Why do some cats eliminate outside the litter box?

If your cat is not comfortable with her litter box or cannot easily access it, she probably will not use it. The following common litter‐box problems might cause her to eliminate outside of her box:

Why do some cats eliminate outside the litter box?

Why do some cats eliminate outside the litter box?

  • You have not cleaned your cat’s litter box often or thoroughly enough.
  • You have not provided enough litter boxes for your household. Be sure to have a litter box for each of your cats, as well as one extra.
  • Cat litter box is too small for her.
  • Your cat cannot easily get to her litter box at all times.
  • Your cat’s litter box has a hood or liner that makes her uncomfortable.
  • The litter in your cat’s box is too deep. Cats usually prefer 1–2in. of litter.

Cats can have specific preferences, learned behaviors, or the environment might prohibit access to the box. Some examples of that are as follows:

  • Surface preference: Some cats develop preferences for eliminating on certain surfaces or textures like carpet, potting soil, or bedding.
  • Litter preference or aversion: Like people and dogs, cats develop preferences for where they like to eliminate and may avoid locations they do not like. This means they might avoid their litter box if it is in a location they dislike. These sensitivities can also influence a cat’s reaction to her litter. Cats who have grown accustomed to a certain litter might decide that they dislike the smell or feel of a different litter.
  • Inability to use the litter box: Geriatric cats or cats with physical limitations may have a difficult time using certain types of litter boxes such as top‐entry boxes or litter boxes with high sides.
  • Negative litter‐box association: There are many reasons why a cat who has reliably used her litter box in the past starts to eliminate outside of the box. One common reason is that something happened to upset her while she was using the litter box. If this is the case with your cat, you might notice that she seems hesitant to return to the box. She may enter the box, but then leave very quickly—sometimes before even using the box.
  • One common cause for this is painful elimination. If your cat had a medical condition that caused her pain when she eliminated, she may have learned to associate the discomfort with using her litter box. Even if your cat’s health has returned to normal, that association may still cause her to avoid her litter box.
  • Household stress: Stress can cause litter‐box problems. Cats can be stressed by events that their owners may not think of as traumatic. Changes in things that even indirectly affect the cat, like moving and adding new animals or family members to your household—even changing your daily routine—can make your cat feel anxious.
  • Multi‐cat household conflict: Sometimes, one or more cats in a household control access to litter boxes and prevent the other cats from using them. Even if one of the cats is not actually confronting the other cats in the litter box, any conflict between cats in a household can create enough stress to cause litter‐box problems.


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