Overcoming the Litter Box Blues

November 15, 2013

Nothing brings more dismay to a cat parent than to discover a puddle of urine or a little pile of cat poop somewhere in the house, other than the litter box. Inappropriate elimination is one of the most common complaints vets hear from cat parents and sadly, one of the biggest reasons cats are abandoned or relinquished to shelters.

But the good news is that most litter box issues can be resolved. In fact, one behaviorist told me that they are sometimes one of the easiest problems to correct. That’s encouraging!

Through research for my blog, TheHappyLitterBox.com, I’ve found some common steps experts recommend taking to find a solution to your cat’s litter box woes.

Visit your vet!
First and foremost, it’s critical to rule out any medical issues that may be causing the behavior. There are a variety of ailments that lead to litter box problems so don’t hesitate to get to the vet if your cat is suddenly avoiding the litter box.

Adjust your litter box location.
Often, cat parents place the litter box in a location that’s convenient to the humans in the house – a boiler room, next to the washer/dryer or sometimes even in a closet. Cats can develop aversions to the litter box because they simply don’t feel safe doing their business there due to funny or loud noises. If some cats feel “trapped” when they visit the litter box, they may avoid it altogether. Find a quiet, convenient location that allows the cat to escape in a couple of directions.

Try different litter boxes.
Cats have difference preferences, just like humans do. Some like bigger boxes yet some don’t like climbing over high sides. Some don’t like covered litter boxes yet some prefer the privacy that covered boxes provide. The only way you can find out what your cat prefers is to try out a few. It’s recommended to try several boxes with the same litter in it to determine which box your cat prefers.

Try different litter.
Cats have varying preferences for litter too – the smell, shape, feel, consistency and more, all can make a difference for your cat. Some experts suggest offering a litter box “buffet” where you put out different litters, but use the same type of box so you can see which litter your cat gravitates towards.

Consider interior stressors.
Things that you may not even notice can impact a cat’s sense of comfort and security. Is there a vacuum cleaner sitting near the litter box, where it wasn’t sitting before? Did you recently have houseguests? Do you have a new baby in the house? Many things can produce anxiety in your cat. Talk with your vet about options to manage this. Solutions range from pheromone diffusers
to flower essences to even medication in some cases.

Consider exterior stressors.
Neighborhood cats or other animals can trigger marking behaviors or inappropriate elimination. One woman I know could not figure out why her indoor cat was suddenly marking the walls of their home until she discovered there was a wild bobcat cruising around her yard! Experts recommend shielding your cat’s view of the outside by keeping the blinds closed on the lower levels of the house. If your cat likes to perch on furniture and look out the window, consider removing the furniture and getting a cat perch to place somewhere else in the home – where your cat can’t see outside. There are a variety of solutions on the market to deter wild animals or neighborhood cats from coming into your yard.

Tap into an expert.
Consider hiring a certified cat behaviorist. Behaviorists will come into your home and look at the environment from your cat’s perspective. You may be surprised about what’s bothering your cat and the behaviorist can help pinpoint the issue and create a plan for changing the behavior.

If your cat is prone to litter box issues, don’t despair! And don’t give up on your cat. With a little work and a lot of patience, most litter box problems can be remedied and you – and your cat – can be happy again.

Leave a Comment

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

I HAVE CAT October 5, 2011 at 10:20 am

Excellent post! As always, GREAT advice Caroline! And Romeo too :)

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marlene October 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I have a 14 yr old tortie who adopted us 14 yrs ago, She is very smart in fact she does 14 tricks (when she wants to, she’s a cat) but lately she urinates in her box and sometimes doesn’t cover it. And sometimes she leaves me a small turd just outside her box. Nothing has changed with reference to her box, litter, or surroundings. She is very alert and still likes to go outside with me and eat grass and come in the house and leave me presents of grass on my carpets.

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lisa October 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Sadly one of my cats pees elsewhere mainly as a get even deal. If we dont let him out (which we never willingly do), he will mark. 3 set spots he goes at. He also does use litter box.

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Linda October 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm

After years of two-cats-one-litterbox with no problems, a stray adopted us to make us a three-cat family. After a while, the elder female decided she would relieve herself right next to the litterbox. We’ve changed litters and clean the box as often as six times a day. But she continues her behavior.

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Amy October 5, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Does the box have a cover? It might be because the new cat is causing her stress when she goes potty, making her scared to goon the box. My female cat did the same thing when we brought a male stray. Could figure out why until I saw him bullying her in the box. Make sure you have another box since the old cat feels threatened by the new cat in the litter!

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Vicki October 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm

We discovered our rescue cat (who prefers to poop on the carpet) does this because he was declawed on the front. We noticed he doesn’t scratch and cover up his pee in his litter box either, so it either must irritate his feet or it’s because of the pain he experienced when he had the declaw operation (poor baby). He’s doing much better since we now try keep him in his “room” until he poops before we let him out. He’ll use the box if he has to, we just have to keep it emptied as soon as possible since he won’t cover the smelly stuff.

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Shirley October 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Excellent good common sense advice. My sweet persian who was never a bit of trouble started to pee on everything…Pillows, beds, pet beds, blankets, clothes etc… It was a nightmare. This was when my parents came for a vistit for 3 weeks. They slept in the guest room which my cat considers his room. His toys and one of the litter boxes is in there nd he loves to sleep on the bed in there. Well I had to get rid of the pet beds he soiled, and gave him lots of attention and after my parents left and things got back to normal, so did he. My vet knew right away that he wasn’t ill but stressed out and just his way of saying get those people out of my room. He doesn’t mind when my daugher comes home from college and stays in that room… He loves sleeping with her. But where shall I put my parents on their next visit??? But I am so happy he didn’t have a UTI. He is the sweetest boy now.

