Why is my Cat Missing the Litter Box? (3 Symptoms + Reasons)

If your feline friend has decided to start using your floor, furniture, or other surfaces as a litter box instead of the one you’ve provided, it can be a puzzling and smelly mystery.

We understand that it can be incredibly frustrating when your cat stops using the litter box. After all, you’ve taken the time to train your cat to do its business in the right place, and now it seems like it was all for nothing! So, why is your cat missing the litter box?

There are several potential reasons why your cat might not be using the litter box. It might be a health problem, like a urinary tract infection, or a situational factor, like a filthy litter box. It could even be a behavioral issue, such as marking territory or stress. Whatever the reason, it’s critical to comprehend why your cat isn’t using the litter box so that you can effectively resolve the situation and get your cat back on track.

Dr. Mike Lappin, a veterinarian, and professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Colorado State University said.

Inappropriate urination can be a sign of a medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection or bladder stones.

Why is my cat Missing the Litter Box?

3 Symptoms of Missing the Litter Box

There are a variety of reasons why cats miss their litter boxes. It is characterized by urine or feces outside the box.

1. Urinating/Defecating Outside the Litter Box

Defecating and/or urinating outside the litter box can indicate a missing litter box. If their litter box is not conveniently located, cats may seek out another area to relieve themselves. It is usually accompanied by increased urine marking and/or defecation outside the litter box.

2. Excessive Grooming

Numerous behaviors in a cat, such as excessive grooming, can point to a vacant litter box. If the cat does not have access to a litter box, it rubs against objects and furniture in an attempt to find the missing litter box. Due to the lack of a litter box, the cat may feel uncomfortable, stressed, or anxious. They might groom themselves more frequently than usual as a result of their anxiety.

According to Dr. John Smith, a veterinarian at ABC Vet Clinic, “Missing litter boxes can lead to excessive grooming of cats. Cats exhibiting this behavior should have adequate and appropriate litter boxes. A vet should be consulted if the behavior persists to rule out any underlying medical issues.”

3. Hiding

If the litter box is not where it usually is, cats that go missing might not have it. Litter boxes are very critical to cats, and they will not use one if it’s not in the same spot as before. The cat may hide if the litter box is missing or has been moved to avoid making a mess if it ventures outside its normal litter box area. The cat may also start hiding if the litter box isn’t kept clean. An anxious or stressed cat might also go into hiding in an attempt to feel safe if its litter box is not available.

Reasons why a Cat May Miss the Litter Box and their Solutions

Health Reasons

A urinary tract infection is one of the most common health reasons for cats not using the litter box. Constipation, kidney disease, and neurological disorders are also potential causes.

1. Urinary Tract Infection

Cats commonly suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs). When bacteria enter the urinary tract, they cause inflammation and infection.

Cats who have a UTI may urinate more frequently, struggle to empty their bladders, and have blood in their urine. You could also notice that the cat is lethargic, has less appetite, or has painful urination.

In most cases, Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus spp. are the urinary tract bacteria that cause UTIs in cats. These microorganisms can enter the bloodstream through the urethra as well as the urinary tract. A cat’s likelihood of getting a UTI can also be raised by the presence of uroliths (stones) in the urinary tract, long-term conditions like diabetes, and weakened immunity.

Dr. Allen Schoen, DVM, MS, DACVIM, explains that because urinating hurts, cats with UTIs may avoid using their litter box. Pain is brought on by the infection’s inflammation of the urinary tract.

Cats with UTIs might be reluctant or even refuse to use the litter box. Urination may cause pain, and the cat may also be in general discomfort.  It can also be challenging for cats with UTIs to control their behavior and make it to the litter box on time due to a strong urge to urinate.

Antibiotics and other supportive therapies are frequently used in the treatment of UTIs. Both the underlying problem (such as urinary obstructions or chronic diseases) and the cat’s hydration must be addressed. Cats may also benefit from dietary changes, such as switching to a wet food diet or taking supplements.

2. Kidney Disease

Medical conditions such as kidney disease can cause cats to miss the litter box. The cause can be genetic, age-related, or trauma-related. Kidney disease in cats manifests as altered drinking habits, increased urination, weight loss, appetite loss, vomiting, and lethargic behavior. If kidney disease is thought to exist, the cat should be taken to the vet for a thorough examination, which includes blood and urine tests.

