Litter Box Problems

Getting to the bottom of why your cat is eliminating outside of the box

It’s estimated that at least 10 percent of all cats develop elimination problems. These problems include not using the litter box, sometimes using the litter box, and using the litter box for either urinating or defecating, but not both. In all instances, this proves a problem for cat owners and it’s something you’ll want to tend to right away—once your cat has developed a particular non-litter-box surface or location preference for eliminating, it can be hard to address.

According to the ASPCA, the following common litter box problems might cause your cat to eliminate outside of her box:

  • You haven’t cleaned your cat’s litter box often or thoroughly enough. Virtually all cats like clean litter boxes, so scoop and change your cat’s litter at least once a day. Rinse the litter box out completely with baking soda or unscented soap once a week.
  • You haven’t provided enough litter boxes for your household. Be sure to have a litter box for each of your cats, as well as one extra. If your home is multi-story, you’ll need a litter box on each floor.
  • Your cat’s litter box is too small for her or she can’t enter it easily.
  • Your cat can’t easily get to her litter box at all times.
  • Your cat’s litter box has a hood or liner that makes her uncomfortable.
  • The litter in your cat’s box is too deep. Cats usually prefer one to two inches of litter.
  • You’ve placed your cat’s food and water bowls beside her litter box. Generally, cats do not like to eliminate where they eat.

Other problems
Multi-cat household conflict and medical problems can also cause litter box aversion. Even if you don’t actively see one of your cats blocking access to the litter box, this doesn’t mean conflict isn’t behind the reluctance to use the box. Similarly, if your cat had a medical problem that caused pain upon urination or defecation, this could create negative associations with the box even if the medical problem is now resolved.

Most cats prefer a quiet litter box location with sight lines—so they can see people and animals approaching—and multiple escape routes so the don’t feel cornered when using the litter box.

If you’re finding it difficult to consistently clean the litter box when you should, a great alternative is finding an automatic cleaner! Companies like LitterRobot provide comfortable, enclosed litter boxes that clean themselves, reducing litter smells and keeping your cat happy. LitterRobot even has a tracking feature so you can see how many times your cat uses the litter box, and source any health problems before they arise.*

Litter Type
Most cats prefer unscented, clumping litter OR they could be attached to the litter they used as a kitten—some cats adapt to litter changes no problem but some may feel wary of a litter they didn’t use when young. If you think your cat may dislike her litter type, try offering a few different types of litter in litter boxes placed side by side. Your cat will use the one she likes best.

Clean all accidents immediately and thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser, available at most pet stores, designed to neutralize pet odours. Do not use an ammonia-based cleaner (urine is also ammonia), which can actually cause your cat to want to soil this area again.
If your cat has developed a non-litter-box location or surface preference for eliminating, you’ll need to make that surface or area less appealing. Try installing a bright light, or better yet, a motion-activated light, and covering the surface with tin foil, double-sided sticky tape, or the spiky underside of a carpet runner.

A Note on Urine Marking
Urine marking often gets lumped in with litter box problems but it is a whole different beast with different causes and solutions. Generally, a cat who is urine marking still uses the litter box but is also spraying other surfaces, usually vertical, with smaller amounts of urine. You may see your cat, tail held high and perhaps quivering, back up to a surface and spray it with urine. For urine marking solutions, see*PS We choose all of our favourite things, some of which may be affiliates of Modern Cat, which mean if you purchase, Modern Cat may get something in return. Thanks for your support!


Add A Comment


  • Rick

    My cat’s issue is so called elevator butt. He starts peeing fine, but then gradually starts lifting his behind and the spray goes over the box. I even got a higher litter box, but he still manages to go over it.

  • Marcy wasinski

    Sometimes a rescue cat comes with issues that you have no way of knowing. Our rescue cat was adopted at the age of 2; she had spent a year in a cage with minimal contact, care or exercise. She coped & survived. She had dog habits – begging for food, following me like a faithful dog & using the paper next to the litter box. Our other (perfect) cat patiently taught her to clean herself, use the box & cover her stuff. When stressed, she reverts to her old habits. The paper is still next to the box. She’s still a good cat & doing the best she can.

  • Linda Collard

    When my cat is constipated, he will eliminate outside of his box. I never scold him because I know it’s not his fault, he associates the box as the problem with elimination. When he’s over the constipation, he goes back to using his box.

  • Jennifer

    My furry family member, Henry, will be 18 yrs old this Nov.. Henry is blind in 1 eye & has cataracts in both eyes. He has arthritis & moves a bit faster then a turtle on a strole, but he knows his way around home very well. His hearing has diminished but he can hear a can of cat food being opened or the bag of dry food being poured. He likes to snuggle, communicate & he is an excellent companion to me, esp. after the recent loss of my parents. Primarily due to Henry’s age, he has frequent urine elimination just outside of his litter box. I work from home so the cleanup is immediately. I do understand some owners may or may not work from home and may or may not have the time which I have throughout my day/evening to keep up w/Henry. Given our lengthy history together, our Vet & I were able to arrive at a conclusion. I understand not everyone has my advantage. However, I sincerely recommend to owner’s of furry family members, at the 1st notice of your pets elimination problem, please remain patient for kitty & yourself, stay kind & loving as you always are to your pet. Make the call to your Vet for an appt.. The answer could be as simple as age.

  • Me

    I had the same “elevator butt” problem with my cat that Rick did but once I got a covered litter box I didn’t have any more issues. Thankfully, she didn’t end up peeing over the edge where she enters and exits the litterbox. I’ve seen people who have litterboxes where the cat can enter from the top. Maybe that would solve your issue Rick?

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