Why Does My Cat Fail To Use Their Litter Tray?

It can be very frustrating for a cat owner when their cat seemingly ignores the litter tray or box and proceeds to use the floor, shoes, even a bed instead. There are a number of reasons why this could be occurring, in this Pets4Homes article, we will look at the 10 most common reasons cats can refuse to use their litter trays.

They are in pain

Normally cats are very clean creatures and they are also stoic, which means they don’t generally show any pain, for fear of being a prey victim. However, if the cat is associating pain with using the litter tray, you should speak to a vet as soon as possible. The main reason cats have pain when trying to go to the toilet is either a bladder infection, constipation, or in some cases a blocked bladder (which is a medical emergency, normally affecting male cats).

A change of litter

Have you ever realised that you have run out of litter for your cat, gone to the only shop that is open and bought another variety? This is when you can discover your cat has been to the toilet, somewhere else, other than their litter box with their new litter. This can simply be a reason for the cat doesn’t like the new letter! Cats by nature, like what they like – and if the new litter doesn’t meet their standards, they may find elsewhere to do their business. Finding a litter that they prefer and sticking to it is the best policy.

Litter can smell!

You know the scenario, the cat has just had fresh litter put in their tray, then they decide to use it! What they are doing is marking their territory again, what some owners don’t realise is the chemicals the litter contains to mask the smell of urine can sometimes upset the cat. This means if there is wet litter in the box or tray, the cat may hate the smell and go elsewhere. Making sure the litter is not too wet, can help solve this problem.

It’s simply not clean enough

Cats can be really fussy creatures as many owners will be aware of, and having a clean litter tray is something most self-respecting cats will prefer. If your cat chooses to go to the toilet elsewhere in the house, it could be because their tray is not clean enough. You can hardly blame them, just think of some public toilets that you may have seen! Keeping a cat’s litter tray scrupulously clean is the way to solve this one.


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A loss of toileting control

Your cat may want to use the litter tray, but may not be able to make it in time. Some cats can suffer health conditions such as loss of control of their toileting. If your cat does become incontinent, then it is important to speak to your vet about possible management of the condition. Sometimes there is a main reason behind it, other times it is just through old age, but your vet will advise you. A cat that has loss of control, but still understands life in general, can get quite distressed about the situation, so an early visit to the practice is advisable.

The cat is feeling vulnerable

Have you recently moved where your cat’s litter box or tray is? This can be enough of a trigger upset your cat’s normal routine, especially if the new place is not private enough, or they feel backed into a corner. Cats, when they are toileting, are at their most vulnerable, they will like to see their surroundings while they carry out their business. If the tray is in the wrong place or they feel vulnerable, they may choose somewhere else to relieve themselves.

Their tray is near their food

You wouldn’t want to eat your dinner sat by a lavatory, so why should your cat be any different? Cats may not use a litter tray it if it’s too near their food, and by the same token may use the litter tray but not eat their food! Keeping food bowls away from their toileting area can help if they are doing their business in an appropriate place.

Unlearnt behaviour

If the cat is more of a kitten (or in some cases actually a fully adult cat), they may not have been taught about the litter tray, and don’t understand it. If your cat is not housetrained, you need to start back at square one with their lessons – even with adult cats. After they have eaten or drunk, put them into the litter tray, if they look like they are about to perform, again quickly put them into the litter tray. With perseverance, their unlearnt behaviour will soon be learned and they will know what to do.

Learned behaviour

On the flipside, if they have been to the toilet outside the litter box, and become comfortable in doing so, it can become a learned behaviour. This can be harder to break and the habit can become very frustrating. If they do choose a certain spot, then cleaning the area with an enzyme-based product is the first step. Do not use anything containing ammonia, as the cat will just simply re-mark the area as they will see a threat there. Some owners even use a small amount of biological washing powder in water has a solution – the biological powder contains the enzymes needed to break down the smells, on this occasion non-bio won’t work!

Not enough trays!

Many homes have two toilets in them, and our cats may also like an extra tray/box. This is because there are some fussy felines that much prefer urinating in one area, and defecating in another – hence two litter trays. Whilst this may seem ridiculous, it can save a lot of cleaning up. It is also worth remembering that if you have more than one cat in the house, you should have a litter tray for each of them. Cats hate to share their toileting facilities!

So, all in all, there are numerous reasons why a cat may not use the litter box, as pet owners we can’t take it personally, they don’t do it just to annoy us! It means playing detective and finding out the reasons behind their behaviour, and don’t forget to speak to your own vet – especially in the case of any health concerns.


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