Generally, there are four major reasons for a cat to stop using their box, and it is not exclusive to just one … it could be a combination.
- Medical isue
- Problem with the litter box set-up
- Environmental stressor(s) (example: something or someone inside or outside the home environment that is causing the cat stress)
- Tensions in a multi-cat household
QUESTIONS TO ASK
When and where? The location and timing often offer useful clues. For example: Is a cat urinating near windows and doors? This could mean an outside visitor is creating stress. Is the cat urinating on clothes, shoes, or bedding? This could mean he/she might be meshing his/her scent with his/her person, or there may be an issue with the litter box set-up. Does he/she consistently use the same place?
WHEN AND WHERE QUESTIONS:
- When did this start? This started right after ….. (I bought a new piece of furniture, guests were in the house, a new animal came into the house, the neighbor started remodeling their house, the city started repairing the street/highway nearby, etc.) Look for any change in the environment that coincided with the start of the issue, including diet, litter or routine.
- When does this happen? Example: Daytime, nighttime, morning, evening, mealtime (yours or theirs). Does it always happen at the same time? Is there any noticeable pattern? If a specific time has not been noticed, try asking: When do you find it? (when you get up in the morning, when you get up in the night, when you come home from shopping/dining/vacationing, etc.). If it’s always at night, there could be outside visitors causing it (this usually would cause urinating rather than pooping)
- Where do you find it? (near windows and doors, on clothes/shoes/bedding, near or right next to the box) Is it always the same place? Is he/she eliminating right next to the box? That might suggest a problem with the cleanliness of the box, or the litter itself. Consistently right next to the box might indicate a medical issue where the cat wants to use the box but is associating it with pain or discomfort.
- How often is the litter box scooped?
- Is a new type of litter being used?
- Has the location of the litter box changed?
- Has any deodorizer been added to the litter?
- Has the type of food he/she is being fed changed?
- Has anything changed as far as a new routine, new furniture, new family member, new visitor to the home, new noises outside?
- Has the cat been let outside and maybe decided he/she wants to potty outside so when he/she is confined indoors she doesn’t use the box?
- If the cat is defecating outside the box what is the consistency of the poop? Normal? Soft? Hard? Diarrhea?
- Have you observed the cat straining in the litter box and being unable to go? Or making repeated trips to the box with no production of urine or feces? This is an EMERGENCY, and the cat needs to go to the vet ASAP.
- Are there any other changes in behavior? Example: restlessness, vocalization, lethargy, appetite.
A veterinary visit does not necessarily have to be the first course of action, but lacking any other determining factors, should definitely be kept as an option.
When a pattern begins to appear, follow up with more questions to see if an identifiable source (or even solution like adding or moving a box) can be determined.