a cat next to a blue litter box

Cat Litter Box Problems?

Cat urine is very pungent. No one likes to experience cat urine odor. So when a cat doesn’t use their litter box or starts marking urine around the home it is very upsetting for any pet owner. Sadly, inappropriate elimination is the number one reason cats wind up dropped off at shelters or euthanized. This can be avoided by educating the pet owner as to causes and solutions for the problem. First, there are two types of problems of cats not using the litter box.

Litter Box Problem

  • Won’t use the litter box at all
  • Uses the litter box to defecate but not urinate
  • Uses the litter box to urinate but not defecate
  • Eliminates next to the box but not in it

Marking Problem

  • There are two forms of cat urine marking. One is when the cat sprays horizontal surfaces.  The other, is urinating on vertical surfaces. Marking with urine is not usually a litter box issue.  Cats that are spraying may also use their litter box but find certain places around the house to urine mark. 

Addressing the Litter Box


Cats are finicky. They prefer clean litter boxes. Therefore, you should clean the litter box daily.

Type of Litter Boxes

There are all kinds of litter boxes. But first you want to make sure you get the right size. A small litter box may be fine for a kitten, but as they grow they will need a larger litter box. Some cats like lids on the box. Others feel threatened by the enclosed space, i.e. they can feel trapped. So you have to observe your cat and see what works best.

Type of Litter

Cats are finicky and they can also be picky about what type of litter they like. So you may have to try different brands. While we humans prefer scented litter, many cats do not. If you clean the litter box regularly smell should not be a problem. Try out unscented litter. 


The location of the litter box is important. Make sure it is easy for your cat to get to. You do not want it in a noisy area of the house. Also they do not like to eliminate near their food or water. A rule of thumb is having one box for each cat plus one. This is especially important if you have more than one cat as one cat could be bullying the other when they use the litter box. 

Remedy Spraying in the House

Why do cat’s spray?

Unfortunately some people think cats spray for revenge. This is far from the case. Also both fixed male and female cats can spray. Cats spray to mark their territory. Cats spray when they are stressed and/or feel threatened. In other words, they do not feel safe in their space. This can have many causes:

  • Addition (or loss) of a pet to the household.
  • Addition or loss of a human in the household.
  • Changes in routine such as changing feeding or play times. This could include changes to their space (changing location, new furniture, etc.)
  • The presence of a neighbor’s cat or a stray in your yard or around the outside of your home.
  • Illness of another cat in the home, or a change in the relationship between cats.
  • Aggression between cats.

In summary, it could be any change that has now made the cat feel unsafe in their environment.

Call Your Vet!

The first thing you should do if your cat starts having a litter box problem or spraying is contact your vet. If your cat has not been fixed you want to consult your vet about getting this done. Also the vet will want to rule out if your pet has a medical problem first. For example, FLUTD, Cystitis, Diabetes can be just some causes of inappropriate elimination. And cats by nature hide their pain. So it’s important to have your cat get a physical examination by the vet. If it is a medical problem, the problem may simply clear up by getting your cat treated.

What if Your Pet is Healthy?

Become a Master Detective

If your vet rules out a medical problem then what do you do? You need to address your cat and its environment. You have to find out what is causing your cat stress. This requires observing your cat and seeing what causes your cat stress. Particularly you want to discover what changed just before your cat began having a problem and if possible revert back those changes.


There are also products on the market to help you with your kitties. Feliway is probably one of the most known and used products. This product, and others like it, mimic cat pheromones and helps to calm them down. There are also many types of enzyme cleaning products that come with instructions on how to get rid of the urine smell and keep your cat from marking in the same area. We carry Feliway and a great enzymatic cleaner at our clinic and can go over how to use such products when you come in. 

Relieve Their Stress

There are various ways to relieve a cat’s stress.  Playtime is one of them. Even just 10-15 minutes a day playing with your cat with cat toys can help. You can help a cat relieve stress with scratch posts or boxes. There are also many natural calming products on the market such as calming treats. And there is calming music for cats. Another common remedy is to remove any factors antagonizing your cat such as preventing neighbor cats from coming in your yard or blocking the window so your cat can’t see the neighbor cats.

Cat Behaviorist

There are people trained in cat behavior who can always help. Your vet may have a list of ones in your area you can contact. You may have also heard of well-known behaviorists such as Jackson Galaxy, who has his own show My Cat From Hell and published books on the subject. Another well-known behaviorist and author is Mieshelle Nagelschneider.


If your cat starts having litter box or spraying issues your first step is to contact your vet and get your cat examined. If a medical issue is ruled out there are all kinds of solutions you can find on the internet. Keep patient and don’t give up on your furry friend. They need your help to be a happy, confident kitty. We are here to help. Contact us to schedule and bring your kitty in.


Dr. Tammy Stevenson
Advanced Pet Care Clinic