Cat Stopped Using Litterbox

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains some of the reasons behind litterbox avoidance.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: April 29, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: Ollie, our 8-year-old tabby started pooping outside of the litterbox in February. It has gotten progressively worse; now he never uses the box for either pooping or peeing. It’s gotten so serious that Ollie won’t even go near the basement where the boxes are kept. We have taken him to his veterinarian three times but he has not found anything wrong with him.

We have tried everything we can think of, with no success. There are four litterboxes in the basement; three are covered for privacy and one is a large, uncovered sweater box. The litterboxes are cleaned every day, the litter dumped and refilled every few months. We even installed a little cat door down into the basement for the cats. Despite all of our efforts, Ollie still will go to the bathroom upstairs in the sinks, on the living room rug, on the couch and in the hallway. He never goes near the litterboxes in the basement.

We have one other cat, Andy, and they seem to get along most of the time.

A: Locating Ollie’s litter boxes together in the basement is most likely the trigger for his litterbox aversion. Ollie, like all cats, needs to have a choice of litterboxes located in different areas of the house. If Ollie doesn’t feel secure using the litterbox in the basement, he will then have the choice of using another elsewhere in the house.

Something may have initially startled Ollie near or in the basement, causing him to avoid the basement entirely. Another possible trigger is that Andy might be resource guarding, hanging out in front of the cat door to the basement. Ollie, instead of risking an uncomfortable encounter with Andy, might be choosing other places to go to the bathroom that feel safer. Cats also don’t like situations where they could potentially be trapped. Basements and rooms with cat doors are perfect setups for ambushes.
Locating boxes throughout the house should solve the problem. The two cats should have large uncovered litterboxes on all of the levels in your house. Place them in areas where the cats won’t feel trapped. Avoid putting the boxes in closets and small bathrooms since those areas are setups for potential ambushes. Place the litterboxes in areas where Ollie and Andy will have excellent views of the rooms, out the door and down the halls. Because of the litterbox challenges, place two boxes on each level of the house, in different locations.

Fill each new box with about 3 inches of fresh, unscented cat litter. After putting approximately 1 cup of litter from the cat boxes in the basement into the new boxes, show both Ollie and Andy where they are located.

Leave the boxes you currently have in the basement. After the problem is resolved, see which of the boxes aren’t being used and gradually remove them. The eventual goal is to have three litterboxes, located in different areas of the house and on the different floor levels. 

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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Reader Comments

Cheri    Marietta, GA

7/6/2011 1:21:43 PM

And where do you put litterboxes in a tiny, 2-bedroom apartment ??? I have 2 litterboxes (3 did not help the situation) -- one in a (small) bathroom, one in my bedroom. Other than putting them in the living room, there aren't too many other choices. My cats pee in the litterboxes just fine. However, my bedroom has become the 'poop litterbox'. I've tried EVERYTHING. Even some medication the vet recommended.

P    [-, MA

5/18/2011 12:19:42 AM


Deb    Toronto, ON

5/13/2011 5:01:54 PM

I have a similar situation involving two of my cats( have 3) One poops outside of the litters in the basement. Another pees outside of the litter in the basement. There are three litters down there which r cleaned regularly. I also have 3 boxes on the second floor in the laundry, which they both use but never go outside of it . My third cat fortunately goes where he should.! I have taken to putting dog training pads on the floor in the basement temporarily in the area they go until I figure it out. Maybe it is placement of boxes.?

Nanette    Charlotte, NC

5/11/2011 7:16:31 PM

I have never needed more than one litter box for my two cats. I first got two kittens (brothers) and they have always used one litter box with no problems. Then, one of my cats at age 14 died and a few months later I rescued an 8 wk. old kitten and introduced him into our house and to my older cat and they both use the same litter box with no problems and started getting along after about 2 weeks; other than the older one wants to sleep while the kitten always wants to play and attack the older one but shortly after they got used to each other, they sleep together, lick each other, etc. I clean the litter box about every 2-3 days, using clump litter.

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