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  • Linda

22 reasons why cats stop using their litter boxes

Find the root of the problem, and then fix it.

Cats are intriguing creatures, aren't they? Beautiful, mysterious, and so appealing to many people. Their behaviors captivate us, entertain us, and sometimes confuse us!

One of the behaviors that stymy pet owners is why, seemingly out of the blue, cats decide they are not going to use their litter box "until further notice"! Although they think they are communicating clearly to you, you may still be confused, so it is up to you to figure out what they are trying to say.

I've observed this behavior over the many years I was pet sitting and I had quite a few phone calls from confused clients who wanted to know if I could offer any advice about the situation.

I want to share with you some of the reasons that cats don't use their litter boxes that I've learned over the years. When I sat down to make the list of reasons in preparation for this blog, I was surprised with the final total of twenty-two.

I hope this list will help you understand the litter box dilemma and spark your imagination with ideas of how to rectify the situation in your household.

Without further adieu ( such a sweet word for a smelly situation, isn't it?) cats stop using a litter box for one or more of these reasons:

  1. They are feeling ill and have trouble getting in or out of the box because it hurts.

  2. They've decided that they don't like the type of litter you are using anymore.

  3. They don't like the new litter you've switched to (you didn't consult them!).

  4. The plastic litter box is old and has absorbed the smells and they don't like it anymore. Time for a new box (but don't toss the old box until they approve of the new one.)

  5. They don't like the new litter box you've switch to (again, they like to be consulted on these things!).

  6. They don't like where their litter box is anymore.

  7. They don't like where you've moved the litter box when you redecorated.

  8. The box is no longer in a private enough area for them.

  9. The box is near their food and they don't like that.

  10. You don't clean the litter box often enough.

  11. They don't like sharing the litter box with the new cat.

  12. The other cat(s) in the family is not letting him/her use the box.

  13. They are trying to tell you something by messing on the floor. Are you listening?

  14. It was just a one-time thing - so don't fret until it becomes a pattern.

  15. They are overweight and the box is now too small for them.

  16. They have now decided that they want a box that has a cover.

  17. They have now decided that they don't want a box with a cover!

  18. They have decided that they want two litter boxes - this one, and another one somewhere else in the house. They want variety.

  19. They are trying to drive you crazy! Ha ha!

  20. They are very old and getting forgetful of where their litter box is (kitty dementia, as I call it.) so they just go when they feel like it wherever they are in the house.

  21. Something else you've put in the room is frightening them or making them feel anxious and is keeping them away from the box.

  22. Another human has moved into the house and they are protesting (see # 13).

As I mentioned at the top of this post, cats can be mysterious and as pet owners and pet sitters we must take some time to observe and analyze their behaviors. The more you know the cat, the easier it is to figure out. Now that you have these 22 reasons why cats stop using their litter box you have a few more ideas to figure into your analysis.

If your worries increase and you can't figure it out, I'd recommend that you consult your vet anyway because he/she can examine your furry friend up close and personal and may detect a physical problem that needs addressing. When you go to the vet tell them the strategies you've tried and what you've observed. Bring a stool/urine sample to the vet if you can, to be pro-active, or vomit if that is part of the scenario you are witnessing.

If you've come up with any other reasons why cats stop using their litter boxes, I'd love to hear about them. E-mail me at

P.S. Regarding # 5 - switching to a new litter. If you want to do this, then slowly mix the new litter in with the current brand you are using to phase it in. There may not be resistance if you try it that way.


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