Help! Solving Litter Box Problems

Inappropriate urination, or peeing outside of the litter box, is the number one complaint of cat parents and also one of the top reasons cats are relinquished to shelters every year. And it’s easy to understand why. It’s extremely frustrating when your cat decides the litter box is off-limits! But, there’s always a reason for it, and fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can address the problem.

To resolve the problem, you need to:
1. Figure out why your cat is avoiding the litter box and resolve the reason.
2. Make inappropriate locations undesirable.

Figure out why your cat is avoiding the litter box:

Medical Reasons

Before anything else, your first step should be to take your cat to the vet to rule out any medical reason for inappropriate urination. This is very common! If your cat has a urinary tract infection, he may be associating the pain of urination with the litter box and that’s why he’s avoiding it. If he’s older, he may be having difficulty or pain climbing into the litter box.

If your cat is not altered – this might be spraying and not a litter box avoidance problem. In most cases having your cat fixed will solve the problem. And for the record, intact female cats can spray, too!

Install the AskVet Pet Mobile App today!

Number of Litter Boxes

The general rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. So if you have one cat, you should have 2 boxes. If you have two cats, you should have 3 litter boxes, and so on.


Cats have a much more sensitive sense of smell than we do and some cats are very picky about how clean their litter box is. If your cat is avoiding the box, try scooping more often, fully changing the litter more frequently, and remember, plastic litter boxes break down and absorb odors over time. It may be time to replace your litter boxes. If your litter box has a cover, try removing the cover. Covered litter boxes are the equivalent of port-o-potties for humans, trapping odors inside. You wouldn’t want to climb in there, and neither does your cat!

On the contrary, have you used a strong-smelling cleaner that your cat may be sensitive to?

Type of Litter

If you have a new cat, he may not like the “feel” of the litter you’re using. Or your cat may have developed an aversion to the texture of the litter over time. Try changing your litter. Perhaps your cat would prefer a softer textured sand, a dust-free pellet type litter, or even shredded paper litter. Or, try a litter with an attractant added to encourage him to use it.

Some cats are even picky about how much litter is in the box! If the litter is your problem, you may have to do some experimenting to get it right.

Multiple cat households may require multiple types of litter to keep everyone happy.

Location of the Litter Box

Have you moved the litter box recently? Like us, cats prefer privacy when doing their duties. If there’s a lot of foot traffic or noise, try moving the box to a more secluded area. But, put it in an area where he will feel safe and have an escape route if he needs it.

Make Your Cat’s Inappropriate Urination Spots Undesirable:

Find urine stains with a fluorescent blacklight and clean it with a bacteria and enzyme cleaner made for pet stains.

If your cat continues to urinate in certain areas, place a litter box in that spot. When he consistently uses that box for a month, then you can start moving it to a better location – very, very gradually – an inch at a time. If you move it too quickly you risk your cat avoiding the box again!

If your cat is urinating on furniture or clothing, or places you can’t put a litter box, make those places less appealing to your cat by covering them with things like aluminum foil, or using deterrent sprays.

For more information about solving cat litter box problems, you may benefit from reading a book on cat behavior, (we recommend Pam Johnson-Bennett’s books), re-training your cat to use a litter box, or speaking to your vet or an animal behaviorist.

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