A Friendly Letter on Litter Boxes

Dear Friend,


You’ve had some questions about your cat and her litter box. She’s been avoiding it lately, and that has caused some problems around the house with eliminations outside of the litter box. I can understand your frustration. When she was just a kitten, she took to her litter box like a natural. Once she connected her natural need for digging and burying her waste with that box of sand in the corner, things seemed like they would be golden. Only now, they’re not so golden. In fact, they probably stink a little bit.


Well, as you know, your cat is pretty finicky. She probably likes to have things just so: that sunny spot on the floor in the afternoons, a scratch on her favorite spot behind her ears, an undisturbed nap on the couch from 9 to 10 in the morning. Like the rest of us, your cat likes routine and normalcy, and she tends to notice and care about seemingly insignificant details and changes.


The root of your problem is that something is bothering your cat. Something about the environment or situation may have changed, or perhaps something about your cat’s preferences has shifted. One way or another, something is making your cat uncomfortable, and that discomfort is causing her to avoid her litter box and take her business elsewhere.


It’s important for you to know that your cat is not eliminating in the wrong place simply to spite you. Reacting with frustration, anger, punishment, or even well intentioned discipline will not help the situation. You will merely be making an uncomfortable and confused cat even more uncomfortable and confused, possibly exacerbating the problem. For example, if you angrily force your cat into her litter box, she will associate that negative experience with her litter box and will be less likely to return to it in the future.


As with any problem, the first step to correcting it is understanding it. Think about the following common kitty preferences. Could any of these apply to your cat?


Change in home environment:

Has anything in the home changed recently? Do you have a child who has left for or returned from college? Have you introduced a new pet into the family? Have you remodeled a portion of your house? Have you simply started closing certain doors that were left open before? If something about your cat’s space or routine has changed, her eliminations may be signs that she is trying to cope with those changes.


What you can do:

  • Pay attention to where your cat is eliminating. Is it all in one spot or one room? If possible, try relocating the litter box to that area.
  • Bring in a secondary litter box and place it elsewhere in the house. It’s possible that your cat just doesn’t like the old location and needs a new one.
  • Be sure that in all cases the location of the litter box is accessible for your cat (never behind normally-closed doors), that it is away from disturbances and surprises (you won’t be turning on the vacuum right next to it), and that it is not near your cat’s food.


Change in litter box:

Have you recently changed the litter that you use? Perhaps the smell or texture of the new litter is off-putting to your cat. Conversely, your cat may have developed an aversion to the litter you normally use. Do you wash the litter bin with scented soap? You cat may be rejecting the litter box on account of the strong, flowery scent. Has your cat been spending a lot of time outdoors? Does your cat prefer enclosed or open spaces? All these factors may be affecting the way your cat feels about her litter box.


What you can do:

  • If you’ve changed your litter brand, try switching back. Maybe kitty just wants her old litter box back.
  • If you haven’t changed your litter, maybe your cat is looking for a change. Try setting out a variety of litters (unscented is usually best) and see which one your cat prefers. You may even find that your cat likes to urinate in one box and defecate in the other.
  • You should always keep the litter box as clean as possible. Clean it out regularly every few days. Empty and wash the bin weekly with unscented soap or baking soda. Let it dry completely and then refill it with fresh sand.
  • If your cat has time outdoors, she may be developing a preference for using dirt. Mix soil in with the kitty litter and see if that makes a difference. You can also transition to a litter that more closely mimics the dirt around your house.
  • If you have a covered litter box, try uncovering it, or vice versa. You should also consider the dimensions of your litter box. Do the sides seem too high? You should consider this especially if you have a kitten. Cats also tend to prefer a litter depth of 2 inches. Try changing your cat’s litter depth to see if it makes a difference.


One last suggestion: when cleaning up after your cat, do not use ammonia-based cleaners. Cat urine contains ammonia, so your cat will still be drawn to the spot, even after you’ve cleaned it. You’ll be better off using a neutralizing cleaner.


Good luck!



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.