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Nine Behavioral Causes Of A Cat Litter Box Problem

By Kurt Schmitt

There may be more than one cause of a cat litter box problem, but they come from one of two categories. If you’ve read my article on the physical causes of this dilemma, then you already know that this problem is either physical, or behavioral.

Since your cat can’t talk, it is often necessary to use a diagnosis of exclusion in these cases. Rule out each issue one by one until you’re left with the only answer.

In this case, it is always best to use caution and assume that your cat has a physical problem, unless your vet says otherwise. So, the first step is to have a consultation with your vet.

If your vet has given the all clear, then you’re going to have to assume, for the moment, that your litter box problems are behavioral. Let’s try to understand our cat’s point of view and see if we can think of some behavioral reasons for not using the litter box.

1. Dirty Box – some cats prefer a squeaky clean box, and others are willing to allow it to dirty up a bit. In any case, clean your litter box at least once per day. Depending upon your litter and cleaning method, you should change your litter at least every few weeks. Wash the litter box thoroughly whenever you change the litter. If you have a hooded box, be sure to wash the lid as well.

2. Box Smells – if the box doesn’t smell right, don’t expect the cat to use it. Your box has to be acceptable to your cat’s nose, not yours. Just because you don’t smell anything, it doesn’t mean your cat thinks that way.

If you didn’t clean it well enough, your cat will know. If you used a scented cleaner, or didn’t rinse it well enough, it may not smell right to your cat. It’s recommended that you use a solution of one part bleach to 30 parts water to help prevent the spread of parasites and recurring infections. Rinse well and dry thoroughly! When you’re finished, the box should not smell like cat waste, soap, or bleach.

3. Litter Odor – certain cat litters don’t sit well with certain cats. Unscented litters of different brands still have a particular odor which some cats may not like. Different types of litter exhibit unique odors as well. You may have to try different brands and different types until you find the right one for your cat.

4. Type of Litter – your cat may not like the type of cat litter you use. When you switch litters, do it slowly. Try adding 20 percent new litter to 80 percent old, and then increasing the amount of new litter over several days until you’re only using the new litter.

5. Type of Litter Box – the size, shape, and type of box may make a difference to your cat. Hooded boxes may prevent litter spill over, but some cats may prefer not to be closed in. On the other hand, your cat might like the privacy of high walls, and some will like a larger box. Have you recently changed litter boxes? Perhaps this is the problem.

6. Number of Boxes – in multi-cat households, territory is at a premium. Use the one plus one rule when selecting how many boxes you’ll need in order to prevent traffic jams. That means one box for each cat, plus one extra so that there is always a free box available. Having more boxes also keeps each box a little cleaner, which makes the scooping chore a bit easier on you.

7. Poor Location – I’ve seen boxes in noisy kitchens and laundry rooms. This is usually a mistake. If your cat is not happy with the location of the box, he may stop using it. Always try to keep the box in an area that is low traffic and low noise. In some cases, finding a good spot for the box is difficult, but do your best.

8. Territorial Battles – territorial arguments are common in multi-cat households, and usually of no consequence. Some cats, however, like to sneak up on others when they’re using the box and pounce. If one of your cats is attacked every time he’s in the box, he may develop litter box aversion. Follow the one plus one rule for multi-cat households.

9. Stress – stress is a leading cause of box aversion. If your cat is stressed by a life event, such as a recent move or a new addition to the household, this may be the cause of the problem. One of my readers found out the hard way that one family member was trying the wrong form of behavior modification on one of their cats. The result was a litter box issue. Try to think about what might have changed recently in your cat’s life, and then try to reduce or eliminate the stress.

Sadly, many cats end up in shelters due to cat litter box problems that can usually be solved. Knowing which solution to use means knowing the cause. Your veterinarian will rule out the physical causes first, then you can work on the behavioral possibilities. Think like a cat and you’ll come up with the solution.

Kurt Schmitt is an experienced cat owner and offers advice on cat litter box problems and many other cat care subjects at Cat Lovers Only

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Schmitt, Kurt "Nine Behavioral Causes Of A Cat Litter Box Problem." Nine Behavioral Causes Of A Cat Litter Box Problem. 28 Dec. 2009. 19 Jul 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Schmitt, K (2009, December 28). Nine Behavioral Causes Of A Cat Litter Box Problem. Retrieved July 19, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Schmitt, Kurt "Nine Behavioral Causes Of A Cat Litter Box Problem"

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