Quiz: Why Won't the Cat Use a Litterbox?

Put yourself (and your cat) in these eight situations and decide whether the cause of the litterbox problem is behavioral or medical.

By Anastasia Thrift | Posted: September 12, 2013, 12 p.m. EDT

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Cat Litterbox

Get to the source of cat litterbox problems. Put yourself in these situations and see whether you can choose the likely cause of the elimination issue (answers below). 

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1) In your two-cat household, one cat uses the litterbox without issue but the other one never does.

Behavioral
Medical

2) Your declawed cat defecates by the front door or back door. There are no other cats in the household.

Behavioral
Medical

3) Your cat has successfully used the litterbox for years, but as he enters middle age, he stops. No changes have occurred in the household.

Behavioral
Medical

4) Although your cat uses the litterbox without problem, the smell of urine taints your house. You notice urine stains along vertical surfaces.

Behavioral
Medical

5) Instead of using a bed or tree for resting, your cat chooses to lounge in the litterbox.

Behavioral
Medical

6) You move into a new house and your cat begins eliminating on the carpet, the guest bed and the couch. You change litters and liners, remove liners, cover the box, uncover the box – all to no avail.

Behavioral
Medical

7) Droppings in your cat’s litterbox occasionally smell extremely foul. To worsen things, your cat won’t cover up her feces.

Behavioral
Medical

8) By day, your cat uses the litterbox without issue. By night, this cat eliminates anywhere but the box.

Behavioral
Medical

Answers
1)    Behavioral. The minimum amount of litterboxes in a house should be one box per cat plus one extra. Keep the litterboxes in different areas of your home; if you have multiple cats, one cat might prevent others from approaching the litterboxes because they are located within his territory.

2)    Behavioral. This situation points to middening, the act of marking territory with feces. When cats do this near doorways to the outside, they could be apprehensive of stray or neighborhood cats and want to claim their ground. A declawed cat is more prone to feel like she has fewer defenses at hand.

3)    Medical. Bladder stones can prevent cats from eliminating properly because they cause pain during urination. Blood is sometimes visible in urine when stones occur, another sign that your cat needs veterinary care.

4)    Behavioral. This is spraying, also known as urine marking. Neutered cats, even intact and spayed females, aren’t immune to marking, which often occurs when cats are not getting along in a household or when an indoor cat sees a stray through a window or door. Rarely, a cat frustrated by not being able to do something or having problems with a human to whom it is attached may spray.

5)    Medical. If your cat is spending extra time in the litterbox this could be a sign of either urinary tract problems (infections, stones, inflammatory disorders, kidney disease) or lower gastrointestinal problems (colitis, megacolon). Please see you veterinarian as soon as possible to have a thorough physical examination, blood work and a urinalysis performed.

6)    Behavioral. A move to a new home can traumatize cats, who are territorial creatures of habit. After eliminating any possibility of a medical condition that would cause this behavior, begin retraining your cats to use litterboxes in your new home by keeping cats in a sanctuary room and reintroducing them to the house.

7)    Medical. Leaving feces uncovered indicates a colonic condition, and the malodorous feces could be the result of the carbohydrate in your cat’s diet. Bring your cat to a vet and talk about switching your cat’s diet.

8)    Behavioral. Litterbox location is key to maintaining good habits. A litterbox that isn’t well lit at night could be difficult for your cat to navigate. Keep your box in lit areas far from heavy household traffic but not tucked in limited access areas.

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Quiz: Why Won't the Cat Use a Litterbox?

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Reader Comments

Molly    International

5/4/2015 9:41:55 AM

A declawed cat would definitely be a medical issue. Many declawed cats find the litter box too painful to use with their mutilated paws. If this is happening with a declawed cat, the cats paws should be X-rayed to see if any bone fragments are left, or a claw is growing out of the pad, or there are sores on the paws.

Declawing is never okay, and should not be an option.

Barbara    Houston, TX

4/25/2015 1:00:23 PM

So how do we solve a problem? One of my cats started defecating on the wood floor in the entrance way. Usually early morning but sometimes mid morning also. I have tried letting the cats outside in patio, doesn't work. I have to clean every day. Vet tested feces 3 times--all is well. How do I learn more about possible colon problem to talk with him> Vet is well known cat specialist.

Amelia    Terre Haute, IN

4/24/2015 1:49:22 PM

Our oldest won't use the litterbox for anything. She began doing this when she was declawed and we believe that is the reason. I know declawing is bad, and I wish I had researched it more before having it done because I would never have done that to my babies had I known. The other cats were using the litterboxes just fine but our next to youngest has taken to defecating in the tub and on the bathroom floor. He also pees on anything on the bathroom floor (rugs, towels). We are uncertain what is going on with him.

Miguel    Staten Island, NY

4/24/2015 5:46:24 AM

I would like to thank you for all the great information! I have definitely learned a lot.

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