Featured image for post why cats quit using their litter box

Why Cats Quit Using Their Litter Box: The 4 Reasons

There is so much misinformation, and hodgepodges of oversimplified information on the internet about why cats quit using their litter box. So many frustrated cat parents deal with this problem every day, and no online advice seems to get right down to the point.

The simple truth is that, as long as the cat is spayed/neutered, there are only four reasons that they avoid the litter box.

Cats quit using their litter box, or simply avoid it, due to one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Problems with their litter box set up
  2. Environmental stressors
  3. Tensions in a multicat household
  4. Medical issues.

The key to fixing litter box issues is to identify what is causing them to avoid their box.

So, get out your detective hat and magnifying glass, and let’s start sleuthing…


*If your cat is spraying or going outside of the litter box, and is still intact, the first step is to get them spayed/neutered. (Be sure to clean up all of the urine in your home while your cat is recovering from the surgery. Use a proper urine cleaner to do this.) Many times, the issue will resolve itself a short while after the cat is fixed.

Shareable Pin Image for Pinterest Why Cats Quit Using Their Litter Box The Complete Guide

How to Identify the Cause of Litter Box Avoidance

Figuring out why cats quit using their litter box can be either a very simple task, or one that requires diligence, patience, and perseverance. Oftentimes, the length of this process is going to depend on how long the problem has been going on.

If your cat suddenly stopped using their box yesterday, it’s likely to be a much shorter road to identify the root cause.

If this problem has been going on for a long while, it may take you more time and patience to discover the underlying reason(s).

This behavior issue must be approached with the utmost care and compassion. Understand that your cat is not doing anything to intentionally upset you.

Litter box issues can be complex. Your cat could have one, two, three, or all four of the reasons aforementioned affecting their view of their litter box.

If your cat is avoiding the litter box, here are the steps you need to take in order to determine the cause:

1) Take Your Cat to the Vet

Take cat to the vet if they are having litter box problems

A medical issue may very well be the reason why your cat is avoiding the litter box. If a cat is in pain while using the litter box, this can quickly create a negative association with the box, itself.

Some medical conditions that can cause pain during elimination, and therefore litter box avoidance are:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Kidney disease
  • Feline interstitial cystitis
  • Crystals or bladder stones
  • Blockage in the intestines
  • Kidney stones
  • Diabetes
  • & more

Arthritis, and pain from declawing can both cause cats to stop using the litter box as well.

Please, never get your cat declawed!! It is serious surgery in which the first section of the toe bone is cut off! Most people are under the impression that declawing is just an “extreme manicure.” This is simply not the case!

Sometimes older cats need more boxes in areas that they spend a lot of time in. Due to arthritis, or weakened bladder they just may not be able to make it to their box in time.

**If your cat is suffering from an illness, it is a good idea to take a look at their diet, and educate yourself about the nutritional needs of cats. Taking cats off of dry food, and feeding a high protein, high moisture, species appropriate diet can prevent many common health complications and diseases in cats.

[tqb_quiz id=’5236′]

Please see my posts for more detailed information:

Homemade Cat Food: The Art of Feeding Your Cat for Optimal Health and Longevity

7 Ways Raw Cat Food Improved My Cats’ Health

7 Simple & Effective Cat Weight Loss Tips

2) Thoroughly Examine Your Cat’s Litter Box Set Up

litter box set up is a key component to figure out why cats stop using their litter box

Litter box set up is so important to cats! They have specific needs and preferences when it comes to their litter box that are based on survival instinct. These needs vary greatly from our own.

Please check out my post: 5 Keys to Litter Box Success if you have any suspicion whatsoever that your set up may not be checking off all the necessary boxes for your kitty.

The litter box set up includes cleaning! It shocks me how many cats are going outside of their box solely because it is dirty. Yet, their owners are miffed!

Please, be considerate and respectful of your cat. They are naturally fastidious creatures, and like a clean litter box. If your cat is experiencing litter box issues, scoop their box twice a day, and scrub it out once a week. See if that resolves the problem.

If you have changed the type of litter recently (even scent!) this is very likely to be the cause of the issue.

When you want to change your cat to a different litter, it’s important that you make this shift gradually. I suggest changing only one litter box (that is close to another litter box, which contains the litter they are already used to!) and seeing how your cat reacts to it. From there, you can move at the pace your cat dictates.

*A slower pace is always best.

