pet kitten

Cats outside the box

Cats quite naturally seek materials that allow them to bury their urine and feces. Kittens require little training to learn to use a litter box. Even outdoor cats moved indoors readily learn  to use a litterbox. Nevertheless, there are times when a cat, who otherwise uses the litterbox reliably, goes outside of the box. One likely reason is medical, and you should see your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms: straining, traces of blood in the stool or urine, moaning or crying while using the litterbox, a profound increase in water consumption, or regular diarrhea. Even if you note none of these symptoms, if your cat suddenly quits using the litterbox, a trip to your veterinarian to rule out a medical cause is wise. If no medical problem is diagnosed, here are some things we know about cats that should help you solve the problem:

  • Cats are clean freaks. A dirty litterbox is not likely to be used, so be sure to clean the litterbox at least once a day.
  • The location of the litterbox is important. Most cats want some privacy for their bathroom behavior, so choose a low-traffic area in a quiet part of the house for the litterbox. If you have more than one cat, don't put all the litterboxes in one place. First, one cat may guard the boxes preventing the others from using them. Second, one cat may harrass another while he or she is using the box.
  • There should be one more litterbox than there are cats in the house. Again, remember that they should be in different locations.
  • Cats have a profoundly sensitive sense of smell. Avoid cleaning litterboxes with bleach, avoid scented litters -- we may like them but many cats don't --and keep room deodorizers away from litterboxes.
  • Select a litterbox design preferred by your cat. Experiment -- some cats like hooded boxes while others do not. Hooded boxes tend to hold the odor within the box, which is offensive to some cats. On the other hand, open boxes may make some cats feel vulnerable, especially if the box is in a higher traffic area. Make sure too that the litterbox fits the size of your cat. A big cat requires a substantial litterbox.
  • From your cat's point of view, not all litters are created equal. There are many types of litters available -- clay, clumping, pearls, recycled paper pellets -- but cats can be pretty picky about their litter. Some recent research indicated that the test cats preferred clay and clumping litters over others. Again, experiment. Use a couple of different litters in different litterboxes and see which get used. Then stick with that type.
  • Devalue outside-the-box areas: If your cat is going outside the box in one place, move the litterbox to that location. Your cat may be trying to tell you that place is preferable. If he or she is going around rather randomly, put double-sided tape or a plastic stair runner turned upside down on those areas. Use a citrus spray, which is repellant to cats, on those areas. Or, simply block access to the area (s) the cat has chosen.
  • Cats are creatures of routine: Adding a new companion animal to your home, house guests, a new baby, a move to a new home, a change in your work habits or lifestyle are changes that may put your cat (s) off their usual good behavior.

If your well-behaved cat suddenly stops using her litterbox there is likely a good reason, at least from her point of view. Play detective, and try to see the world as your cat does. That, and the above suggestions, should help you solve and resolve the problem.


City of Bloomington, IN
Last updated: Sept 14, 2009's quote of the day
"I'd rather have an inch of dog than miles of pedigree."
-Dana Burnet

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