My cat refuses to use the litter box: what solutions?

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By a rather quick shortcut, we associate a cat’s cleanliness with its ability to do its business in its litter box. So much so that when he refuses to do so, we tend to think that he is unclean, or poorly educated. However, this is not always the case. Your cat refuses to use the litter box? Let’s see why and how to remedy it.

Cleanliness in cats

Cleanliness in cats, and in this case, their ability to relieve themselves in a particular place, is called elimination. And this behavior is not innate, unlike grooming. It is a learning process that he does with his mother, during the first 7 weeks of his life.

At birth and during the first weeks, the mother licks the belly and the perianal area of the kitten to trigger excretions. After about 3 weeks, the cat has enough autonomy to start learning. It will then imitate its mother’s behavior and start using the litter box. This learning process will usually be completed between the 6th and 7th week, at the same time as weaning.

A cat that has learned the elimination phenomenon and the use of the litter box under these conditions will generally not need any intervention. It will have integrated this behavior and will reproduce it.

However, there are times when this is not the case and a cat refuses to use the litter box. Let’s take a look at the main reasons for this refusal.

Good to know: Toilet problems are the number one cause of cat abandonment and in extreme cases, they can even lead to requests for euthanasia. However, 90% of these problems do not come from the cat, but from the human being and his incapacity to understand his particular needs.

My cat refuses to use the litter box: why?

An unfinished learning process

We don’t always know our cat’s past. Also, we don’t necessarily know if his learning has been completed.

If your cat has never wanted to use the litter box, it’s possible that she didn’t learn the elimination process by watching her mother. This often happens when a kitten has been separated from her mother too soon.

Good to know: it is forbidden to sell or give away a kitten before the age of 8 weeks (article L 214-8 of the Rural Code). And conscientious professionals even recommend waiting until 12 weeks of age, in order to ensure that his education is complete.

A dirty litter box

One of the most common reasons cats refuse to use their litter boxes is dirt. A litter box that isn’t cleaned regularly and smells bad is a real turn-off for your pet.

Some cats even refuse to use it, even though it contains only one poop.


The choice of the location is an essential point for the cat. The right place for us, according to our own criteria (not seeing or smelling it), is not necessarily the most appropriate choice for him.

Your cat is a routine animal that does not like changes. So, when we move his litter box, because the place no longer suits us, we change his habits, without taking into account the fact that his territory is methodically organized. The loss of his familiar landmarks can lead him to refuse his litter box.

Good to know: a cat’s territory is structured in different zones. The one where he eats, the one where he rests, the one where he plays, hunts, spends his energy and the one where he relieves himself, which specialists call “the elimination zone”. Sudden changes in these areas can be very disturbing.


Refusal to use the litter box is a common marker of stress and anxiety in cats. It can sometimes be accompanied by unusual behaviors, such as urine marking, scratching, meowing, or depression.

An unsuitable litter box

Your little friend is a complex animal who doesn’t let his preferences be dictated. Simply placing litter in a container is not enough to get your cat to relieve herself.

Some cats refuse to use one litter box and will prefer another. Others don’t like the size of the box, finding it too small or too high. And the cat may refuse to use a closed litter box at all, or an open one.

Inappropriate litter

A cat’s sense of smell is highly developed and highly sensitive. Many cats will categorically refuse scented litters that disrupt their olfactory codes. Indeed, cats need smells to find their bearings, to reassure themselves, to identify places and the smells of their litter boxes are part of it.

Litter texture is also a consideration. Cats may prefer certain materials and textures, and reject others.

Good to know: France produces more than 400,000 tons of litter waste per year. And most of the litters sold are made of non-renewable materials (clay) and are not biodegradable. The manufacturing process is polluting and some contain toxic products for cats and for you (synthetic perfumes, fungicides, pesticides).

A disease

Urinary tract infections and cystitis are common in cats and can also cause this type of reaction.

They are usually caused by bacteria, but in the case of cystitis, stress, fear, trauma or shock can also be the cause. This is called idiopathic cystitis (the cause is unknown).

Once you’ve identified the cause of this behavior, it’s easier to figure out what to do about it. Here are a few tips to help you get through this stage.


In the case of a learning disability, you’ll need to be patient and gentle with your child. Don’t yell, don’t punish him and don’t ever put your nose in him, it’s only traumatic and totally ineffective.

Here are some tips to help you:

Spot when he is about to relieve himself, when he scratches and sniffs in one place, approach him gently and put him gently in his litter box.

Repeat the operation, always gently, in the morning, in the evening, after naps and meals;

Scratch the litter box to show him how to do it;

Praise or reward him when he goes in the litter box.

The right box

The “right” litter box is not necessarily the most expensive. There’s no need to invest in an expensive box, especially when you’re not sure your cat will adopt it.

Avoid closed boxes that concentrate bad smells and opt for an open box, of good size (the cat should not be cramped). And if your little companion sulks, try another one!

Good to know: specialists recommend one litter box per cat +1. For one cat, count 2 boxes, 3 boxes for 2 cats, etc.

The right litter

Avoid scented litters, test different materials. There are many ecological and economically sustainable alternatives in the form of vegetable litter. They are generally more absorbent and biodegradable.

Regular cleaning

Remove the droppings every day. Empty and clean the litter box completely every 2 or 3 days minimum. Rinse it with warm water and use baking soda at the bottom of the box before putting litter back in. Baking soda neutralizes odors and is harmless to your cat.

Choosing the right location

Don’t put your cat’s litter box in the area where he eats or sleeps. Find a quiet, secluded spot away from noisy appliances and traffic that’s always accessible. Once your cat is used to it, don’t move the litter box.

Managing stress

Understanding what causes stress in cats is the first step. If your cat is not suffering from any medical condition, but is showing signs of stress, giving your cat attention, taking time to play with her, and cuddling her can help calm her down.

Pheromones, phytotherapy or homeopathy can also be valuable aids. But in any case, stress must always be treated, because if it lasts too long, in addition to the discomfort it represents for your cat, it can generate or be the sign of more serious pathologies.

Consult a veterinarian

It is essential to consult a veterinarian if your cat refuses to use the litter box and you notice one or more of the following signs:

Difficulty urinating;
Blood in the urine;
Moaning, complaints;
Abdominal pain;

These tips should help you solve this little problem. But if the problem persists, a behaviorist will help you find the best solution for your little friend.

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