Why Did My Cat Stop Using the Litter Box?

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By Dr. Stephanie Janeczko, D.V.M., Medical Director for Animal Care & Control of New York City

Although we often take for granted that our cats will use whatever litter box we provide for them, it is perhaps more surprising that they are usually so willing to do so. Feral cats don’t seek out dark, often smelly caves that they can barely fit into do their business – but that is often what we ask of our domestic feline friends!

When cats stop using their litter boxes, it is usually for one of two broad reasons:

  1. They associate the litter box with something they don’t like
  2. They don’t like something about their litter box
Why Did My Cat Stop Using the Litter Box?

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At first glance, these may seem to be the two ways of saying the same thing, but there is a subtle difference here. The first reason includes things like pain when urinating or defecating or being trapped in the litter box by a bully cat, whereby the cat associates the litter box with something unpleasant. The second reason is pretty obvious, but is covered in great length further on.

Some cats are perfectly content with their litter box, but may avoid using it because of conflict with other animals. This is a frequent problem in households with multiple cats, and often the unhappy, stressed cat will quickly go back to using his litter box once placed in an environment where he or she is the only cat. Even if there is no social conflict, the “line for the bathroom” can result in a cat using an alternative site if the one litter box in the house is already in use when the cat needs to go!

Other cats want to do the right thing and use their litter box, but have an underlying medical condition that causes them to go elsewhere in your house. If your cat is urinating or defecating outside of the litter box it is always a good idea to have him seen by your veterinarian to rule out a medical problem.

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