, but rather a survival tactic: cats bury their waste to mask their scent from potential predators.
Just as humans don’t appreciate interruptions in the restroom, cats too prefer a tranquil and private setting for their bathroom breaks. Your little tiger is in a state of extreme vulnerability during this time; after all, being “caught with your pants down” is universally understood as a less than desirable situation!
Identifying the “perfect spot” from your cat’s perspective may require a bit of trial and error, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right initially. Consider the following when choosing a location for your kitty’s bathroom:
- Noise: Sudden sounds can startle your cat, disrupting their bathroom routine. Similar to how some people feel uneasy in public restrooms, your cat might prefer a quiet spot.
- Activity: High foot traffic areas may not work well for the litter box. Even the simple act of people passing by can interrupt your cat’s bathroom time.
- Exit Options: While many cats are comfortable using a covered litter box, some may dislike the ‘one way in, one way out’ restriction. If this is the case with your cat, place an uncovered litter box in an open space that isn’t too confined.
If you’re blessed with a multi-cat household, territorial disputes over litter box dominance may occur. One of your cats may establish ownership over the litter box, intimidating the others during their bathroom time.
An often-underestimated solution to this problem is to have one litter box per cat, plus one additional one. This provides your cats with a choice, ensuring that they can always use a litter box where they feel most comfortable.
Also, remember that your cat’s needs may change over time. For instance, as your cat ages, climbing up or down stairs to reach their box may become challenging due to weakening joints, or they may not make it to the box in time. Therefore, it’s a good practice to have a litter box on each level of your house if you have an aging cat.
Is Your Cat Missing the Litter Box Due to Not Being Spayed or Neutered?
Despite their endearing domesticity, our cherished feline friends carry within them a strong connection to their wild ancestors. Their instinctive drive to pounce on moving objects, chitter at birds, and hunt their “prey” (be it a laser dot, a bug, or a stray leaf) stems from these wild roots.
One instinct that can create a less-than-ideal living situation is the impulse to mark territory. Cats, especially males, have a tendency to spray urine around their territory as a way to signal their presence.
This behavior is usually characterized by a cat targeting vertical surfaces like walls or furniture. However, finding puddles on horizontal surfaces such as a coat, a bed, or a rug should not be dismissed, as these may also be signs of territory marking. It’s important to note that while spraying is predominantly exhibited by male cats, female cats can also partake in this behavior.
One of the most effective ways to curb this behavior is by spaying or neutering your cat. Hormones play a significant role in triggering the urge to spray, and having your cat “fixed” can substantially mitigate this issue. Even after sterilization, occasional spraying might occur in response to significant changes or stressors in your cat’s environment.
For instance, when we moved a few years back, our usually well-behaved feline, Beany, started spraying near the front door. The reason was our new neighbor’s cat, Stormy, who often visited and sat by our front door. After applying a frosted cling to the door sidelights to block Beany’s view of Stormy, the issue was thankfully resolved.
Read more: When To Euthanize a Cat With IBD?
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness: Your Cat May Be Bypassing the Litter Box Due to Hygiene Issues
Known for their impeccable grooming habits, cats are creatures of cleanliness. Naturally, they extend this cleanliness to their bathroom habits and are averse to using a dirty litter box.
Dr. Alex Schechter, DVM, affirms this, saying, “Humans aren’t the only ones that despise a stinky, filthy litter box; cats are probably much more outraged by it.”
However, each cat’s cleanliness threshold can vary. Some cats are relatively unfussy, while others may not tolerate even a hint of unpleasant odor.
If cleaning litter boxes seems like an unwelcome chore, remember, it comes with the territory of pet parenting. You could consider a self-cleaning litter box to ease the task, but remember to choose one that doesn’t scare away your cat with loud noises.
Whether manual or automated, the ideal practice is to clean your cat’s litter box once a day. Scooping is just one part of the process; the litter box and scoops, often made of porous plastic, tend to trap odors over time.
Therefore, it’s a good practice to empty your litter boxes entirely and clean them at least once a month. You could use a hose to wash out the box, or if needed, a scrub with rubber gloves can help remove any stuck-on residue. Using vinegar can help neutralize the ammonia that causes the foul smell of cat urine.
However, avoid using strongly scented cleaning agents as cats may find them off-putting. After cleaning, wipe down the box with a damp cloth and let it dry before refilling it with fresh litter.
The Litter Box Doesn’t Make the Cut for Your Cats’ Exacting Standards
Cats are known to have an aura of aristocracy about them, exhibiting surprisingly finicky behavior when it comes to their litter box. It’s not a mere container for them, it needs to match their exact specifications – or at least fall within their acceptable parameters – else they disdainfully abstain from using it.
