This is the number 1 problem people call cat behaviourists for – their sweet little fluff ball is choosing a different litter box than they had anticipated. Fortunately, most cats don’t make this decision lightly. And however infuriating, exhausting and exasperating this situation can be, there is likely a very good reason your cat is doing this.
If it’s not due to territorial insecurity or physical pain – please, do see a vet to rule this out -, there is often something very wrong with the litter box itself.
So, let the process of elimination – pun intended – begin! And remember that multiple answers are allowed for this test!
Here we go!
1. Dirty Litter Boxes
Believe it or not, this is the number 1 reason out there that cats have litter box issues. So, if you yourself wouldn’t use it, chances are, the cat wouldn’t either. The moment that they have to navigate excrement and wet patches and do not have the room to actually dig and do their business, they might just decide that it’s not worth the effort. And I’m sure you can agree with that. Meanwhile, your bed might just become their next favourite spot. Unfortunately, whatever you do, if you have an indoor cat, you will have to clean up after it, that’s just a harsh fact of reality.
Fortunately, it is your choice and in your control where they go – they’re usually pretty flexible that way. So, you can either clean the litter box, or clean the carpet/bed/couch!
2. Wrong Type Of Cat Sand
Did you by any chance change litter brands recently?
Generally speaking, cats prefer a fine, unscented sand that clumps together – especially if you’re running a multi-cat household. But, every cat is different and has their individual tastes. One of the easiest ways to find out what they prefer is to offer them literally a buffet of litter boxes with each a different cat sand. And if you do have a multi-cat household, don’t be surprised to find that some of your cats may prefer one type while others may prefer another.
3. Wrong Size Or Height Of Litter Box
Suppose you’re a wee kitten, or an old chap suffering from arthritis. That ledge of the litter box can seem like an insurmountable wall, so for the wee ones and the elderly, consider a litter box with a lower ledge. Meanwhile, if you’re a strapping, red blooded, big boned tom cat, your average litter box is going to be rather cramped. In fact, did you know that most litter boxes out there are too small for your average cat?
To be sure you got the right size, think two cat lengths (take your largest cat to measure) in length and one cat length in width!
4. Area Too Highly Trafficked Or Other Area More Preferable
Cats are at their most vulnerable when they’re doing their business. They tend to prefer an area where they do not have to constantly be on their guard. This becomes even more important if your house has screaming kids, other cats and barking dogs. Often, guest rooms, laundry rooms (provided they’re not afraid of the washer and dryer) and bathrooms get chosen instead due to level of privacy. Interestingly – and to the despair of many an owner – the dining room is a big hit as it usually doesn’t get used unless for big family events, has a nice rug to absorb while being sheltered under a table and features often 2 or more exits (especially appreciated by those in a multi-cat household!).
So, see if you can compromise between their comfort level and yours. In some cases, you may have to concede temporarily and put a litter box under the dining room table at first. After your cat has been using the box faithfully again, you can move it to the side gradually, to a spot that is less of an issue for you and your family. You may also want to remove your favourite rug under that dining room table(you may want to get it cleaned anyways) so that the pleasant alternative isn’t there anymore to tempt them – especially in the beginning.
5. Covered Litter Boxes
This is a problem especially in multi-cat households – and one of the major contributors to my own problem with Princess. You see, other cats may take to blocking the exit or jumping on top of the cat coming out of the box. Which is exactly what my black beauty, Luna, did with Princess every time she went to the litter box. Who wouldn’t opt for the bed and couch instead, where you can see your nemesis coming from a mile away?
But even for single cat households, it’s not exactly recommended. The inconvenience of having to remove the lid makes it that much more tempting for cat owners to put off cleaning the box, while making it entirely the cat’s problem as the mess is hidden from view. The smells get concentrated inside and the sand doesn’t get a chance to dry. On top of that, it adds to the problem of the box feeling too small to use properly. If you like the box due to the fact that it contains everything nicely, you may want to get a box with high sides, instead.
6. Not Enough Litter Boxes: 1 Per Cat+1
The ideal situation is one litter box on each floor of your house, and 1 box per cat + 1, so research tells us. So, if you have 6 cats, you ideally need 7 boxes. Yikes, right? The reason for this is that some cats prefer to do ‘no. 1’ in one box and ‘no. 2’ in another. Then there are the cats that refuse to use a box after a specific other cat.
On top of it all, there is the problem of guarding and the box being inconveniently far. If you have a ‘litter box room’, chances are that you have a cat that is guarding the entrance to that room, or the pathway leading to that room, making it hard for other cats to use that room. You ideally want to have 2 or more locations so that guarding is a non-issue and if at all possible – especially if there is tension in your home between certain cats – you want to make sure that each cat has access to each resource (food, water, litter box) within their part of the territory inside of your home.
Meanwhile, especially sick and elderly cats may have some trouble getting to the litter box in time, so see if you can have at least one litter box on each floor of your house, in order to keep them from using potted plants and beds instead.
There is this myth floating around that teaching a cat to stop eliminating in the house is simple – you just push their nose into what they did wrong.
Unfortunately, that myth is not just cruel, it is also likely to do the exact opposite of what it’s meant to do. In most cases, all it provides is a convenient excuse for a frustrated guardian to lash out at their cat.
And all it teaches the cat is that their guardian is crazy, and they should avoid them…because otherwise they get punished for something that they cannot exactly stop doing – eliminating. Which means that if the guardian then happen to be near the litter box, they’ll likely find another place to go and will start sneaking around so you won’t catch them in the act.
A cat who has been punished like this may avoid their litter box all together as it isn’t safe to be seen near it, in their mind.
One Small Disclaimer
Nobody is likely to have ‘the perfect situation’ at home, litterbox-wise, as laid out by this list. Do not feel compelled to adjust everything in your house according to this list. If your situation works for you and your kitty, that is great. Cats are individuals – what bothers one, won’t bother another at all. So, please, use this list as the tool it was meant to be to Sherlock Holmes’ the particular problem your cat is desperately trying to communicate to you, not as the 10 commands as handed down by God.
Some cats will have no problem using a covered box and even benefit from it in their particular situation. Others may have no problem doing their business right next to a dryer going full blast. Meanwhile declawed cats are likely to have sensitive paws that hurt when their litter boxes have a coarse kind of sand in them.
Do right by your kitty and yourself, in this situation and negotiate the best possible compromise for everyone involved. That’s the only thing that counts.