The kidneys filter waste materials and toxins from the blood. Toxins and waste products can stay in the blood when the kidneys are not working properly, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. Organ failure, coma, and death can result from kidney disease if left untreated.

Dr. Victoria Bascom, medical director at Cat Hospital of Chicago, explains how kidney disease can be a reason for a cat to miss the litter box: 

“Cats with kidney disease often experience inappropriate elimination, which can be caused by kidney disease. Cats with kidney disease may experience behavioral changes, such as a decrease in litter box use, as a result of their inability to concentrate urine. This might cause cats to avoid using the bathroom and turn off the smell of their concentrated urine. Cats with kidney disease may also drink more water, leading to increased urination frequency. As a result, cats may eliminate urine outside the litter box several times a day. Last but not least, cats with kidney disease might be unable to use the litter box and may instead relieve themselves elsewhere, which is more convenient.”

Medications and a special diet are typically used to treat kidney disease in cats. Toxins can be flushed out and hydration maintained using fluid therapy. In severe cases, a damaged kidney might need to be removed or repaired.

A clean litter box is just as critical as a medical treatment for your cat. Because a cat with kidney disease may struggle to control his or her bladder, a clean litter box is essential for successful litter box training. A change in litter box habits could also indicate a worsening of the condition.

3. Stress 

Stress can be a major contributor to cats missing the litter box. Dr. Danel Grimmett, a veterinarian in California, explains that cats are highly sensitive pets and even small changes in their environment can stress them out. Cats may not have the same control over their bladders and bowels when they are stressed. Because of this, they may fail to use their litter box, either because they forget or because they are too anxious to do so.

Further, Dr. Grimmett explains that cats can become stressed when their environment changes, when other animals in the household change, or even when their diet changes. A lack of stimulation or lack of affection from their owners can also cause stress. When cats feel scared or overwhelmed, they may not use their litter boxes as frequently.

Take steps to minimize a cat’s stress by identifying its sources. You can do this by providing more stimulation, adding more litter boxes, or providing a comfortable and safe place for the cat to rest. Litter box use should return to normal once the cat’s stress is reduced.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as not using the litter box, can have a significant impact on a cat’s behavior.

1. Change in Environment

Stress, anxiety, a change in routine, or a new environment can cause a cat to miss its litter box. Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, explains, “When cats are stressed or anxious, they often miss the litter box. A cat may feel overwhelmed if its environment changes, such as if the family dynamic changes if a pet or baby is added, or if a new piece of furniture is introduced, and may refuse to use its litter box.”

The location of the litter box, the type of litter used, and the type of litter box are other environmental factors that can cause cats to miss the litter box. Cats can be stressed when they move to a new environment. 

Make sure the litter box is kept in a quiet, low-traffic area of the house, and use the same type of litter and litter box as the cat is accustomed to. The cat should be given a period of adjustment if changes are made to the environment, and additional litter boxes and litter should be provided if necessary.

2. Unfamiliarity with New Litter Box

Cats may miss the litter box due to unfamiliarity with a new litter box. Cats’ behavior can change when their environmental cues are altered. An unfamiliar environment can cause a cat’s habitual behavior to become confused, leading to undesirable behaviors like missing the litter box.

The most pertinent thing to remember is to make the cat feel comfortable and safe. This is particularly true if he has been using the old litter box instead because he is not familiar with the new one. Allowing the cat to gradually adjust to the new litter box in a familiar environment can help the cat adjust more quickly. The litter box must also be kept tidy and placed consistently. By doing so, the cat will become more familiar with the brand-new litter box, reducing the chances of it being missed.

3. Location of Litter Box

For a cat to use the litter box regularly, its location is crucial. Keeping the litter box in a consistent location is helpful for cats. When a cat has to search for a litter box, it may become frustrated and decide not to use it. Additionally, a litter box should be placed in a quiet, low-traffic area of the house because cats are easily startled by sudden noises or unexpected visitors. It should be accessible to the cat and away from any furniture that it can’t jump over. 

Cats can also become territorial and prefer to use their litter boxes, so it is wise to have multiple litter boxes throughout the house. As a final point, cats may avoid a dirty litter box if it is kept clean and regularly scooped.

Behavioral Reasons

Cats are complex creatures, and their behavior can be difficult to understand. Inappropriate elimination, or missing the litter box, is a common issue with cats. This problem can be caused by a variety of behavioral factors.

