Why Won’t My Cats Use Their Litter Box?

Why Won’t My Cats Use Their Litter Box?

It’s not just the nasty smell of cat urine that’s a problem. When cats aren’t relieving themselves outdoors or using their litter tray, there are hygiene concerns. It’s also a sign that they may have a medical or behavioral problem. 

If you’re struggling with a cat pee difficulty, read on to find out more about this common issue and how to tackle it. 

Medical Reasons for Poor Urinating Behavior in Cats

If your cat is urinating erratically or in inappropriate places, you must get any potential medical causes for their behavior ruled out. This starts with a physical examination by your vet who can then make any appropriate diagnoses. These are some common findings your vet will be looking for:

  • Penile barbs or spines
  • Abdominal pain or kidneys that are of an abnormal shape or size
  • Signs of overgrooming in the groin area
  • Evidence of bladder stones
  • Abnormalities in the thyroid

Your vet will also want to eliminate these conditions: 

  • An overactive thyroid
  • Diabetes mellitus that can increase the desire to urinate
  • Potential liver or kidney disease
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)
  • Arthritis and feline senile dementia

Young cats can experience a “sense of urgency,” caused by feline idiopathic cystitis or, more rarely, by bladder stones or urinary tract infections. The overwhelming need to urinate can happen even when their bladders aren’t full. Urinating can also be painful.

It’s possible that your cat will grow to associate the use of their litter box with these unpleasant side effects. They may then try to avoid using the litter box altogether.

In these cases, you may need to retrain your cat to use a new litter box in a different location. You should start by keeping your cat in a small area for several days before gradually increasing their territory as they get used to the new set-up.

Once your vet has ruled out medical conditions, you can then take a look at other factors that may be causing the issues. These include:

  • The cleanliness of the litter-box
  • The size, type and location of your litter box
  • Any social interaction your cat has with other cats
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Keeping the Litter Box Clean

How clean you keep your litter box is very often the main reason that a cat will choose to urinate somewhere else. You should scoop your litter box at least once a day and you should change the litter every week or two. 

The way you clean the litter box can also have an impact on a cat’s habits. Always use plain soap and water. Cats don’t like highly-scented detergents, particularly those that have a citrus smell.

Litter Box Types

Put aesthetics to one side. The only thing that matters is what’s going to suit your cat best. For example, a covered litter box may look more pleasing, but your cat might simply not like it. 

Scented cat litters too may reduce any nasty smells but can be a total turn-off to a cat. Remember that most cats have an aversion to automatic litter boxes or litter box liners.

Go for a litter box that’s going to be large enough for your adult cat or for a young cat to grow into. Many commercial litter boxes are too small for the average cat. This is an opportunity for you to get creative. 

A plastic storage container or a sweater box may be a more appropriate choice for your cat’s new litter box. In terms of the litter itself, many cats prefer the clumping variety. That makes the box easier to keep clean as well.

The Litter Box Location

You should choose a place for your cat’s box that’s not close to their food and water bowls. Find somewhere that’s quiet and easy for your cat to reach. It needs to be somewhere they can feel safe.

You could also try out placing additional boxes around the house. This is particularly helpful if you have more than one cat. Cats tend to use urine and feces as weapons to claim territory. Although some cats will share a litter box, most will not.

You should make those places where your cat has had a mistake less attractive. You can discourage your cat:

  • By cleaning the area thoroughly with a pet-odor neutralizer 
  • By covering the area with plastic sheeting or foil 

Enzymatic pet-mess cleaners tend to take time to work. You should plan to keep problem areas out of bounds for at least two weeks.

Marking or Spraying

This behavior is common in unneutered males but can also happen in neutered males and small numbers of spayed females. Cats typically mark for two reasons:

  • As a signal to mark territory 
  • To reduce anxiety, especially due to social interaction with other cats

Cats mark their territory by expelling small amounts of urine. They usually do this by standing up and spraying vertical surfaces such as drapes, walls or furniture. They’ll still tend to use their litter boxes normally to urinate. 

If you have lots of cats as pets, they can become stressed. Ensure there are plenty of resources for each of them including food and water bowls, litter boxes and places to sleep.

Punishment for spraying is highly unlikely to work. Reward-based training and stress reduction can help. Set aside 25 minutes a day to play with your cat and 5-10 minutes for positive reinforcement training. 

Teach your cat basic behaviors like “sit” and “come.” You can use these as a mechanism to defuse a confrontation between the cats in your household. The stimulation from this kind of training can help to improve emotional responses to other cats or pets.

Cats that mark often respond well to serotonin-enhancing medications. Therapeutic diets available may also be useful. Talk to your vet to find out if any of these treatments may be appropriate for your pets.

Why Does Cat Pee Smell So Bad? 

After a short period of time, bacteria in a cat’s urine decompose. They then give off the ammonia-like, characteristic smell. Next, the urine emits mercaptans. These are compounds that give skunk spray its distinctive bad smell.

The older cats are, the less efficient their kidneys become. The result is that they tend to have worse-smelling urine. 

Added to all this are the powerful and pungent hormones that cats get rid of when they urinate. Unless you neuter your male cat, their testosterone-laden urine signals to other males that they should stay away and lets females know they’re available.

Some pet owners think that when their cat pees outside of their litter box it’s their way of paying them back for something they don’t like. Cats are clever but not that clever! However, the behavior might be a sign that something else is not quite right.

Retraining Your Cat

Sometimes, it may be necessary to retrain your cat to urinate in a new tray and in a new location. You should start by keeping your cat in a small area for several days. 

Ensure that the safe room you choose is clear of any places your cat might choose to pee, such as carpet or piles of laundry. If you choose to keep your cat in the bathroom, fill the tub with a little water to discourage your cat from urinating inside it. 

Once your cat starts using the litter box properly, let them slowly expand their territory once more. You must, of course, do your bit by keeping the litter box clean and the litter fresh.

Keeping Your Cat Happy

Urinating problems in cats are very common among pet parents. The key to success is to rule out medical problems and to have a clean, appropriately sized litter box in a quiet place.

We’ve plenty more articles in our blog section that will help to keep you and your cat or kitten happy and healthy. Do you still have any questions about your cat using the litter box? Then schedule a video consultation with one of our qualified vets!

Contact us for information about all the highly competitive pet insurance products we are able to offer too.

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