What to do if your cat won't use the litterbox

Possible problems and solutions for a cat who won't use his litter box.


When your cat refuses to use his litter box,

it can be a difficult time for everyone.  Sometimes it’s not easy to figure out why your cat isn’t using it.  However, there is always a reason, and a solution.

First of all, has your cat always used his litter box before?  If so, then there is something new in his environment that he may not like.  For example, have you just gotten a new kitten?  Moved to a new house?  Had a new baby?  And of these things may put your cat off using his litter box.

If you have just had a new baby (or other similar stress – family member moving out or dying, someone new moving in), your cat likely just needs time to get used to the new situation.  If he has not begun to use his litter box again within a few weeks, take him to the vet.

If you have just moved to a new house, your cat may not be used to the new locations yet.  Place a litter box in a central location, like a bathroom on the first floor.  Make sure your cat can find this box.  Then, a few times a day, take him to his main litter box and let him see where it is.  As he adjusts to both the move and the new litter box locations, he will likely begin using it again.

If you have just gotten a new kitten, there could be several problems.  First, he may be feeling territorial, and deliberately using places other than his litter box to prove a point.  He may feel that his litter box isn’t clean enough anymore.  He may be so upset by the newcomer that he just doesn’t want to use the box.  The best solution in this case is to have a couple extra litter boxes, and to set them up in dark, lightly traveled areas of the house.  He’ll appreciate his privacy, and the cleaner environments he’ll have.  Also, make sure you clean the boxes often and thoroughly.  Think about switching to a similar-textured litter that’s designed for multiple cats (don’t switch to an entirely new texture or brand if you can help it; too much change will upset the cat further).

If you have a new kitten who isn’t using his litter box, it likely isn’t because he isn’t trained.  He will know instinctively how to use the box and won’t need any training.  However, he may not know the location of the box – have extra boxes in high-traveled areas, where he will be spending most of his days.  

Your new kitten may also be upset at the location of the box.  Some cats are fine with their boxes being near people, semi-near food, and “clean enough.”  Other cats are extremely finicky about location and cleanliness.  Even if your older cats didn’t care about the location or cleanliness of their boxes, this new cat might.  Keep them in dark, low-traffic area, and clean them at least once a day.  

If you have recently switched litters, your cat may dislike the feel of the litter beneath his paws, and may refuse to use the box in protest.  Switch back to the litter you were using or introduce the new litter more gradually.

Your cat may also be sick.  If he’s sleeping a lot, not eating much, not as friendly as usual, is missing hair (from his back or around his eyes), he may be ill.  Hair missing from his back indicates fleas.  Hair missing around his eyes may indicate an allergy, likely to food.  If you suspect he is ill, take him to the vet and ask what to do.  He may need a flea treatment, to switch foods, or another treatment entirely.

Overall, there are many reasons why your cat might refuse to use his litter box.  Look for all of the problems mentioned and try different solutions one at a time.  You will soon figure it out, and your cat will begin using his box again.