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Not Using Litter Tray

Cats stop using their litter trays for a variety of reasons, including issues with the tray or litter. Cats may not be happy with the placement or number of trays.  Changes in the environment inside or outside the house and undiagnosed medical conditions are also primary reasons. Keep in mind that cats that are not neutered may be more likely to urinate inappropriately. You may have to investigate several possibilities before you understand what your cat is trying to tell you.

Cats do not eliminate outside their litter tray to purposefully annoy you. Punishment will not stop or correct the behaviour. Since most cases of litter tray avoidance are stress related, punishment only increases the stress and makes it harder to identify the real cause.

Health check

The first step is to take your cat to the vet for a thorough physical exam. Several medical conditions may result in a cat not using the litter tray, so you will want to rule these out before looking at other causes.

The litter tray

Once you've ruled out possible medical conditions as the cause turn your attention to the litter tray itself as this is most often the culprit.

  • There are not enough litter trays

  • The cat does not like the type of litter

  • The cat does not like the type of litter tray

  • The cat does not like where the tray is located

  • The litter tray is not clean

Number of litter trays: There should be one litter box for each cat in the house plus one extra.  Some cats prefer to urinate in one box and defecate in another so sometimes adding more than one box per cat helps.

Litter preferences.

If you've changed brands or types of litter recently that may be the problem.

  • Many cats have specific preferences about litter. Cats have sensitive noses and are not fond of chemical or perfume scents.

  • Studies have shown that the most appealing type of litter to most cats is unscented clumping litter that’s the consistency of fine sand. Purchase different types and offer them side by side to let your cat choose -  try clay, shredded paper, sawdust, wood pellets, crystals and even sand or dirt.

  •  If you need to change to another type of litter do it gradually by adding a little more of the new product each time you change the litter until your cat is used to the new litter.

Litter tray preferences.


Most commercial litter trays are too small to comfortably accommodate adult cats. Try a large low sided plastic storage box and see if more room makes a difference.

  • Some cats, especially senior or overweight cats have difficulty getting into litter trays with high walls.

  •  Covered litter trays may feel too confining to a stressed cat and although they do confine the odours for us, for cats this is often a problem.  

  • Plastic liners are convenient for us but some cats do not like them.

Location of litter tray.


Cats are creatures of habit so don't move the litter tray suddenly. If you have to move a tray from an established location do it gradually to give the cat time to adjust.

  • Locate the trays in quiet places that offer a little privacy and are away from your cat's food and water stations. Avoid high traffic zones or noisy areas like laundry rooms. You may have to block off the litter tray area with baby gates or pet doors to prevent unwanted intrusions by humans or other animals.

  • Avoid placing litter trays in the corner of a closet or someplace tight such as between the toilet and bathtub. Your cat may feel that there's no escape route from such a vulnerable position. Try placing trays in several different locations. The cat will use the tray in the spot where he or she feels the safest.

Cleanliness of litter tray.

Because cats are very fastidious you will want to keep the litter trays as clean as possible to encourage their use.

  • Some cats will only use a tray once before it has to be cleaned so it is important to scoop regularly, particularly in a house with multiple cats.

  • Scrub out the trays with mild low fragrance soap at least once a week.  Don't use bleach or ammonia-based products. To remove odour soak the trays in diluted vinegar water

What to do if your cat prefers to eliminate elsewhere

If your cat simply prefers to “go” in other areas of the house there are things you can do to steer him back to preferring the litter tray.

  • Set up one or more litter trays that are very appealing and easy to access.

  • Clean the offended area thoroughly using an enzyme cleaner to help eliminate the odour so your cat isn't tempted to use the same spot again.

  • Block off the area or place something there that serves as a deterrent. Cats usually won't eliminate where there's food so try placing a bowl containing a few favourite treats on floor.

  • Make the inappropriate areas as undesirable as possible by covering them with aluminium foil or plastic wrap. Plastic carpet runners placed "teeth" side up are good for covering large areas. Be sure you cover the area generously. If the spot is a meter wide, cover it with something at least 3 meters. After a few weeks of success start removing the covering in areas that the cat is not bothering, working slowly toward the trouble spots.

  • Another option to consider is to install an outdoor catio, a place where your cat may prefer to eliminate. Make sure that you still take litter box preferences, location and cleaning into consideration.

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