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Expert Advice on Pet Health and Nutrition

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WebMD Expert Discussion: Is Refusing to Use the Litter Box a Sign of Sickness?

If you’ve ever lived with a cat, you’ve probably had this moment: a middle-of-the-night encounter just outside the litter box, when you realize that you’ve stepped in something -- not too pleasant. Every cat misses the litter box once in awhile. Often, it’s a very unsubtle way of telling you that you’re falling behind on your litter-changing duties. But when does it mean something more?

There are other reasons a cat might avoid his litter box, WebMD guest veterinarian Will Draper, DVM says in the online discussion, Caring for Your Pet. You might have switched litter brands on him, and he hates the new one. Or if you’ve introduced a new feline friend to the household, this might be his way of protesting.

But if your litter box is thoroughly clean, the brand is the same, and there are no new cats in the family, refusing to use the litter box could indeed point to one of a number of health problems, Draper says. The most common one is a urinary tract infection or a gastrointestinal illness. “Accidents” can also point to a chronic illness, like diabetes, kidney disease, or senility in an older cat (who may “forget” where the litter box is).

One reader found that her elderly cat -- who had kidney disease -- needed the litter box adapted to her needs. “She had a hard time climbing into the pan, so she would pee on the floor right in front of the opening,” she wrote.

A woman with four elderly cats -- all around age 20 -- realized that she had to adapt to their litter needs. “I’ve always heard the rule of thumb is one litter pan per cat in the household. I figured they would have issues getting to the litter pans easily so that's why I have nine in convenient places for them.”

Has your cat ever missed her litter box “by accident”?

Discussion led by William Draper, DVM Guest Expert
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Dr. Will opened Georgia’s first accredited small animal emergency room in 2000. He’s been named Best Vet by Atlanta Magazine since 2004... More

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Pet Health and Nutrition Advice

Veterinarian Will Draper gives tips on the best nutrition and health care for your dog or cat.
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