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Ask The Vet – Why Does My Cat Refuse to Use the Litter Box

Ask the Vet

Are you wondering why your cat refuses to use the litter box? Do you think it’s a behavioral issue, medical or something you are doing wrong? Today, our resident veterinarian, Dr. Billi Tiner provides some guidance on this problem.  

 Do you have a question for Dr. Tiner?  Leave your question in our comment section or send me an email to If your question is answered, you will receive a small gift bag. If you would like to sponsor a gift, please let me know. 

I worked as a veterinarian in an animal shelter for a few years. One of the most common reasons that people would bring their cat to the shelter, is that they were frustrated with their refusal to use the litter box. Instead of taking the cat to the veterinarian, they assumed that the cat had a behavioral problem and just got rid of it instead. These were great cats that would have made great pets, if the owners had a better understanding of what the underlying problems could have been that were causing the cat to refuse to use the litter box.

Reason #1- The most common reason that a cat will refuse to use the litter box is that they have a medical issue. This is especially true if the cat has been using the box and then, suddenly, stops. There are two main underlying medical issues that will cause a cat to suddenly stop using the litter box. First, a bladder infection, Cats are notorious for getting bladder infections. Their bathroom (i.e. litter box) isn’t always the cleanest place in the world. The second medical reason is urinary crystals. These are caused by mineral deposits that build up in the urine and then form crystals. Both of these medical issues cause urination to be very painful for the cat. The cat doesn’t know why it hurts to urinate. The cat then blames the litter box for the pain and starts trying to go other places. To make matters worse, they feel like they have to urinate all the time, so they start urinating everywhere. That is the most common complaint from the owner, “He just started peeing all over the house.” Please, if your cat starts doing this, TAKE IT TO THE VET!

Reason #2- Cats are very sensitive about where they go to the bathroom. Think about it. They are very vulnerable during this time. They want to feel secure about where they are going. A big mistake that people make is to stick the litter box next to something that makes a loud noise (i.e. dryer or water heater). The cat is just plain scared to go in those locations and will find somewhere they feel safe to go.

Reason #3– The number of boxes, type of box, or litter used in the box. All three of these can cause the cat to refuse to use the box. First, the rule of thumb for number of boxes to have is one for each cat plus one. So, if you have 3 cats, then you should have 4 boxes. This can become very inconvenient, but if you have cats that don’t particularly care for each other, then the last thing they want is to smell each other’s scent while they use the litter box. Second, the type of box. Some cats like boxes with a lid and door to enter and some don’t. Third, some cats prefer sand like litter in their box, some prefer paper, others like crystals. If you want your cat to use the box, then you will have to get them the type of box that they prefer and place it in an area where they can feel secure. It’s really not asking that much. In the outdoors, they can go anywhere they choose. You are asking them to use a particular box placed in a particular area. The least you can do is make it comfortable for them.

Reason #4- CLEAN THE BOX REGULARLY. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked the question, “How often do you clean the box?” and been told something like, “Whenever it starts to smell bad.” Do you like to use the bathroom in a place that smells bad? Remember, by the time it smells “bad” to you, it smells like something died in there to the cat!


Dr. Billi Tiner

About Dr. BilliTiner:

Dr. Tiner has been a been a veterinarian for over 15 years.  She is also an author of children’s books.  All of her books have animals as the main character and are written from the animal’s point of view.  Her current novels include, Welcome Home, Heart of a Hero, and Friends for Life. To learn more about Dr. Tiner and her books visit You can also follow her on Twitter @Tinerbooks or on Facebook

4 comments to Ask The Vet – Why Does My Cat Refuse to Use the Litter Box

  • Ann

    Have 2 cats – were littered trained and doing well using the litter box – although they still use the litter box one or both have started doing their #2 under one of my daughter’s beds. I scrub and disinfect the area each time but it doesn’t stop. can you give me some ideas as to why this is happening. They (or one of them) also urinated on some of my daughters toys and belongings. Their litter box is scooped daily and is located in a bathroom closet.

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