Little Box Woes

By Amanda Ellis Mar 7, 2017
Little Box Woes
Litter Box Woes

One of the most common problems encountered by pet owners involves their cats going to the bathroom outside of their designated litter boxes. Unlike dogs who have to be potty trained, cats are appreciably equipped with a natural preference to urinate and defecate in a place away from where they tend to hang out, and also where they can bury their waste. Burying waste is a sign of submission from your feline friend — openly establishing you as the dominant animal in the relationship. In the wild, big cats mark their territories in order to keep other competitors away, whereas domesticated cats are naturally submissive and instinctually bury their litter in a stress-free normal household.

There are many reasons why your cat may suddenly start going to the bathroom outside of the litter box. They are most likely not doing it on purpose to annoy you — although it can be an extremely annoying situation and a frustrating problem, often times with no simple solution. Let’s look at some of the reasons your feline friend might suddenly stop using the litter box, and ways that you can try to correct the situation.

Medical Problems

There are a few possible medical problems that might be attributing to your pet’s lack of going to the bathroom inside the litter box. Your cat should first and foremost be checked out by a veterinarian for medical problems. Urinary tract infections are common medical conditions which can attribute to cats going to the bathroom outside of the litter box. A more serious culprit in male cats is blockage, and along with going outside of the litter box symptoms of these conditions include excessive licking of the genitals, blood in urine, and/or straining with no production of urine at all.
Litter Preferences

Although generally low maintenance, cats can be finicky creatures about certain aspects of domestic life. This can translate directly to their litter boxes. Some cats prefer certain kinds of litter and certain kinds of litter boxes. Have you recently changed your brand or type of litter? This could be the cause. Some cats prefer unscented litter and are deterred by the chemical components in many scent-masking types, although they may be more appealing to you as the owner. Other cats dislike clumping litter and some prefer wood shavings, shredded paper, or even sand. The only way of narrowing this down is by trial and error. Purchase a few different options and try them out, keeping a close eye on which your cat seems to prefer.
Box Preferences

Some cats prefer to have a lot of space to move around when they are doing their business, and would rather have a larger box than what you may be currently providing. Other cats prefer covered boxes or locations in certain areas of the house, for example in a corner or in a covered space. Most cats prefer quiet, remote places away from the everyday household hustle and bustle. Also, plastic liners might be desirable to you from a clean-up stand point, but to finicky felines can be highly distasteful.


This is often the most common reason for cats to use the bathroom outside of the litter box — and luckily comes with a simple solution. While initially you may have been in the habit of cleaning the litter box every day, perhaps you slipped into a less frequent routine, or have been a bit more busy lately. Whatever the reason, go back to cleaning the litter box every day, and see if that makes a difference.


Identifying the problem may often be the hardest part of the equation and there are many ways in which you as the owner can manage the situation. First and foremost — take your cat to the vet for a check-up. If they pass with a clean bill of health, begin elimination processes. Identify your cat’s preferred box and litter type, experiment with placement around different areas of the house, and most importantly, keep their litter box clean. In worst-case scenarios, consult an expert behaviorist for assistance.  


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