As most pet parents of cats will tell you, cats make up their own rules — no matter how illogical or strange they seem to us humans. Cats simply do what they want. So, we work hard to give our cats everything they want for a fulfilled life: plenty of toys, a water fountain, a clean pile of laundry, and a beautiful, carefully chosen litter box. And then your little feline has the audacity to poop on the floor and leave you to clean it up! So what’s up with this!?

Cats and litter boxes: a complicated relationship

The first thing that you need to do when you come in and spot your cat’s litter box woe is to sort out what the situation or reality actually is. By that, we mean: has your cat just left their litter box unused, or is there a telltale urine puddle or poop pile somewhere else?

If their litter box has no deposits in it and there are no signs that they are going elsewhere in your home (assuming they are indoor-only cats), you’re going to have to sort out what’s going on. If they aren’t going to the bathroom at all, there is a serious issue going on, very likely an emergency problem. Cats can have urinary tract blockages (called crystals), infections, or intestinal blockages.  

Any time that your cat has gotten to the point where they are no longer able to use the bathroom, they need emergency vet attention to see what’s going on.  

If they’ve purposely gone elsewhere, even 1 foot away from the litter box, they’re using this intentional behavior for a purpose. From there, you can start to see what’s going on to cause this annoying but obvious cry for attention. Below are some of the most common reasons for this behavior.

The litter is a bad scent

Every litter smells the same to us, more or less, but it doesn’t to your cat. If you have switched litter types, especially suddenly, you might notice your cat kicking up a fuss because the litter doesn’t smell the same, or it smells “bad.” Just like cats are particular about the scent and taste of their food, they are also particular about the scent of their litter.  

Once they adapt to the litter, you should notice their litter box habits going back to normal. In some cases, this may not be the case, which means that you might have to bite the bullet and go back to the litter that they are used to in the past. Then switch the over to the new litter gradually to give them time to adjust (you can mix it with the other litter in gradually increasing amounts).

A strange cat’s been using the litter box

You already know that cats have opinions, and they are quick to voice them. If you have another cat using the litter box, such as one that is used to having a box to themselves, your cat may refuse to go. Cats use their litter boxes to mark their territory, so if there is suddenly a new cat using it, your cat may be pushed out. 

It’s a good idea to keep litter boxes separate when you have a visiting cat or a new cat added to the household. This will give everyone time to adjust to each other, and you can eventually merge the litter boxes together once they have sorted out their potential turf issues. 

You should have one more litterbox that you have cat so if you have 2 cats you need 3 litter boxes ideally in more than one location.

The box is too dirty

Cats like things very clean. Your cat could very well be making a statement that you need to clean the litter box more often. They aren’t able to do so themselves, so they rely on you to keep it clean to their own specifications. If your cat is suddenly pooping elsewhere, take a look at the cleanliness.

While scooping out the lumps regularly is good, you should still regularly change out all of the litter and clean the actual litter box itself. This will help it smell right and will keep your cats doing their business where they should be.

Also, most cats prefer an uncovered litter box as covered litter boxes can hold the odor in.

The box is too small

If your cat has grown up, they may have simply outgrown their litter box! Cats need a certain amount of space to do their business, and if they feel cramped, they’ll go elsewhere instead that is roomier.

If you notice your cat doing behaviors like circling excessively inside the box, tentatively stepping around to find a good spot, or just seeming as though they just don’t fit in the box itself, it’s time to consider an upgraded size. Or looking at removing the lids.

Your cat has an underlying health condition

Sometimes cats will use strange litter box behavior as a cry for help and support. If they are sick or stressed, going to a strange spot is going to signal that to you. Something as simple as a new person added to the household or a new change in schedule can stress your cat out.

If everything seems okay, then you’ll want to take your cat to the vet to have them do a check-up and see if there could be something going on, medically speaking. Take notes if you’ve seen any other strange behavior, such as a change in appetite or sleep schedule. This will help you to provide more information to the vet.

Their box’s set up is annoying them

Yes, seriously. Again, cats are very fussy creatures. If the litter box’s location is too loud, quiet, hot, or cold, your cat may simply not like it. The same goes for if there is too much or not enough light.  

Something near the litter box may be annoying them (like the washing machine or the furnace). Something may have been moved by their litter box that they don’t like. If your cat’s litter box location has changed, by it moving or something moving to it, then this could be the culprit.

If you want to get your cat’s litter box habits back to normal, you’ll need to think seriously and carefully about just what that’s going to mean, when it comes to the idea of your cat’s comfort and needs. It’s a tough life being a cat parent, and no one said that it was going to be easy!

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