Litter Box Avoidance

Litter box avoidance is a problem that can result in people surrendering their cat to the local animal shelter and is also a major reason that recently adopted pets are returned to the shelter.

How should you handle litter box avoidance?   There are actually many things you can do that will fix the problem and allow your cat to stay right where he or she belongs…by your side.    The solutions will take effort, but the end result will be worth it.

Generally, the problem will arise from a physical, environmental or stress related problem.  Cats are usually very easy to litter box train.  They are not spiteful so when elimination starts to occur in abnormal places, there is a reason.  Advice from your veterinarian, careful observation on your part, and research can help narrow down the potential causes of avoidance in most cases.  Do not punish your cat for this type of behavior because you are likely to make the problem worse, while making your cat fearful of you.  Making the effort to find out what is disturbing your cat is the key to resolving litter box avoidance. 

The first thing to do is to rule out any health issues that may be affecting your cat.  He or she may not show that they are experiencing pain, discomfort or anxiety.  Soiling beds, shoes and clothing in your presence indicates possible health problems.  Schedule a visit with your vet for a physical examination to rule out conditions such as intestinal disorders or urinary tract infections.  Regardless of whether they “avoid” the litter box in or out of your viewing, a health check should always be your first course of action.

If the veterinarian determines that the problem is not caused by a health issue then it’s time to look at things from your cat’s perspective. First of all, a clean cat box is essential for proper elimination habits. Since a cat’s sense of smell is thought to be 14 times stronger than a human’s, it is imperative that the box is thoroughly cleaned, without using harsh chemicals.

Cats do not do well with sudden change so it’s a good idea to consider what might be different in your cat’s surroundings. Some environmental causes of litter box avoidance are: changes in brand or type of litter, changes in litter box location (or its cleanliness), or a recent move or home renovation. Changes in your schedule reducing the amount of attention you give to your cat.  Are you going through a marriage, divorce or other major life change?  Has there been a recent addition to your family?  If any of these things have occurred, try to revert back to the original routine if you can.  If this is not possible, use a healthy dose of patience and compassion as you work to solve the problem.

Declawing is another major cause of inappropriate elimination behavior.  Since cats are naturally drawn to litter type substances to do their business, declawing does have a strong effect on their paw sensitivity to litters and may cause them to be more likely to eliminate on smooth surfaces. The Connecticut Humane Society strongly advises against declawing your cat for this and many other reasons.   If you DO have a cat that is declawed, a very smooth litter might help encourage litter box usage. There are many litter box products available; it is best to test these out to see what works for your cat.

Cats are territorial and can sometimes be bothered by outdoor cats.   Soiling near a window or doorway could indicate that an outside animal’s presence or scent is somehow upsetting your cat, triggering their innate instincts. Keep the viewable area covered up or inaccessible to your cat until the problem resolves itself or take humane actions to get the offending visitor to vacate your property.

Multiple cats within a home can initiate competition and create territorial problems within the “family.” To help with this overcrowding, try using multiple litter boxes (one for each cat) placed in different areas that are quiet and private. Sometimes it is necessary to give your cats their own spaces, possibly separating them in different parts of your home, at least until they begin using their litter box. At that time, you can begin allowing the cat a progressively larger living space once their corrected litter box behavior has begun to take shape.  Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the “offender” in multiple cat households.   There is an oral medicine (a dye) called Flourescein which can assist in determining who is going outside the box.  This is a more invasive action and requires discussion with, and a prescription from, your veterinarian.

Regarding the problem of urine marking, spaying or neutering your cat is the best solution to resolve this issue. Alternatively, there are pheromone sprays that can be applied on items in your cat’s living area that will help them eliminate the desire to mark that item with their urine. Drug therapy, such as Buspirone, can also be used for elimination and urine marking problems. While this drug is effective, it is best used as a temporary solution. As with all medical intervention, consult with your veterinarian to determine the best option.

Aside from a clean litter box you should thoroughly disinfect any areas that your cat has soiled with an enzyme type product.  It is also important to consider using products that will deter your cat from returning to the areas they have soiled.  It is strongly recommended that these products be used in the soiled areas for a month or more after your cat has already returned to using the litter box.  This will help to ensure that the offending cat doesn’t feel compelled to continue marking these areas as their “territories” because of lingering scents.  Air fresheners can also be placed in the affected areas to help diffuse smells.

While some litter box avoidance problems are harder to solve than others, it is best to consult with your veterinarian, follow their advice and above all – be patient!


Litter Box Avoidance

Connecticut Humane Society

701 Russell Road, Newington, CT 06111
800-452-0114 | FAX 860-665-1478 
The Connecticut Humane Society is a 501(c)(3)
non-profit organization. EIN: 06-0667605
Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society