“Cats are fastidious creatures and for them, every detail matters. There’s an array of factors that can make them dodge the litter box. Every cat, irrespective of their demeanor, might develop a distaste towards scented litter, hoods, liners, or even harbor choosiness about the depth of the cat litter.” shares Dr. Alex Schecter, DVM at Burrwood Veterinary.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ready-reckoner or a comprehensive guidebook that can make your journey of mastering your cat’s litter box preferences a cakewalk. Each feline is as unique as a fingerprint, with distinct likes and dislikes, and unravelling these mysteries is often a process of trial and error. However, one thing stands irrefutable – if your cat has been sidestepping the litter box and you’ve ticked off all the other probable causes, their disapproval of the litter box might well be your answer.
The ensuing list sheds light on some usual suspects that might make your kitty give a thumbs-down to their litter box:
- The litter box is of an inappropriate size: A case of ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. The size of your cat plays a significant role here. A wee little kitten would require a litter box with low sides, but as they burgeon into an adult, you’ll need to upscale to a more spacious option. Ensure that your cat can twirl around effortlessly inside the box, an aspect that gains importance especially if you’re employing a covered box.
- The box has a lid on it: We brushed upon this earlier, enclosed boxes restrict escape routes and they also have a penchant to lock in malodorous fumes that your kitty might find repugnant.
- The litter is perfumed: While scented litters might help us humans to shroud the smell of soiled litter, many a cat may find the fragrance overpowering and off-putting.
- The litter sports an unacceptable texture: The tactile feel of the litter can significantly influence your cat’s preference, and given the smorgasbord of options available in the market, you have ample latitude to experiment and discover what tickles your cat’s fancy.
- The liner emanates an odour or produces an irksome noise: Texture and olfaction can decisively sway your cat’s toilet habits.
- The depth of the litter isn’t up to snuff: Cats relish digging, so it’s essential that you provide a litter layer substantial enough for them to indulge. Conversely, a very deep litter might compel your kitty to pee over the edge of the box!
Additional Reasons Your Cat Might Give the Litter Box a Miss
While the aforementioned five categories capture the most frequent reasons causing cats to deviate from their litter box, there exist a handful of other considerations worth pondering over.
Your Feline is a Novice: Untrained and Young
Earlier in our discussion, we made mention of the fact that the dig-and-cover instinct is inborn in cats, hence theoretically, there isn’t any need to coach your kitty on how to employ a litter box.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to put into practice certain strategies to ensure your kitten gives your cherished potted plants a miss, choosing the litter box instead.
Incidentally, if your kitten does take a liking to your potted plant, it’s advisable to replace the soiled soil to eradicate any lingering smells and lay a foil atop the soil – the crinkling noise acts as a potent deterrent.
When you bring a new cat or kitten into your home, it’s essential to acquaint them with the nitty-gritty of where to heed nature’s call. This would involve:
Introducing your kitten to the location of the litter box or boxes as soon as they step paw into your home. If your family includes a mother cat and her kittens, it’s beneficial to confine them to a smaller space, negating the need for kittens to embark on a mini expedition every time they need to use the litter box.
Planting your new furry family member into the litter box immediately following meals and naps, and whenever you spot them scouting around for a suitable place or crouching in readiness.
A PRO TIP:
- Keep an eye out for them using the litter box, and shower them with rewards when they do.
- If you’re adopting an adult cat, it’s wise to inquire from the rescue group about the type of litter they’re accustomed to, ensuring a seamless transition. If you wish to swap the type, do it progressively allowing your kitty time to adjust.
- If you’re rescuing a cat that’s been living outdoors, it may necessitate a step-by-step training to familiarize them with recognizing litter. A widely endorsed suggestion is to initially use outside dirt or soil in the litter box, gradually phasing it out and replacing with litter once they become comfortable.
The Litter Box Count is Insufficient
This was touched upon earlier, but it’s of such importance that it deserves a more thorough explanation. It’s best practice to have a separate litter box for each cat in your household, plus one extra.
This means, for two cats, you’d ideally want three litter boxes. Some cats exhibit a preference for urinating in one box and defecating in another, while others simply demand a box of their own without having to share with their siblings.
Having multiple boxes might seem like a greater burden, but the payoffs are well worth the effort.
- For starters, if your cats have varying litter preferences or box styles, you don’t need to strive for a compromise – they can all be accommodated.
- It aids in maintaining each litter box in a cleaner state for each cat, preventing one cat from monopolizing it and thwarting another from using it.
- It can mitigate avoidance issues related to bullying.
- It may help diminish the frequency of indoor accidents, and trust me, this can be the crowning benefit. Anyone who’s had the misfortune of stepping barefoot on fresh poo knows the value of this.
- If both kitties end up sharing a box, fantastic! But should they decide on needing their own spaces, you’re well prepared to cater to their, shall we say, requests?
