A New Cat Household Member Won't Use the Litterbox

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares tips on getting a new cat to use the litterbox in a multi-cat household.

Posted: September 3, 2010, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: I adopted a cat from a rescue group two weeks ago. I now have three cats. I have two litterboxes together in a cabinet that the other two cats used. I added a third litterbox in the laundry room because the new cat has used my dog’s crate for his “litterbox” five times so far. Any suggestions on how I can stop this? 

A: Cats commonly respond when they are stressed. Bringing a cat into a new environment and introducing him too quickly to the other resident cats stresses the cat and can result in litterbox issues. Additionally, the litterbox arrangement you currently have contributes to your new cat’s litterbox avoidance.

Whenever you bring a new cat into a household with other resident animals, you must make introductions as slowly and stress-free as possible. Stress-free cat introductions can sometimes take a month or longer. You will separate the cats from one another other while they are gradually introduced to each other in a way that encourages them to have positive associations with each other.

Your current litterbox configuration is not ideal for encouraging good litterbox habits. Place litterboxes in areas where the cat won’t feel cornered or ambushed by another resident animal. Cabinets, showers and closets are bad locations for boxes because from the cat’s perspective, he could potentially be trapped or cornered. Laundry rooms also can be a challenge because the washer/dryer can make startling and unexpected noises.

Because you have three cats, you ideally should have four litterboxes located in different areas of your house so that the cats can choose which box to use. If something is stressful in one area, the cat can choose another litterbox in an alternative, safer location. Ideal locations for litterboxes are places where a cat can see any potential threats. Because your original resident cats are consistently using the boxes in the cabinet, leave them and add new litter boxes elsewhere in the house. Also consider putting a couple of baby gates up to keep the dog away from the litterboxes.

Covered boxes also are not good choices. Cats can feel ambushed in a covered box and easily can be trapped inside by another resident animal. Most covered boxes are too small and the covers retain odors. Instead of commercial cat boxes, consider large 66-qt. transparent storage boxes without covers. Cats who have physical limitations will find the large under the bed storage boxes perfect for their needs.

Help your new kitty feel secure by gradually reintroducing him to the resident animals. Additionally, provide enough litterboxes in areas where he won’t feel he might be trapped or ambushed.

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A New Cat Household Member Won't Use the Litterbox

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Reader Comments

l;df    lf, MI

9/20/2010 12:55:40 AM


F;DE    FP;D, MA

9/14/2010 12:23:15 AM


Holly    Stouffville, ON

9/7/2010 5:48:14 PM

Great advice. I was also going to say that she needs a fourth litter box.

Shirley    Tucson, AZ

9/7/2010 4:36:55 PM

Good article.

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