Cats and Litter Boxes (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this series, the Dog Trainer has more reasons why your cat may be avoiding the litter box - and how to get her back into good habits once and for all.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #220

Last week I talked about some of the qualities that make your cat’s litter box attractive – or not so much. I promised there was plenty more to say on this subject, and oh boy, is there! Apart from how many litter boxes you’ve got, how big they are, and what’s in them, here’s a laundry list of factors that can lead your cat to pee and poop outside the box. As you’ll see, many of them boil down to stress..

Tip #1: Is Your Cat Afraid to Visit the Litter Box?

As I said in Part 1 of this series, cats may become afraid of the box for many reasons. Feline interstitial cystitis and kidney stones are only two of the medical conditions that make it hurt to pee. Your cat, who doesn’t have a veterinary degree, may associate the pain with the place where she’s peeing. If you have multiple cats, does one of them bully the others? Is one cat consistently picked on by her housemates? Getting ambushed on the way in or out of the box is...off-putting, let’s say. Remember that a cat-to-cat threat may be super-subtle to human eyes – in an earlier episode, I mentioned how a cat just lying on his side with legs extended may be warning feline housemates sharply.

Your dog might also be the culprit in scaring your cat away from the box, even if he gets along well with her. A dog who loves to snack on Litter Box Surprise may be so eager for fresh product that he rushes the box before Kittychai has finished her after-business scratching. I have lived with such a dog, and believe me, the cats did not appreciate his enthusiasm.

Another possibility is that a loud noise or some other event frightened your cat while she was in the box. Washing machines are often cited as culprits. In fact, our cat Nora likes to snooze in the laundry room – or she did, till we got a new washer. It’s the best appliance ever, except that it makes a loud bang right at the start of the wash cycle. Nora only had to hear it once to decide to move out of the laundry room for a couple of weeks before she got over her fear. Fortunately, she had a choice of litterboxes elsewhere in the house, so she didn’t have to choose between a scary box and our non-scary sofa.

Frustrating as fear-based box avoidance can be for us, how do you feel about visiting places where something traumatic happened to you, even if you rationally know the place itself had nothing to do with it?


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).