The Litter Box Location Has Been Changed
Cats are sticklers for routine. If your kitty suddenly deserts their once-favored litter box, a self-questioning moment could help – did I modify anything? If the answer is affirmative, then that’s probably the culprit and you’d need to revert to the previous modus operandi.
Persistent odors may lure your kitty back to the former spot of their litter box. If you have to move the box, procure a second one identical to the first, show your cat its location, and phase out the old one gradually.
Your Cat’s Claws Have Been Extracted
Declawing a cat is viewed as an unethical and injurious practice today. It’s equated to severing your fingertips to prevent your fingernails from sprouting.
It’s an agonizing and unwarranted procedure, particularly if you get the hang of trimming their nails yourself.
Additionally, the trauma from this surgery is everlasting. Their toe tips will perpetually be tender after claw removal, including sensitivity to minute particles like litter.
Given that cats need to scratch around in their litter to attend to nature’s call, this becomes a strong deterrent and they shun the activity.
If you’ve adopted a cat that is already declawed, they may conceal it well, but they are likely suffering, and it’s not due to a behavioral anomaly.
You might need to empathize with your kitty’s predicament and comprehend that covering up their excreta post litter box use can be painful. If you suspect that their paws are causing discomfort, eschew clay litters and opt for softer pellets or newspaper.
Your Cat is Suffering from Cognitive Dysfunction
As cats age, they may start to exhibit a downturn in cognitive capability.
Feline cognitive dysfunction bears similarities to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, and an older cat can effectively forget the whereabouts of the litter box or how to use it aptly.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ready solution to this problem; it comes with the territory of caring for an aging cat.
All you can do is offer them the best quality of life for their remaining years and be patient with their mistakes. They’re doing their best, and they appreciate your love, even if they aren’t the same as they once were.
Your Cat is Exhibiting a Behavioral Problem.
Once health issues are ruled out and you’ve exhausted all litter box adjustment strategies, you might find yourself confronted with the most vexing cause – a behavioral issue. You’ve diligently tried all the tips above and yet find yourself without a solution – I’ve walked in those shoes too.
This category can span a gamut of issues, but it frequently points to stress or anxiety. Let’s face it, no matter how fervently we wish for it, not all cats will hit it off.
While many may simply steer clear of each other, in other cases, you might end up with a bully and the cat at the receiving end of the intimidation may resort to poor litter box habits.
FAQs Why Is Your Cat Missing The Litter Box and Poop Everywhere?
Can cats always find their litter box?
Anchored in their routines and equipped with an acute sense of smell, cats are ordinarily adept at recalling the placement of their litter box, particularly if it’s remained static for a significant duration. Nonetheless, if you’ve lately altered the litter box location, your feline friend may necessitate a brief period to adapt to the spatial shift.
Can cats smell their litter tray?
Absolutely, cats boast an extraordinarily refined sense of smell – it’s exponentially more robust than a human’s olfactory prowess. They can readily detect the scent of their litter box, which often serves as a beacon guiding them to it. This explains why numerous cats might snub a litter box that has not been cleaned on a regular basis; the overpowering odor can be quite repelling for their sensitive noses.
How do I get my cat to find his litter box?
If you’ve recently relocated your cat’s litter box, it may be necessary to direct your feline towards the new spot several times. This can be achieved by gently lifting your cat and settling them in the relocated litter box. With the passage of time, they should familiarize themselves with the new location. It’s crucial to remember that the litter box should ideally be situated in a peaceful, easily accessible area that’s separate from their feeding zone.
Where should you not put a litter box?
The litter box should be deliberately distanced from areas with heavy footfall, in proximity to noisy appliances, or anywhere close to the cat’s food and water bowls. Cats exhibit a clear preference for a tranquil and private setting to take care of their physiological needs.
Can cats find a litter box if moved?
Indeed, cats can trace their litter box even after it’s been moved, though a brief adjustment period might be required for them to grow accustomed to the new spot. Initially, your assistance in gently guiding your cat to the relocated spot might be helpful a few times.
Do cats like privacy in the litter box?
Yes, privacy is a general preference among cats when it comes to using the litter box. They can experience stress or anxiety if they perceive exposure or vulnerability during their toilet routine. Hence, it’s most beneficial to allocate the litter box in a quiet, secluded, and low-traffic area, promoting a sense of safety for your cat.
How long can a cat be away from a litter box?
Cats typically answer nature’s call to urinate anywhere between 2-4 times a day. This can vary subject to their diet, age, and overall health status. While cats are capable of holding their bladder for about 24-48 hours, it’s neither comfortable nor beneficial for their health, and it certainly shouldn’t be a consistent occurrence. If your cat is compelled to endure extended periods regularly without access to a litter box, a critical reassessment of their living circumstances is essential to ensure their health and well-being.