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Why is My Cat Not Using the Litter Box?

Cats not using litter box 300x199 Why is My Cat Not Using the Litter Box?

Photo by Tom Thai, Flickr

Are you frustrated and wondering just why is my cat not using the litter box for pee and poop? Understand the natural behavior and health of cats to understand why your cat is not using the litter box and instead pooping and peeing outside the litter box. Then you can solve this litter box problem.

Understanding Wild Cat Behavior is the Key to Training a Cat to Use the Litter Box Naturally

It’s stated by many cat behavioral experts that cats are fastidious and want a clean litter box. With this theory, your cat is not using the litter box to stay clean. This is based on the observation that if you clean the litter box the cat will almost immediately use it. The presumption that the cat uses the litter box because it’s clean and that’s how he likes it, however, disregards the natural behaviors of the housecat’s ancestors.

Wild felines use poop and pee to mark their territory in the wild and captivity. In zoos, wild cats, such as the African wildcat, the ancestor to your pet cat, are confined to a smaller space and they will mark with urine and feces the exact same spots day after day. These spots usually run along the perimeter of their cage. If the cage is cleaned daily and all feces are removed, they will poop in the exact same spot, day after day. If a day of cleaning gets skipped, then that wild cat will poop a little farther out from its usual spot, but still along the perimeter of its territory. He doesn’t seem to mind the poop not being scooped; he will just expand his marking spots. In fact, these wild felines probably don’t want their perimeter cleaned. They want it to smell like they own it. Removing the poop means they have to go back and remark their territory.

Although there are many differences between your pet feline and his wild ancestors, many of the behaviors are still there, if only in a more mild form. Learn from the natural marking behavior of wild felines and you will learn about the more natural relationship between cats and litter boxes. Then you can work to stop your cats urinating in the house.

Veterinary Care

The first step to understanding why a house feline is urinating in the house inappropriately is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. A number of medical conditions can cause such behavior, such as a urinary tract or kidney infection. This is especially important if this behavior is new.

Only after getting a clean bill of health from your veterinarian can you address this as a cat problem behavior and take other tactics to get your cat back to using the litter box every time.


You need to give your cat a new habit. If your cat not using the litter box, then he does not have a habit of using the kitty box. You need to treat your cat as if he is not litter box trained at all. Lock your cat in a small room, such as a bathroom, for at least one week. In the small room, provide him with a litter box, food, water, cat bed, and toys. Only let him out of the bathroom unsupervised when he is using the litter box 100% of the time. Otherwise supervise him when he is out or spend time with him in the bathroom. When you see he needs to pee or poop, gently pick him up and put him in his box.

Scoop Daily

The advice to scoop the litter box once or even twice a day is still good advice. The reasons the advice is given may vary, but the results are the same. Removing the cat’s waste, their scent that marks their territory, makes the cat instinctively want to replace their scent. Thus he should feel the need to start at the beginning, the kitty box, in marking his territory. If you cannot scoop the box regularly each day, then consider purchasing an automatic litter box for cats.

Don’t Scrub

For some cats, scrubbing the litter box weekly to remove all smells may cause them to mark in other locations. If their litter box is clean, but not scrubbed to remove all smells, they will go back to their spot to eliminate. Put the litter boxes on a rotating scrubbing schedule. Instead of scrubbing all the boxes the same day, do one a week. This way, at least one will still have your cat’s scent.

Add More Litter Boxes

The general rule is to have one more litter box than number of cats. So if you have a two cat household, then you should be a three litter box household. If you already have the recommend number, add one more.

Move the Boxes

Take a cue from your cat’s wild ancestors. Wild felines mark the perimeter of their territory. Move the kitty boxes to the perimeter of your cat’s territory. This would be along the outer walls of the house.

Lock the Cats Up At Night

Cats are nocturnal and therefore most active at night. Pay attention and you may notice that the cat urinating in the house only or usually, happens at night. Lock your cats in a small space at night and they can’t mark the entire house at night, and you may find that they don’t have this behavioral problem during the day when you let them out.

Only Provide Proper Kitty Boxes

If the problem is that the cats think your laundry makes as good of a litter box as the real thing, the solution here is simple. Don’t provide the cats with laundry to mark. Keep laundry in laundry baskets with lids or put away at all times and the cats can’t pee on your laundry.

When You Catch Them in the Act – The Bad Advice

If you do catch your cat urinating or pooping outside the box, you need to act appropriately to prevent making the problem worse. First, know that some of the older advice of rubbing their noses in it is just bad advice. Such disciplinary tactics make absolutely no sense to the feline—the cat will never make a connection of an angry owner forcing a cat to rub his nose in it with appropriate litter box use. Really, does that connection make any sense to you? Such actions by a cat owner will make the cat leery of the owner and feel uncomfortable in his own home. This will lead to more feline marking to gain a sense of security.

The Right Advice

When you do catch your kitty in the act, simply and without anger pick up your cat and put him in the kitty box. Then tell him good kitty for being in the litter box. If you find messes after the fact, put the poop into the litter box until the next scooping. Then clean the spot with a good enzymatic cleaner such as F.O.N (Feline Odor Neutralizer). You need to remove the cat urine smell properly, or your cat will continue to go back to that spot. Make sure to follow the instructions on the enzymatic cleaner exactly or you could set the smell rather than clean it.

Cats are creatures of habit. Once your cat has a habit, it is difficult to break that habit. On the bright side, once there’s a good habit formed with cats and their boxes, it’s a difficult habit to break. With these tips you can make changes your feline’s environment using their natural instincts to create a habit you both can live with.

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