You have always prided yourself on your clean house, but lately your home smells like a litter box. For unknown reasons, your cat has decided to shun their litter box, leaving you on constant clean-up duty. Our team at Colony Veterinary Hospital sought advice from Nadia, a naughty cat who routinely eliminates outside her litter box, to learn why cats exhibit this behavior.

#1: Naughty Nadia: “If I am not feeling well, I cannot be bothered to use my litter box, and I hope my human gets the message that I am ill.”

Colony Veterinary Hospital: Any issue that causes a cat discomfort or pain can result in inappropriate elimination. Urinary tract infections, feline interstitial cystitis, and kidney stones are a few medical conditions that cause pain when your cat urinates, and can lead to your cat being uncooperative about their litter box. However, any illness that affects your cat can cause this issue. If your cat refuses to use their litter box, your first step should be a veterinary evaluation to rule out a medical issue. Regular wellness checks can help ensure that your cat stays healthy. Your cat should be seen at least once a year for a thorough physical exam and screening tests. Geriatric cats should be seen at least twice a year.

#2: Naughty Nadia: “If my human does not clean my litter box to my satisfaction, I will find other accommodations to do my business.”

CVH: Cats do not appreciate a messy litter box. Ensure you scoop their box at least once a day, and change out the litter once weekly. When changing out the litter, clean the box using baking soda or unscented soap.

#3: Naughty Nadia: “If my litter box setup is not exactly to my specifications, I will show my disdain by powdering my nose elsewhere.”

CVH: Several factors can upset your cat where their litter box is involved. 

  • Privacy — Ensure your cat’s litter box is in a quiet, secluded area where they will not be disturbed while using the box. 
  • Kitchen versus bathroom — Do not put their food and water bowls in the same area as their litter box. Cats do not want to eat near their bathroom. 
  • Box size — Ensure that the litter box is large enough. The box should be as long as your cat from their nose to the tip of their outstretched tail, and as wide as your cat from their nose to the base of their tail.
  • Litter amount — Do not use too much litter. One to two inches is enoughany more may dissuade them from dirtying their paws.
  • Perfume — Use unscented, clumping litter. Scented litters may make your home smell better, but the scent can overwhelm your cat’s sensitive nose.
  • Simplicity — Do not use litter box liners or covered litter boxes. Your cat likes a simple litter box setup.
  • Height — Older cats may have mobility issues, making navigating the high litter box sides difficult. Provide a box that has low sides. Spreading litter on a sheet pan works well for these cats.

#4: Naughty Nadia: “When my human adopted a second, obviously inferior cat, I had to state my dissent by rejecting my litter box.”

CVH: Multiple cat households can cause stress and lead to inappropriate elimination. Ensure you have enough litter boxes for all your household cats. You should have one box for every cat, and one extra box. Place boxes in several house locations so that every cat’s preference is met. If your cats are in conflict for any reason, this stress can result in litter box rejection. Cats in multiple cat households are also more likely to urine mark, but urine marking is not a litter box problem. Cats will usually use their litter box regularly, but will also use urine to spray vertical surfaces. These urine deposits are typically smaller in volume than normal voiding, but the smell is more pungent. Spaying and neutering intact cats can help remedy this issue.

#5: Naughty Nadia: “When my human went on vacation for a week and left me behind, I made certain she knew that behavior was unacceptable by using her favorite potted plant as my bathroom.”

CVH: Any change in your cat’s normal routine can cause stress and lead to inappropriate elimination. Your absence, workers in your home, house guests, and your guitar lessons are examples that could make your cat avoid their litter box. They likely will not stop the behavior until their stress has been alleviated. 

Nadia is not really naughty. She eliminates inappropriately to communicate that she has a problem. Never punish your cat for not using their litter box, because that will only increase their stress level and exacerbate the problem. Use enzymatic cleansers designed to neutralize pet odors to clean up after your cat, as ammonia-based cleaners can attract your cat and make them want to use the same spot as their bathroom.

If your cat is avoiding their litter box, contact our team at Colony Veterinary Hospital to schedule an appointment, so we can ensure they are healthy before pursuing behavioral issues.