Solving the Mystery of the Unused Litter Box

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Every cat has an accident every now and again.  When those accidents become chronic, it might be time to figure out why your pet is not using the litter box.

One of my cats experienced inappropriate litter box issues while my husband and I rented a three-story townhouse in Maryland.  The litter boxes were in the “perfect” location, an unused room on the bottom floor.  Well, perfect for us, not for her.  Clio left us messages that she’d rather not go all the way downstairs to use the litter box.  After ruling out any medical issues, we put a litter box in our walk-in closet upstairs — problem solved!

It is an unfortunate fact that failure to use the litter box, or “inappropriate urination” trouble, is one of the most common reasons a cat is taken to an animal shelter.

So what’s the first thing to do if your cat is peeing outside the box?  Take your cat to the veterinarian for a checkup to ensure there is nothing medically wrong.

Then, if your cat gets a clean bill of health, scratch your head and think about what might have changed in your life, home, family, or routine.  Cats like routine, and inappropriate litter box habits often show they are not adjusting to change.

If nothing comes to mind?  Well, perhaps your cat is picky, as Kim G. discovered.  “If the box is not clean when he has to go, he’ll go somewhere near the box, just not in it,” she says.  Her solution:  “I have to keep it sparkling . . . all the time!”

Maybe the problem is too few options.  Consider having more than one litter box.  In fact, the standard most “cat-knowing” people quote is one box per cat and then an extra.  Amy B. adds that not only does she have multiple boxes, but they are “in private, separate locations.”

Is your cat sending you messages?  Check out a comprehensive tip sheet with real-world solutions from shelter volunteers, adopters, and shelter staffs’ own experiences at  And please share this link with other cat owners.

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Kathy is PR Manager for the Cat Adoption Team, author of the Cat's Meow Blog on, and member of the Cat Writer's Association. She's worked for the Humane Society of the United States and the Oregon Humane Society. Kathy and her hubby live with two 'adopted from a shelter' cats - Mack and Clio.