Cat Litter Box Problems

Any home with cats can face various litter box problems. The most common is a strong, unpleasant odor originating from the ammonia content in a cat's urine. Other problems may include litter that doesn't clump when it is designed to clump, litter mess on the floor outside the box and cats refusing to use the litter box.

Odor issues

Cat urine can smell bad. However, if a litter box is cared for properly, those odor issues should not occur. The Humane Society of the United States recommends scooping feces daily and states, "How often you actually change (replace) the litter depends on the number of cats you have, the number of little boxes, and the type of litter you use." The general rule is one litter box per cat plus one more. If you own two cats, you need three litter boxes.

  • Non-clumping litter: Non-clumping clay litter typically needs to be changed once or twice a week to reduce odor. If using only one litter box, it may need to be changed more frequently. To eliminate odors, wash the litter box with a mild dish detergent and dry thoroughly before filling with new litter.
  • Clumping litter: Typically, clumping litter needs to be changed every two or three weeks. Remove the litter, wash the box with mild detergent, rinse, dry thoroughly, and refill with litter. Keep it scooped daily to eliminate odors.

No clumps

It can be frustrating day after day to return to scoop the litter, only to find the clumping litter not forming clumps. This can cause odor issues and litter messes outside the box on the floor as the cat steps (or springs) from the box, trailing bits of non-clumped litter throughout the house.

Too low litter level can contribute to clumping litter not performing as it should. Try adding more litter to the box, filling the box about halfway. This should provide enough litter for kitty to cover his or her waste, allow for clumping and keeping kitty from tossing extra litter out of the box onto the floor. If the litter is still not clumping and the brand is a scoopable/clumping litter, contact the manufacturer and arrange for a refund. Many brands offer a satisfaction guarantee.

Litter mess outside the box

Cats naturally scratch at the litter in the box to cover their waste. This is good and you want them to do this, as it will help reduce odors. However, some cats can be zealous with their covering routine, scratching for several minutes and often flinging bits of litter outside the box. If the litter level is too low, this may cause excessive litter box scratching. Simply add more litter until you and kitty determine the level that works best. Another solution is to add a cover or hood to the litter box. Adding a mat on the floor outside the box can help contain litter mess to the area, keeping it from being tracked through the house by kitty's paws. Vacuum the mat every other day to minimize mess.

Cat won't use the litter box

When your cat refuses to use the litter box and urinates around the house, it is frustrating. Some cats will urinate right in front of the box as a way of sending a message that the litter box is too dirty. Try cleaning the box daily to fix this problem. Other reasons cats stop using the litter box are numerous. A cat stressed by a new baby in the home, a new pet addition or general upheaval from a move or even home remodel may begin to urinate outside the box. A litter box must be accessible or kitty may choose not to use it. Never place the litter box next to heat sources or appliances that may make loud noises, this can cause the cat to avoid the box as well. Unfortunately, there are medical conditions that can affect a cat using the litter box regularly. Consult your veterinarian if a medical condition could be the contributing factor.

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