Cats may stop using the litter box after a scary experience in the area, such as a loud noise or harassment by another pet. They may also dislike the spot you chose after moving the litter box, or moving to a new home. Keep the litter box in a quiet, low-traffic spot where the cat can see people coming. Choose a room with at least two exits so the cat doesn’t feel cornered. Keep litter boxes away from food and water bowls. Cats do not like to combine these two areas. Signs that your cat may have had an unpleasant experience in the litter box including running quickly in and out of the litter box, or using an area near the litter box.
Try moving the box to a new room if you notice this. Keep at least one litter box on every floor of a multistory home. Play with toys near the litter box. Play with your cat in the same general area as the litter box. You can bring the cat to the litter box to investigate on its own, but do not drop it inside or reward it with treats for using it. These tactics can backfire by making the cat uncomfortable or afraid.
Unlike dogs, cats should choose the litter box on their own, especially if they used one in the past. Keep the litter box clean. If your cat perches on the edge of the box or eliminates right next to it, the box might be too dirty for it. Remove clumps and top up with fresh litter at least once a day, preferably twice. Rinse the litter box once a week with baking soda or unscented soap. If you use non-clumping litter, change the whole box every couple days to prevent odor build up, which can drive away the cat.
Do not clean the litter box with scented products. Do not use a disinfectant unless it is specifically made for litter boxes, as many of them contain chemicals toxic to cats. Switch to new litter gradually. If you bought a different kind of litter, introduce it slowly. Mix a little of it in with the old type, and gradually increase the proportion each time you change the litter box. Cats usually find it easier to adjust to unscented litter with a similar texture to their old litter.
If the old type of litter is no longer available, buy two or three new types. Put them in separate litter boxes side by side and let the cat choose its favorite. Try adjusting the depth of the litter, especially if it has a different texture than the cat is used to. Long-haired cats often like an extra-shallow layer so they can dig to the floor of the box. Some cats prefer covered boxes, and other prefer open trays. Try adding or removing the hood. Remove plastic liners from the litter box.
These can snag a cat’s claws. Most cats adjust well to self-cleaning litter boxes but not all. There is a risk of an anxious cat being frightened by the motor, and refusing to use the box as a result. If in doubt it’s best to stick with a regular litter box. If the box is smaller than the old one, you probably need to replace it with something larger. Clean up urine and feces with an enzymatic cleaner. This removes the smell of urine that can attract a cat to return to the same location.
For best results, lightly spray the area with rubbing alcohol after the water has dried. Scrub gently and let it air dry. Make soiled areas less appealing. If the cat uses a dark hiding spot, install a bright light, preferably motion-activated. Make rugs or other areas unpleasant to stand on with tin foil or double-sided tape. If the cat urinated on curtains, pin them up out of reach until the cat is back to using its litter. Cover targeted furniture with plastic sheets or shower curtains. Fill bathtubs and sinks with a shallow layer of water when not in use. Place litter boxes in the problem areas. One solution is to give in to your cat’s preferences and add new boxes in the areas it’s using as a bathroom. Clearly this isn’t ideal if your cat is using the center of the living room rug, but it’s worth considering if the cat is soiling an out-of-the-way corner of your house. Another option is to move the cat’s food bowl to this location. Most cats will not eliminate and eat in the same place. Use your cat’s preference to your advantage.