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Cat Litter Box Problems

At least ten percent of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination or defecation but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes.

Elimination problems can develop as a result of conflict between multiple cats in a home, as a result of a dislike for the litter-box type or the litter itself, as a result of a past medical condition, or as a result of the cat deciding she doesn't like the location or placement of the litter box. Unfortunately, once a cat avoids her litter box for whatever reason, her avoidance can become a chronic problem because the cat can develop a surface or location preference for elimination, and this preference might be to your living room rug or your favorite easy chair.

The best approach to dealing with these problems is to prevent them before they happen by making your cat's litter boxes as cat-friendly as possible. (See our common litter-box management issues below, and our ways to make litter boxes cat-friendly.) It is also important that you pay close attention to your cat's elimination habits so that you can identify problems in the making. If your cat does eliminate outside her box, you must act quickly to resolve the problem before she develops a strong preference for eliminating on an unacceptable surface or in an unacceptable area.

Litter box use problems in cats can be diverse and complex. Behavioral treatments are often effective, but the treatments must be tailored to the cat's specific problem. Be certain to read the entire article to help you identify your particular cat's problem and to familiarize yourself with the different resolution approaches to ensure success with your cat.

Why Do Some Cats Eliminate Outside the Litter Box

Litter-Box Management Problems

If your cat isn't comfortable with her litter box or can't easily access it, she probably won't use it. The following common litter-box problems might cause her to eliminate outside of her box:

  • You haven't cleaned your cat's litter box often or thoroughly enough.
  • You haven't provided enough litter boxes for your household. Be sure to have a litter box for each of your cats, as well as one extra.
  • Your cat's litter box is too small for her.
  • Your cat can't easily get to her litter box at all times.
  • Your cat's litter box has a hood or liner that makes her uncomfortable.
  • The litter in your cat's box is too deep. Cats usually prefer one to two inches of litter.
  • Surface Preference
  • Some cats develop preferences for eliminating on certain surfaces or textures like carpet, potting soil or bedding.

Litter Preference or Aversion

As predators who hunt at night, cats have sensitive senses of smell and touch to help them navigate through their environment. These sensitivities can also influence a cat's reaction to her litter. Cats who have grown accustomed to a certain litter might decide that they dislike the smell or feel of a different litter.

Location Preference or Aversion

Like people and dogs, cats develop preferences for where they like to eliminate and may avoid locations they don't like. This means they might avoid their litter box if it's in a location they dislike.