Why Is Your Cat Avoiding The Litter Box?

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A cat's refusal to use the litter box could just be your feline companion's way of showing their displeasure about something, but it could also indicate a health problem. Understanding the most common reasons why your cat is refusing to use their box can help you determine what to do.

Have you recently changed something about the box?

The most common and least concerning cause for a change in litter box habits is a change in the box itself. This could be as minor as replacing an old litter box with a new one of slightly different design or changing up the type of litter you use. More drastic changes, such as moving the box location or going from a covered box to an open style (or vice versa), are even more likely to affect your cat's bathroom habits. 

Try easing your cat into change if the change is absolutely necessary. For example, mix a little bit of the new litter in with the old litter, increasing the amount each week until the changeover is complete. Or, move the box a foot at a time each week until you get it to the location you want.

Do you have other pets or small children?

Sometimes a bad experience in the litter box makes a cat avoid it. If you have other pets or children that may have attacked or bothered the cat while it was vulnerable in the box, you may have a hard time getting the cat to use it again. In this case, change can be good. Try moving the litter box to a new location or add a second box in the new location. Choose an area where the cat is unlikely to be bothered. A spot where your cat can easily see all of its surroundings while in the box is ideal.

Does your cat seem to be in any distress?

Cats can be very good at hiding pain, which may help them survive in the wild but it can make it hard to know when there is a problem that requires a vet. First, determine whether your cat is going outside the box. A complete failure to defecate or urinate is an emergency health issue that requires immediate care. Your cat could have a blockage, which is often deadly if not treated immediately. Another issue is if you notice your cat straining to urinate.

Sometimes cats get urinary crystals, which block their urethra. Male cats can be especially prone to this deadly condition, so immediate treatment by a vet is necessary. Other signs that require a call to the animal hospital emergency line is if your cat is refusing to eat or drink, has diarrhea or is vomiting, or if there is blood in their stool or urine.

For more help, contact an animal hospital near you.