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My Cat Isn't Using the Litter Box

Litter box problems mean unhappiness all around. You don’t enjoy coming home to find a stinky wet spot on the couch. And your disappointment and frustration can be frightening for your cat.
You can usually solve litter box problems easily once you’ve figured out their cause. Here’s a hint: Fluffy isn’t being spiteful—there’s something wrong. Not using the litter box is his way of telling you that. We’ll help you hear what he’s saying, so you can solve both your problems.

Are You and Your Cat Ready for Litter Box Success?

Check off each of these questions as you answer. Once you're able to answer “yes” to all of them, you should have nothing to worry about.

  • A litter box that's next to an appliance doesn't feel safe like a safe place to your cat. Mike McFarland/The HSUS

Top Five Reasons Your Cat Isn't Using the Litter Box

If your cat isn’t using the litter box, it’s probably because your cat is one of the following:

Knowing what's causing the trouble will make it easier for you to pick which solution listed in the Help Your Cat Resolve Litter Box Issues section to try first. And even if you still aren't certain, that section should give you and your cat the help you need.

  • The first step to take when your cat stops using the litter box is straight toward your veterinarian's office for an exam. Nancy Peterson/The HSUS

Help Your Cat Resolve Litter Box Issues

Check off each suggestion once you've tried it.

  • • Don’t use litter box liners.
  • • If the box has a cover, take it off.
  • • Provide a box that is at least as long as the cat’s body and wide enough so that he or she can turn around easily.
  • • Check to see if the sides of the box are too high. This is particularly important for kittens and older cats who may have arthritis.
  • • Pour the litter approximately two to three inches deep for adults and one half to one inch deep for kittens. (Cats don’t like litter that’s too deep—a good sign that you’ve got the depth or texture right is if your cat scratches around in the litter.)
  • • Use an unscented, clumping litter that is fine-grained. (Listen for the sound of your cat scratching in the box.)
  • • Find a litter the cat likes, and then don’t switch brands (cats don't like change).
  • • Scoop the litter twice a day and thoroughly empty and clean the box once every 10 to 14 days, using warm, soapy water.
  • • Set up at least one litter box on every level of my house.
  • • Put the litter boxes in corners, in low traffic areas of the home that are easy for the cats to get to, far away from food and water bowls, and not near any household appliances (washing machines/dryers) that might scare the cats.
  • • If you have multiple cats, put the litter boxes in locations where a cat can easily escape if he feels the other cat(s) may try to pounce on him while he’s using the litter box. Note: Litter boxes in closets and under the sink are not safe places for cats who are being bullied by other cats.
  • If you’re protecting the floor or a rug, move furniture to cover it or cover it with double-sided tape or an upside-down carpet runner (/if that doesn’t work, try spraying the tape or runner with a citrus smell.)
  • If your cat is going on the sofa, temporarily place a plastic shower curtain over the furniture.
  • If your cat is going on clothes lying around, pick up the clothes.
  • If your cat goes in the bathtub or the sink, close the drain and fill the tub or sink with one to two inches of water when you're not using it.

If you are still having issues after you have checked off everything on the list, please contact us at cats@humanesociety.org for more information, clarification, or advice.

  • Helping your cat get back to using the litter box could be as simple as filling the box to a depth that's comfortable for him. KC Theisen/The HSUS

Back to the Cat Answer Tool

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