I’ve made this mistake, myself. I changed the litter in one box, and took the other one containing the familiar litter away briefly for cleaning. Before I knew it, Doja had peed on my bed…

3) Examine Your Cat’s Environment for Any and All Stressors

environmental stressors cause cats to quit using their litter box

Environmental stressors that are affecting your cat can be obvious, or not apparent at all. This could be anything that affects their normal schedule, is outside of their comfort zone, or is perceived as a threat to their safety, such as:

  • If they have had to travel at all
  • If you or someone in your household that they are used to seeing has left or is travelling
  • Changes in work schedule (or school schedule, etc.)
  • Changes in their feeding schedule
  • New objects, such as furniture
  • New people, or visitors
  • Changes in their play schedule
  • A death in the household
  • A new baby
  • Cats hanging around outside
  • Moving
  • Changes that occur around holidays
  • A new cat or other animal’s smell or presence
  • & many more

Environment stressors can sometimes be very difficult to spot. Paying attention to small details may be necessary, as well as gaining an understanding of your cat’s state of mind and perspective.

My Cat Peed in My Suitcase…

Last year, my dad was ill. He lived in Michigan , and I live in Florida. I went back and forth for a few months and was gone for weeks at a time. When I returned home after one of my longer absences, one of my cats peed in my suitcase.

This was upsetting in the moment, of course, but I knew why it had happened. I have pretty much always been with my cats, other than a few short absences that were only days, a week max.

In this case I had left them with my roommate, whom they were not close to or bonded with at all. I had left way longer than I ever had, after being gone shortly before that.

My cats and I have moved many times, but I was always a constant in their lives. And their routines stayed relatively the same. (Nia, my trooper, has moved 9 times in her 7 years of life!)

In this instance, their routine was completely shaken, and their stability (me) was gone. Plus when I was there, I was kind of an emotional wreck, which they could sense as well.

Peeing on my suitcase, which was full of clothes covered in my scent, was a way of melding their scent with mine in order to feel some sense of security and belonging. It was a red flag of insecurity, and uncertainty.

I tell you this to give you a slight peek into your cat’s mind. Cats thrive on routines, and stability. When these are shaken this can cause behavior issues, including litter box avoidance. For some extra-sensitive cats, they can be shaken by even small disturbances in their normal day.

*Cats never act out of spite! This instance could have easily been misconstrued as them being spiteful, and angry at me for leaving. This is a human way of thinking, not a feline way of thinking.*

4) If You Have a MultiCat Household, Observe the Relationship Between Your Cats (Especially as it Involves the Litter Box)

Tension between cats is a common reason why cats quit using their litter box

Cats are extremely territorial creatures. Cat colonies exist within the confines of hierarchies. And as long as every cat knows their place, they are able to coexist quite well, even forming strong bonds and friendships.

An upset in this hierarchy can cause tension between cats. Inability to have confident ownership of a territory is oftentimes what causes cats to fight and not get along.

This problem can also be why cats quit using their litter box.

Sometimes it isn’t the inability to claim territory at all, but the opposite. A cat will claim a territory within the house. If he feels threatened, he will constantly be defending it from anyone who tries to step foot on his turf.

And if the litter box happens to be within this territory…. Well, let’s just say tough luck for the other cats. They’ve got to find somewhere else to do their business. Perhaps in the sink, bathtub, or behind the couch.

Providing ample resources for all of the cats in the house is key in this situation.

This is why it is so important to have enough litter boxes when you have multiple cats. The general rule is to have one box for every cat, plus one. And these litter boxes must be placed in different rooms/territories around the house.

This way, everyone has a comfortable place to eliminate without fighting for it. Cats don’t typically go looking to get into physical altercations. Especially when they can find somewhere else that’s suitable to eliminate, even if it’s not suitable for you.

What to Do Next…

Figuring out why cats quit using their litter box can be very overwhelming, and confusing. But I promise you, there is a valid reason that it’s happening, even though it may not be apparent to the logical human.

These 4 steps are an amazing place to begin. You’re already ahead of the curve if you’ve read this entire article.

Once you identify the possible issue, go ahead and do your best to rectify the situation.

Please leave a comment if you are having trouble determining how to do this. I will personally respond to you as soon as possible!
Having trouble fixing your cat's litter box issues? Leave a comment, and let me help you!x

More of my articles regarding litter box behavior:

Learn the 5 Keys to Litter Box Success (Litter Box Set Up)

What to do When Your Cat is Peeing Outside the Litter Box

My goal is to make both you and your cat’s lives as pleasant and harmonious as possible. I aim to give the conscious, loving cat parent all the tools they need to live happily ever after with their cats.

All relationships take patience, and you should give yourself big kudos for looking at the situation from your cat’s perspective. Many cats, devastatingly, are relinquished to shelters every year for behavior problems that are fixable with some knowledge, understanding, and perseverance.

Your cat is lucky to have you as their guardian.

If you have any questions regarding your cat’s litter box problems, please leave a comment, or contact me directly!

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Share the Love!
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is a very small commission, and is at no cost to you. Please, refer to my Disclaimers page for details.
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x