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Litter Box Aversion: Is it Medical or Behavioral?

litter box aversion: is it medical or behavioral

When a cat eliminates outside of the litter box it’s probably the most frustrating behavior a cat parent ever has to cope with. All of a sudden, the cat who never caused any problems has suddenly started viewing the dining room carpet or living room sofa as makeshift litter boxes. Plastic coverings start making their way onto the sofa, the dining room becomes off limits, the box is cleaned to perfection and the cat parent starts looking at the beloved family cat as if he has become a total stranger.

When a cat eliminates outside of the box he isn’t being spiteful, stupid or willfully disobedient. He is trying to solve a problem. It may not make sense to you but it makes perfect sense to the cat. For some reason he feels he can’t use the box. Your job, as the one with the bigger brain, is to figure out why.

Address Potential Medical Issues First

In many cases, litter box aversion has an underlying medical cause. It could be feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), the start of renal failure, diabetes, IBD, constipation, diarrhea,  or a number of other medically-related issues. Very often, what happens is that the cat associates the pain he feels with the box itself. He thinks if he eliminates somewhere else it won’t hurt so much. In the case of urinary issues, he may try to retain the urine as long as possible because it hurts too much to pee. When his bladder reaches maximum capacity the cat may not be close enough to the box to get there in time. With some urinary problems the accumulation of any amount of urine in the bladder can cause pain so kitty will pee in small drops throughout the house. And, if you see traces of blood in the urine (either on the carpet or in the litter box), then you know there’s definitely something going on that needs immediate medical attention.



If dealing with litter box avoidance in an older cat, there could be age-related cognitive issues going on or maybe arthritis is making it too painful for the cat to go up and stairs to reach the box.

Pooping Outside of the Litter Box

When it comes to leaving fecal deposits outside of the box, the cat may by experiencing painful stomach cramping due to gas accumulation and feels the need to try to eliminate wherever he is at the moment. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is one condition that can commonly result in kitty having to eliminate frequently due to cramping and pain. A change in diet or if your cat got into something not on his normal mealtime menu, may have caused diarrhea.  If there’s constipation and the cat doesn’t feel safe in the litter box due to other cats in the home, or if he feels better walking while attempting defecation, you may notice him pooping in unexpected places despite the fact that you’ve kept the litter box perfectly clean.

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