Help! My Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box!

Dear Pets Adviser: I got two kittens from two different litters from the SPCA in July. One was 2 months old, and the other was 5 months. From day one, there was no problem with potty training. Both cats shared the box. But right before Thanksgiving, the younger cat, as we finally determined, was pooping right next to the box. We’re pretty sure she pees in the box, though. She’s a happy and affectionate cat and gets along very well with her older brother. We have tried soft love to tough love, but nothing is working. Help! — Glen

Congratulations on your new additions! Like all smart cat people, you wisely adopted two kittens instead of one, so you’re probably enjoying some amusing kitty antics. Aren’t they adorable?

But they’re not so cute when they don’t use their litter boxes. Cat poo is one of the vilest smells on the planet, and nothing tops the ammonia-scented odor of cat pee. When they use their boxes, the smell is contained, but when they don’t use the box? It can take years and multiple cleanings to remove the stench, and even then you can expect the ghost of cat pee to return whenever it rains.

For cats, who prefer things neat and tidy, litter box training isn’t difficult. In fact, some cats seem to be born knowing where to potty! So why is it that your cat won’t poo in the litter box? Read on.

Cats Can’t Talk

If your cat starts peeing or pooing outside her box, the first thing you should do is take her to the vet for a full checkup, including blood, urine and fecal exams. Your cat can’t speak human or use a keyboard, so she can have a hard time telling you if something is wrong. Changes in behavior, especially elimination, can be a strong warning signal that your cat is feeling under the weather. To be safe, make sure there isn’t a medical reason for her new behavior.

Cats are Fussy

Unlike dogs, who enjoy rolling in all sorts of unpleasant things, cats are fussy and fastidious, especially about their bathroom habits. If they don’t like the litter you’re using, they’ll let you know by refusing to potty on it. If you don’t keep the litter box clean enough for their liking, they won’t use it. If you’ve recently changed the kind of litter you buy, change it back. Scoop at least once a day, preferably twice.

My cat won't use the litter box!

My cat won't use the litter box!

Cats Don’t Like to Share

Even though your cute kittens may have shared everything since you adopted them, they might be at the age when they need their own space. Your Pretty Princess could be letting you know that her big brother doesn’t keep the bathroom clean enough for her. (For people like Glen who have multi-cat households, read the very good primer from Dr. Deb on keeping the peace in the house.)

So Glen, get another litter box. Although some cat behaviorists recommend two boxes per cat, I have found that one per cat suffices. Let’s hope your kitten’s sibling will stay out!

Cats Love Revenge

If you can’t resolve the problem with any of the above solutions, you probably have a behavioral problem on your hand. In other words, your cat is pissed at you and getting her revenge by pooping where she’s not supposed to. Did you serve dinner too late? Work too many hours that day? Have a new baby, adopt a new pet, move the furniture, change the cat litter, change the brand of food you give her?

Any these slights could be the cause of your cat’s naughty behavior. Finding the cause can be tricky, so start by correcting any easy changes. Move the furniture back, return to the former cat litter or food and do anything else — short of giving away the baby — to return your pet’s environment to how it used to be.

The most likely cause, however, is that your cat wants more attention from you. If she feels like you’re ignoring her, she’ll punish you by exacting revenge. Thwart her vengeance by setting aside time during the day to pet her, play with her and give her treats.

Cats Are Mystifying

If you’ve eliminated the possibility of medical, environmental or simple behavioral issues, you’re one lucky dog. If not, welcome to my life.

I adopted my cat Annie when she was only a few weeks old. At the time, I had another female cat and was a dozen years away from becoming a dog person. All that changed after I got married and adopted my first dog, and then my second, and third, and fourth… Although the kitties were safely ensconced in our sunny guest room, which was plenty large for two 16-year-old cats.

But then Lucy, Annie’s longtime companion, died of kidney disease, and I began boarding dogs in earnest. Although I found it annoying, it was no surprise when Annie started to pee on the bed. After going through the checklist, I accepted that the only way she’d stop was for me to get rid of all the dogs, and that wasn’t going to happen.

I wasn’t able to heal the wound, but I found an excellent Band-Aid: a waterproof mattress pad with the sides cut off, spread over the made-up bed. Yeah, it’s not a solution, but it keeps the bed dry and clean.

I wish you luck resolving your kitty’s potty problems. Be sure to report back and let us know how it goes!

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  • Toast_particle

    I had a male cat who at the age of 10 suddenly stopped wanting to share his litter box with his female companion. He would straddle the corner of the box and pee just outside it on the floor. I tried all the solutions listed above and more. I finally got creative and bought an under the bed storage box, very large sized, which covered the area he was peeing on. Guess what? He was thrilled with it! He had more room to move around and a deeper amount to dig in. He has long since passed away and we miss him dearly but we still use the storage boxes instead of “traditional” commercial boxes.