Cats are usually great at using a litter box. It is generally instinctual and not even their natural mother needs to teach them how to use a litter box. However, every once and a while, you come across a cat that does their business a little differently.

So, when that cat is your furry friend, how do you get your cat to use the litter box? Traditionally, there is no method of getting your pet to use the litter box like there are potty training regimens for dogs. Fortunately, there are ways that humans can teach cats to use the litter box (and there are also plenty of reasons that your cat is not using the litter box).

Why Do Cats Use a Litter Box

Cats have a natural instinct that usually leads them to the litter box. Cats were not created in captivity. Even your tabby’s ancestors were once wild cats. When cats were (and still are) wild, they realized that predators can find them easier if their business smells. Therefore, the cat’s survival instincts kicked in and led them to bury their business in the sand.

The reason cats use a litter box is easily summed up in this quote from PetSmart resident veterinarian Jordan Cassidy, DVM, “Cats have an inherent desire to bury their waste in order to cover their scent from other animals. Given the texture and consistency of most commercially available cat litters, it makes it easier for cats to cover their droppings, which is what naturally draws them towards a litter box.”

However, the domesticated cat has also achieved a strong opinion of where they should go to do their business. While some of the reasons a cat refuses to use a litter box are a little strange to us humans, most of their reasons make perfect sense.

Reasons a Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box

There is nothing wrong with your cat if they do not use a litter box. It is just a weird situation for you. Plus, it can be quite smelly. If your cat did use a litter box and now doesn’t, here are a few reasons why they might now opt for a potted plant or even your sink or bathtub:

  • You Moved the Box: How would you feel if you suddenly had to search for your bathroom? Especially if you are in an emergency business situation when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go! Cats are creatures of habit and therefore, they like everything to remain in its place.

    Cats get stressed out when furniture and other items are moved around inside the house, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be too comfortable with their bathroom relocating. While it might not seem like such a big deal to humans, remember, you are moving the place where your pet is their most vulnerable. If they don’t feel completely safe in their litter box, they won’t use it. One way to ensure they continue feeling safe is to keep it in the ‘right’ place, according to your cat.

  • The Litter Box is Stinky: Cats have a keen sense of smell and they don’t like their bathroom to stink. The first reason, especially for domesticated cats is the same reason you don’t want to be in a stinky bathroom. The second reason, though, is because the whole point of the litter box (burying their business) is so they can’t be tracked. If their litter box stinks, they don’t want predators to find them when they are at their most vulnerable.

    Remember, this is all instinctual. Even though your cat feels safe in their home, their survival skills which were formed over 10,000 years ago tell them they are in the most danger when they’re going to the bathroom.

  • No Room at the Litter Box: If you have more than one cat, you should have at least the same number of litter boxes as cats, and then one. That will ensure that no matter what happens, there is always a free and respectable place for your cats to do their business.

  • You Changed the Litter on Them: Some cats are cool with whatever litter you put in their box, so long as it is clean. After all, it is the texture, not the specific type of litter that attracts them to use the box. However, some cats are very picky when it comes to the type of litter. Maybe they don’t like the texture or the scent…Or, maybe it’s just different and that makes them uncomfortable. Regardless of the exact reason, if your cat doesn’t like the change, they will find a new place to do their business. (Sorry potted plant or zen garden!)

How to Get Your Cat to Use the Litter Box

Usually, getting your cat to use a litter box is instinctual. However, when it isn’t there is a problem. In fact, around 10% of cats either have or will develop an issue with using the litter box. If your cat did use the litter box and now they aren’t, the reason is usually an easy solution, such as the solutions above. However, if you have a new cat (kitten or otherwise) and you cannot get them to use the litter box, here are some different ways you can try to get them to use it:

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