You'll know quickly if your cat has stopped using the litter box. If you smell or see kitty urine or feces around your home, you are probably asking yourself, "Why won't my cat use her litter box?" It's time to stop and pay attention because your cat is probably trying to tell you something.
With new kittens, it's important to get them acclimated to their litter box through training until they get the hang of it on their own. If an older cat that's already trained suddenly stops using the litter box, there are a few possible explanations from the cleanliness of the box to larger health issues.
Cats avoid dirty litter boxes
When getting a cat used to a new litter box, training starts with the cat parent. Owners have to be sure to keep litter boxes clean! Your cat has 200 million odor-sensitive cells in her nose compared to a human's five million. So if you think the litter box smells bad, chances are she's going to refuse to get in there.
Your cat is not just being pretentious. This behavior is instinctively tied to survival tactics. Predators in the wild locate their prey by scent, so your cat is going to want to cover all of her tracks and scents as a way to keep the bad guys away.
Make sure to clean out your cat's litter box once or twice a day. Change the litter and scrub the box with warm, soapy water once a week. While cleaning, stay away from harsh chemicals like bleach. This can upset your cats nose and only make the problem worse.
Hooded litter boxes are confining
If your cat is large, a hood on the litter box won't serve her well. If her whiskers brush against the opening, this sends a message to the cat that the rest of her body probably won't fit either. Although cats appreciate privacy, they also need space. Cats need to look around and have clear lines of sight to make sure danger is not approaching. A hooded litter box can make them feel trapped and unprotected against outside threats while they're already in quite a vulnerable position — although, with that said, some cats do like a covered litter box, so you could experiment to see what your cat prefers.
Litter box placement issues
Your cat may avoid the litter box if she dislikes its specific placement in the home. Cats don't like to eat and eliminate in the same area, so make sure the litter box is never near food and water bowls. The box should be easily accessible and in a space that is quiet, safe, and private.
Cats have litter preferences
There are almost endless possibilities when it comes to types of litter. You can choose from clay, scoopable, pearls, crystals, scented, and unscented, just to name a few. Because cats evolved from desert animals, cats usually prefer litter with the texture of sand. They also prefer their litter to be shallow rather than deep. Follow the "less is more" philosophy when pouring new litter into their box. One to two inches deep is plenty.
Outdoor cats that are brought inside may need time to adjust to the new textures of their elimination space. In that particular case, try putting dirt or soil in the litter box. The familiar material should make them feel more comfortable.
If you recently changed to a new type of litter or litter box and your cat avoids it, you may have to switch back to the old brand or box. Certain cats may not like scented litter. The high perfume concentration is much stronger in their noses, and they can find the smell irritating. Consistent cleaning should help humans enjoy an odor-free home without having to irritate your cat's senses.
With a new cat, it's good to experiment with different types of litter to see which she likes best. You can fill multiple boxes with different kinds and see which litter she gravitates towards then uses consistently. Once you know what she likes it's best to stick with it.
Not enough litter boxes
We all know siblings fight. This is definitely true in the cat world. If you have multiple cats sharing a litter box, one may eliminate outside of the box. Cats are territorial and don't appreciate having to share their turf. If your cat smells another cat on the litter box or feels stressed by the other cat's presence, she might find another spot to eliminate.
Territoriality also leads to spraying. When a cat backs up and urinates on a vertical surface like the wall or furniture, this is called spraying. Spraying differs from simply eliminating because it is done on a vertical surface with a quivering tail. Spraying is most common in tomcats but can occur in all cats. Spraying is a sign of anxiety in neutered or spayed cats that usually comes from a battle for territory.
It may help to have multiple litter boxes, each cat gets their own (and you can even throw in one extra) in order to reduce stress for the animals and yourself. When each cat has her own territory, she is more likely to use it (instead of in the corner or under the bed).
Potential medical conditions
It's important not to punish your cat for inappropriate elimination (urination or defecation outside the litter box). There may be more going on than your cat just not liking her litter box. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a group of disorders and diseases that affect the urinary tract and colon, such as irritable bowel disease. These disorders can lead to inappropriate elimination.
FLUTD symptoms include voiding, straining with urination, and blood in the urine. Male cats are more likely to develop life-threatening blockages but risks arise for both male and female cats. If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat contact your veterinarian immediately. Even if you don't see these specific symptoms but your cat is still avoiding the litter box, consult a veterinarian to check for any undiagnosed medical problem.