1. Submissive Urination

When cats urinate in a way that is not acceptable to them, it frequently results in them missing their litter boxes. Urinating in response to a perceived threat is a sign of submission in cats. When a cat feels intimidated or scared, it may urinate outside the litter box to show that it is not a threat.

According to Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, “When cats feel anxious or threatened, they urinate in a submissive manner. When approached or petted, the cat typically does this by squatting and passing a small amount of urine.  In unfamiliar environments or when scolded, cats may also scream.”

With the proper training and understanding of the underlying cause, submissive urination is an easily treatable condition.  Create a safe and secure environment for the cat so it doesn’t feel threatened. Limiting a cat’s exposure to startling motions, loud noises, or strange people may be necessary. Additionally, it is important to be understanding and patient with cats who urinate when they are scared or stressed. By employing positive reinforcement and avoiding punishment when the cat is acting well, the problem of submissive urination can be solved.

2. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety in cats can take the form of anxiety about being left alone or about changes in the environment, including the litter box.

A cat’s instinctive dislike of change explains this behavior. Stress and confusion can result from changes in a cat’s environment. Litter boxes are no different for cats. A sudden change in the litter box, such as a different type of litter, different size, shape, or location, can cause the cat to feel stressed and confused.

Due to the anxiety that comes with being left alone, cats may avoid using their litter box. The absence of their owner, whom they have grown to rely on and trust, can be overwhelming for a pet.

A safe, secure environment and lots of attention are the most effective ways to address separation anxiety in cats. Spending time with them, playing with them, and providing them with plenty of toys can help ease their anxiety. 

A comfortable place to sleep as well as treats or food can help the cat feel more relaxed and comfortable in their environment. Consultation with a veterinarian may be necessary if these methods don’t work.

3. Unfavorable Litter

Litter box avoidance can be attributed to unfavorable litter. Since cats are naturally clean animals, the environment in which they defecate matters greatly to them. They may refuse to use the box if the litter is not to their liking. Unfavorable litter is too fine, too coarse, too dusty, or scented.

Fine litter can stick in the cats’ paw pads, making it uncomfortable to move around the box. Consequently, they are more likely to track litter around the house. Besides causing discomfort for cats that dig, coarse litter can also cause problems with their paw pads. A cat’s respiratory system may become irritated when using a litter box that is covered in dust, making them uneasy and reluctant to use it. Due to their acute sense of smell, cats will avoid the litter box if there are strong scents present because they will be overpowered or even repulsed by them.

In addition to physical discomfort, cats may also avoid the box psychologically. When the litter box is located in an area of the house where the cat feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it may not be used. Cats, which are naturally territorial, may avoid the litter box if it is too close to the food bowl.

A comfortable and inviting litter box will prevent cats from avoiding the box. Cats prefer clumped litter since it sticks less to their paws. Keeping the litter box away from the food bowl is also critical. Maintaining a clean litter box and providing fresh litter is also essential for keeping cats happy.


Can cats forget where the litter box is?

Cats can forget where the litter box is if they experience a significant change in their environment. For example, if the litter box is moved to a different location or if the home is rearranged, cats may forget where the litter box is located. Additionally, cats may suffer from cognitive dysfunction, which can result in confusion and disorientation

How long can cats go without a litter box?

Cats can usually go about one to two days without a litter box, depending on their age and health. However, cats should not be left without a litter box for more than 24 hours. Moreover, cats should always have access to a litter box, especially those who are young, pregnant, or have medical issues.

Is my cat’s litter box the right size for them?

By observing your cat’s behavior, you can decide if the litter box is the proper size for them. The box may be too small if your cat has difficulty getting into it, cannot turn around easily, or has difficulty covering their waste. Alternatively, if your cat is comfortable and can easily use the box, then the size is likely to be appropriate.

Could my cat’s diet be contributing to her litter box avoidance?

She may be avoiding the litter box because of her diet. There are a variety of reasons why cats avoid using the litter box, but dietary issues can be a major factor. For example, if your cat does not receive the proper nutrients from its food, it may become ill and associate the litter box with that feeling. It can also lead to digestive issues if your cat eats too much or the wrong types of food. He or she may decide to avoid the litter box as a result. Make sure your cat eats a balanced and nutritious diet that is appropriate for his or her age and activity level.