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Lucille October 5, 2011 at 9:30 pm

My little girl Punkin is 3yrs. and until recently have not had any problem with her toilet habits. Her box is located in downstair bath next to the sink. I bought my first small bag for single cat that was fine the 2nd was a large for multiple cats. Now she goes in the tub to poop, most of the time. I wrote once before, didn’t hear anything. Any ideas? It’s not so bad except when I have overnight company a little embarassing.

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Claudia October 5, 2011 at 10:24 pm

We have 14 yr old litter mates. Recently, one has been urinating outside the box. We are not sure if it is the male or female, however we suspect the male. We are greated with this gift when we get up to feed them at 5am. They have always shared one box without problems. We clean the box several times each day. Its location has not changed nor has the litter. Unfortunately, we are on a very limited, fixed income and cannot afford “extra” Vet visits. Any other thoughts or comments?

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Bobbie October 6, 2011 at 6:55 am

I had a friend who complained their cat didn’t go inside the litter box, but around it. After seeing the box, I was sure the cat didn’t use the box because it wasn’t kept clean often enough. I empty my cat’s box twice a day (I have 2 cats that share) but even with one cat, I promptly cleaned it when I noticed anythings been done. Her litter box was past due a cleaning and I felt the cat had no place to go in there so it used the perimeter of the box.

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Neisha Klein October 6, 2011 at 6:55 am

Why would my cat use the litter box for urination(always, thankfully), but alternate the use of the litter box and the floor nearby when doing her other? I’ve tried moving the box slightly, using different litter, cleaning it every day, and I always “scoop” it at least once a day. It is not near her food and water, and is in a quiet corner of the basement, next to a large window.

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Kim October 6, 2011 at 10:01 am

I’m having the same problem. She always urinates in the litter box, but defacates right outside the litter box. My cat is 15 yrs old and about a yr ago started not covering her urine in the litter box and she always defacates on the floor right next to the litter box. I’ve taken her to the vet. She’s healthy & alert, I tried adding two more litter boxes (I have 2 cats & have 3 litter boxes), changed brands & types of litter, moved the litter boxes to diff locations. I use the scoopable litter (which I always have) & scoop it once a day. I clean it & change it entirely every couple weeks. I can’t figure it out…we’ve lived in the same house since she’s been with me and the other cat has been there for 9 yrs.

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Mary Hill October 6, 2011 at 9:36 am

My cat’s litter box issue was solved when I took her to the vet and found she had a bladder infection. Medication cleared it up and we’re fine again. Got carpets cleaned so there’s no odor for her to go back to the spot.

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Gracey, The Tiniest Tiger October 7, 2011 at 1:00 pm

This is great advice!! Thank you for helping our cousins with litter box issues.

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billy October 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm

good tip

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Daris O'Brien October 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Stella is a rescued blk/wht kitty, had to be bottle fed the 1st wk, hand fed the 2nd & let make a mess the 3rd, & get a face washing after eating this 1st 3 wks. He had undecended testicles & was pushed away from the family of 2 siblings. We thought he was a girl & named him Stella. As he matured the testicles descended & he was neutered. He has adjusted well in 2 yrs & is very combatable with Tigger a gold also rescued male 9 yrs old now.
Now to the problem Stella has started finding somewhere other than the litter box for his B/M. I find a deposit just inside the bedroom door on the carpet each morning when I get up, he walks by & attempts to cover it. The corral (litter box) which I keep cleaned x 2 or 3 daily he uses some time but, twice he left me a deposit to be cleaned. Is he upset because I didn’t get up early or just being his “bad” self.

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Gail Hebert October 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I would like some suggestions on a problem I have with one of my cats. I have 5 cats and the older one is doing his #2 behind the big screen Television. Not everyday, but it is fast becoming a problem. I do not know why he has started this habit. Do you think he feels secure behind there, cause he thinks no one sees him or what? I put towels back there so if he does do it, it will go on the towel. My next step is to put a large piece of plastic back there and than push the stand back so he can’t get back there to do his job. Do you have any suggestions? Thank You.

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Lisa Barnabo October 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm

I adopted my cat “Bella” from a shelter when she was 9 months old, and she was doing very well for the first 4 months or so, until I found a puddle of her urine in my bed. I put her nose in it and slapped her on the nose, and I yelled at her for about 15 minutes, she knew she made me mad at her, but I have a hard time maintaining the hard core disciplinarian for a long time. Well in the 2 yrs. i’ve had Bella she has kept up this unacceptable behavior and did it again moving it to different areas. She’s done it a total about 5 times. I think she’s marking territory, I live in a condo, but I’ve found her temperment changes so dramatically if I bring her outside with me, even for 3-4 minutes. She turns into this love bug and it’s so cute to watch. But I’m torn because I feel I should find her a home where she is allowed outside and inside, she’s so much happier when she goes out, it’s adorable. I would love your input. Thank you, Lisa Barnabo.

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Caroline October 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Lisa, experts say to never, ever punish a cat for their peeing behavior. It won’t work, as you’ve found. I’ll look into the correlation between “marking” and the desire to go outside. But in the meantime, please don’t yell at or slap Bella when she does this! She’s not doing this to be bad so don’t treat her like she is.

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Joanne October 20, 2011 at 12:00 am

I have 3 cats, all female. My oldest cat who is 8, will urinate in the litter box, but will sometimes poop on the mat outside the litter box. She will poop inside sometimes but quite often she will poop outside the litter box. It doesn’t seem to matter if I scoop more often or clean the entire box. Any suggestions?

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