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Help! My cat has stopped using the litter box! What can I do?

Ah, the “inappropriate eliminators,” as I call them. This is definitely the top issue causing people to contact me for help with their cats. (Does this surprise you? Read on for the nitty, gritty, “they’re just not using their litty” details...)

My clients typically describe a previously well-behaved cat that suddenly, and for no obvious reason, starts peeing — or even worse — pooping outside of their litter box. Many clients have reported to me that their cat did this while maintaining direct eye contact with them the whole time! This really makes it seem like it’s a deliberate act (yup) and it is quite disheartening to the person who has to clean up after them. It can also be very confusing, since cats are normally such clean and fastidious animals. What is going on? Fortunately, I can help you, by discovering their underlying issues and working with both of you to solve this unhappy situation.

There is a difference between spraying (most often done by male cats, and covered in a previous post) and actual peeing. Spraying in the house is usually related to an issue the cat has regarding territory. Urinating, on the other hand, can have different root causes. Defecation outside of a litter box ratchets the situation up to another level — no one wants to walk into a room and discover that kind of surprise! Usually, my clients tell me their cats have been doing one thing outside the box and not the other. Sometimes, though, the cat gives up the litter box entirely for both peeing AND pooping, choosing either random locations in the house to do their “business”, or very specific ones that can leave you wondering “why THAT particular place and not another one?” and “what has happened to my otherwise nice kitty?”

The first resource people often turn to is their vet, but unfortunately, there is little insight vets can offer in this case. Once the vet has ruled out something like a diagnosable urinary tract infection, or “irritable bowel”, they can be at a loss to explain this all-too-common cat behavior, or to offer any solutions beyond adding another litter box to the house. While extra litter boxes are always a good thing to have (it is recommended to have one for every cat, plus ideally, one more, and to always scoop them daily) that likely won’t resolve this particular problem.

As described, some cats will pee but not poop outside of the box and sometimes, it’s the opposite. Sometimes, their bad behavior shows up occasionally or inconsistently. Other times, it becomes a “new normal.” I’ve worked with many cats who were literally “pissed off.” (Funny in concept, but if you’re the one living with it, not quite so funny, right?) Most recently, I actually worked with a “rage pooper”, which is what prompted me to write this post. (Wow, that little girl had a LOT of strong feelings, but fortunately the case did did resolve really well.) I’ve worked with clients who have had their curtains, rugs and furniture soaked daily with urine (one client had this happen for nine months before she contacted me; I really wish she had done so earlier, especially because it was actually quite easily fixed through my session.) Others have to clean up nasty poop multiple times a day for months on end. By the time these clients have contacted me, they’re at their wit’s end and contemplating whether they can even keep their cat — at the same time knowing that this behavior likely makes them quite unadoptable, so euthanasia might even cross their mind as the only option...This is tragic since it is a behavioral problem and not usually an end-of-life problem.

Fortunately, I’m very experienced in working with this situation and I’ve consistently been able to help the issue resolve for my clients. I personally love having a clean house, and I get a lot of satisfaction from helping clients have one too — as well as helping their kitties get over whatever it is that is troubling them, since after all, that’s really the “bottom line.”

I’ve been working with these cases for over 27 years now, and the majority of the time, it does come down to a behavioral issue, not a medical one. (It can get even more complicated when you have more than one cat— I’ve definitely encountered “war games” between multiple cats in a household.) Within this behavioral category, there are many drivers — it really depends on the individual cat’s personality and situation. But once I’ve had a thorough session with a cat, I’m able to offer my clients customized solutions for their household. Note that I will never just tell you what’s on a cat’s mind. Each case I work on includes a custom-tailored action plan for you that will give you immediate hope as well as the pathways to improving your situation.

Top reasons cats stop using their litterbox

So what might be bothering kitties who act out in this way? The list is varied, and as an experienced animal communicator, I am convinced that the way I go about gathering data is a logical and ideal way to solve the problem.

Here’s my list of the most common reasons I’ve encountered for a cat to go outside of their litter box:

  • there is something physical: a urinary tract infection, “irritable bowel”, various age-related changes, or other organic cause

  • it is coming from attention-seeking or anger: they are trying to get your attention about an issue they are having, or they are angry about something: My job is to find out what this something is — they can have plenty of valid reasons for their anger, and while it might not always be obvious or seem valid to us, the key is that it is valid to them

  • they have unresolved grief and/or trauma: (yes, I’ve seen this many times; sometimes it’s dormant for years and then something you are completely unaware of starts to reactivate it. As you can imagine, this is particularly common with rescues. Or they could be reacting to something more recent, like a death in the family

  • you’ve all moved into a new house

  • you’ve had to relocate many times during their life

  • there has been a new adoption into the family (another cat, or a dog, perhaps?) that has upset the status quo

  • there is someone (human or animal) in or outside of the house that they have a particular issue with

  • a divorce or other breakup has occurred

  • there was bad/inconsistent training in their kitten hood before you adopted them

  • there is something they don’t like about their litter box and/or it’s location

  • it’s some kind of entertaining “game” for them

Note that these are not mutually exclusive — sometimes it can be a "perfect storm" of factors.

Fixing the problem of cats who go outside of their litter box

Scolding and/or punishment does not work with cats — it only causes alienation and further distress and a likely escalation of the problem. We all know that felines are not bred to please the way dogs are. So while I have developed a good general working “groove” after my many years as an animal communicator, you should also know that I have come up with different and extremely specific techniques when working with cats vs. when I’m working with dogs or other animals. I believe this is a big factor in why I achieve such good results in this particular area.

How fast can this problem be fixed?

You may be wondering: will this bad behavior stop immediately after I’ve worked with your cat? Yes, sometimes it actually can! Other times, depending on the individual(s) it’s a little more gradual; there could be a very positive overall trend right away, with a couple of little slip-ups before the situation is finally settled. Realistically, some cases might take a few weeks to fully resolve; (this is still pretty darn fast, don’t you think?) The important thing to know is that with my knowledge and support, my clients don’t need to just accept and live with this upsetting behavior and cleanup, or get rid of a cat that they and their family otherwise love.

I truly don’t know of ANY other method that can rectify this problem the way the insights gained from my cat sessions can. Each case is different, but you can always find out more through my Discovery Session about how I would specifically approach helping you and your cat.

May we all live with clean, harmonious houses and happy, well-adjusted kitties!


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