Cat Litter Box: Cat Not Using The Litter Box

Cat Litter Box Problems and Solutions

Medical Reasons

Cat Litter Box Issues
Medical Reasons For Cat Litter Box Problems

Back in the 90s, I worked at an animal shelter, and the cat wing was full of cats surrendered because they “didn’t use the litter box,” “cat inappropriate elimination” or “missing the litter box.” It always broke my heart that these family cats were being turned into a cat rescue or animal shelter for litter box issues. I kept thinking there had to be an explanation and more importantly, a solution, for these beloved pets. According to the ASPCA “of the cats entering shelters, approximately 37% are adopted, 41% are euthanized, and less than 5% of cats who came in as strays are returned to their owners.” That is a sad statistic.

When I’m working with a cat or dog behavior case, the very first road I take with my clients is medical. We have to make sure a cat or dog’s behavioral problems are not linked to something medical. If we don’t solve an underlying medical condition, the behavioral problem will never be resolved. And sometimes finding a medical reason for not using the litter box can be challenging.

Clients often tell me that their vet said nothing was wrong with the cat medically – that it was all behavioral. I respect veterinarians, but sometimes there is a disconnect between the cat client and their veterinarian on the importance of the issue and what the client is willing to test. A urinalysis is a great start but is not guaranteed to find all medical reasons why your cat isn’t using the litter box.

I spoke with my veterinarian, Dr. Judy Morgan, on possible medical reasons a cat might not use the litter box, and she had these suggestions. “Cats fed on dry food can become diabetic and will start urinating everywhere because they have to go a lot.” Dr. Morgan went on to say, “Cats that eat dry food make highly concentrated urine. The more concentrated the urine, the higher the likelihood of producing crystals. Crystals are irritating, producing pain. Cats may avoid the box if it is painful when they go to the box.”

Hearing Dr. Morgan talk about a cat’s diet and how once again, diet can make or break an animal just validates my thoughts on a home prepared or raw diet for my pets. There just never seems to be anything good about a highly-processed pet food. But I digress.

Dr. Morgan continued to explain the same is true for kidney disease. “If the cat is drinking and urinating a lot, the top three rule-outs are kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. I recommend a CBC, Chem Screen, Urinalysis, and T4 for thyroid.”

Aging and pain can also contribute to litter box problems. Dr. Morgan explains, “Posturing to urinate and defecate can be a problem for cats with arthritis.” Getting into or out of a litter box may be too painful for a cat with arthritis or other pain. I asked Dr. Morgan about obstructions. “Certainly, urinary obstruction or partial obstruction will cause cats to strain and go anywhere they can. Lots of them seem to like the sinks and bathtubs.”

Before you start to think of a cat’s inappropriate litter routine behaviorally, please work with your veterinarian to ensure your cat’s litter box issues are stemming from a medical condition. This should be treated first. After his medical condition is treated, then it’s time to look at behavioral reasons.

 

For Behavioral Solutions: Click Here: Cat Litter Box Problems and Solutions

And don’t forget to read my article: Is Your Cat’s Litter Safe?

Safe Cat Litter

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55 thoughts on “Cat Litter Box: Cat Not Using The Litter Box

  1. I remember when I worked with our vet, we used to see a lot of arthritic cats and it happened to be their litter box – too high off the ground or squatting was painful. Not something all that obvious to the owners of course. Love your advice to rule out medical concerns.

  2. I have worked in a shelter, too, and know how common this problem is. So many cats are surrendered for litter box issues.

    Our 18 year old cat has some accidents though she does try and make it to the box. I have been leaving puppy pads out near the box and she will often use them. Not ideal, but better than directly on the floor. Her issues are related to arthritis and kidney issues. She is currently in hospice care and we know is trying her very best.

  3. Those were staggering statistics!! I would guess that litterbox use issues are probably HUGE in terms of cats getting sent to shelters or rescues!! As a dog trainer, it’s always sad to me to see how few people want to solve their pet’s issues, and instead just choose to find a new pet.

  4. It is so heartbreaking that people surrender their cats simply because of a litter box issue. Don’t they realize the severe consequences that can go along with that? There often is a medical problem or simply a diet that needs to be changed, if people would only take the time to find out. Great post, sharing.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  5. Thanks for the informative post! Litter box issues can be very problematic. :/ But giving up your kitty because of it would be just heartbreaking! I know a few people who would benefit from this article… I’ll share!

  6. It is amazing how little perseverance people have in figuring out why their cat isn’t using the litter box. A lot of the things that people do for their convenience cause cats to stop using the litter box – declawing, feeding dry food, moving litter boxes around, etc. Your point about diabetes and aging is excellent! So many times, the problem is not a bladder infection.

  7. I HAVE heard the terrifying sttistic about cats and litterboxes.

    People are both ignorant and impatient. What the heck is it with them? Would you return your child to the hospital because he has medical issues (as if!!!) It takes a bit of patience, and research and books like yours to teach people it’s often NOT the cat’s fault!

    Great post.

  8. Great point to always check for health issues when you get behavioural issues in either cats or dogs. My cat Nala started peeing on a white rug suddenly at age 17 and it was because she had kidney disease and wanted to show me.

  9. I guess a lot of people think it is a behavior issue instead of a medical one. Hopefully, this helps gets some cats to the vet to receive the medical help they need.

  10. As a dog mom, I have a lot of friends who are cat moms, too. I have heard of this brand and I will absolutely share with my cat parent friends. It looks like a good option!

  11. Thank you for sharing such important information! It breaks our hearts when cats are surrendered to a shelter because of litter box problems. Sometimes it just takes a little patience and a trip to the vet!

  12. Oh no! That is so sad that a lot of cats are surrendered due to litter box issues. I did not know that. Hopefully posts like this will help eliminate that some. I will share!

  13. Thank you for all this great info. We have a now-rehabilitated feral we vetted and adopted, but he is still very leary of being picked up and truly prefers to be outdoors, but I sure do know a lot of other kitty moms that I’ll be sharing this with! Also will be Pinning on my “Mews News” Pinterest board!

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