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Solving Cat Litter Box Problems

WebMD provides solutions to some common cat litter box problems.
By
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Cats are fastidious creatures, and nowhere is that more evident than in their litter box habits. When your cat won’t use the litter box -- and at least 10% of all cats develop an elimination problem -- the cause could be anything from an unclean box to an illness.

Before you try some easy strategies to get her back in the litter box, have her checked out by a veterinarian to rule out a health problem. If you’ve just introduced a new cat to your household, make sure the litter box is as cat-friendly as possible to prevent a problem in the future.

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WebMD looked at common litter box problems and solutions. Here’s what we found:

Reasons cats won’t use the litter box

These common litter box problems could be repelling your cat:

  • An unclean litter box
  • Too few litter boxes for the cats in the household
  • A cramped litter box
  • A litter box with a hood or liner
  • A litter box with sides that are high
  • Too much litter in the box
  • An uncomfortable location that doesn’t allow for privacy and multiple escape routes
  • A change in the kind of litter your use
  • Negative associations. Your cat may have been upset while using the box. She may also connect the box with painful elimination, even if her health is back to normal
  • Stressors like moving, adding new animals or family members to the household
  • A conflict with another cat in the household
  • A new preference for eliminating on certain surfaces or textures like carpet, potting soil, or bedding

Medical conditions and litter box problems

Your cat may have a medical condition that makes urinating too painful -- in or out of the litter box. Common medical conditions which may affect litter box use include:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI). If your cat frequently enters her litter box but produces small amounts of urine, she may have a UTI.
  • Feline interstitial cystitis. Feline interstitial cystitis is a complex disease that causes inflammation of the bladder. It can cause a cat to eliminate outside the litter box because of the urgency to urinate.
  • Bladder stones or blockage. If your cat has bladder stones or a blockage, she may frequently enter her litter box. She may also experience pain and mew or cry when she tries to eliminate. Her abdomen may be tender to the touch.

 

When kitty eliminates outside the litter box

If your veterinarian has ruled out a health problem, you can make a few changes to see if you can steer your cat back to the litter box:

  • Scoop and change your cat’s litter at least once a day.
  • Thoroughly rinse out the box with baking soda or unscented soap once a week.
  • Use less litter. Cats like a shallow bed of litter -- no more than two inches deep.
  • Use a larger litter box.
  • Use clumping, unscented litter of a medium to fine texture or the litter she used as a kitten. You could try putting a few clean boxes side by side, each with a different type of litter, to see which one your cat prefers.
  • Don’t use box liners or lids.
  • Try a self-cleaning box, which is generally cleaner than a traditional litter box.
  • Move the litter box to a quiet, low-light location where your cat is able to see anyone approaching and can escape quickly. The litter box should be out of sight of her food and water dishes.
  • Add a few litter boxes in different locations, all of which have multiple escape routes. Make sure that children or other animals don’t have access to the boxes.
  • If your cat is old or arthritic, use a litter box with low sides so she can climb in easily.
  • Provide a litter box for each of your cats, plus one extra. If you live in a multi-storey residence, place a box on each level.

 

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