Troubleshooting Litter Box Issues for Cats


Ru Chen

- Updated May 16, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Litter box issues can be caused by an ill-suited litter box, behavioral problems, and medical conditions
  • Cat owners should modify the litter box setup as needed
  • The vet can screen for medical issues causing elimination issues
Troubleshooting Litter Box Issues for Cats

Litter box issues can frustrate both cats and owners. Over 10% of cats are affected by litter box aversion and other elimination problems. It’s important to promptly deal with any underlying medical conditions that might influence your cat’s litter box usage.

Let’s go over common cat litter box problems, how to resolve them, and ways to lower veterinary expenses through pet insurance.


Understanding Litter Box Behavior in Cats

Natural instincts and preferences of cats regarding elimination

Cats instinctively prefer eliminating in spaces that are safe and private. They feel even more comfortable if they have easy access to an escape route, since taking the time to eliminate can be a vulnerable moment when out in the wild.

Cats also urinate to mark territory, particularly when they are feeling threatened or stressed. This natural instinct may cause your house cat to “spray” on your furniture or walls. Many pet owners believe that cats do this on purpose out of spite, but this instinct typically means the cat is anxious or fearful. Restrictive diets and boredom could also lead to a cat that sprays urine out of frustration.

Factors influencing litter box usage

The environment and placement of the litter box can greatly affect whether a cat deigns to use it. If you place the litter box in a high traffic area with no privacy, the cat might refuse using the litter box, opting to “go” in more secluded areas instead. Unfortunately, these secluded areas might be your furniture or carpet instead. Try adjusting litter box placement until it meets your cat’s needs and preferences.

Cats can be picky about litter. Numerous litter types exist, each with its own texture and properties. Cat litter can be clumping or non-clumping. Common litter types that cat owners choose include:

  • Grass litter
  • Clay litter
  • Pine litter
  • Corn litter
  • Silica gel litter

The cleanliness of a litter box can also affect whether a cat wants to use it. Cats will want to stay away from dirty litter boxes, so make sure to regularly clean the litter box. A clean litter box environment also reduces the chances of disease and infections. Ideally, cat owners should scoop at least once a day, and change the litter completely weekly.

Underlying health problems are a common cause of litter box issues. For example, urinary tract inflammation can lead to painful urination, which may cause cats to associate the litter box with pain and end up soiling outside the litter box. Kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, and thyroid disorders can also cause an inability to eliminate properly.

Aging can also cause senior cats to have litter box issues. This may be due to mobility impairments from aging, such as a decreased ability to access the litter box. Cognitive function impairments can also hurt a cat’s capacity to eliminate as usual.

Identification of potential litter box aversions or issues

The first step to solving your cat’s elimination problems is identifying why they have a litter box aversion or behavioral issue. Observe your cat as you make adjustments to their litter box area to see whether their elimination habits improve after these changes.

It is also critical to rule out medical issues that can cause elimination issues. A veterinarian can screen for health concerns that might affect your cat’s litter box habits.

Common Litter Box Problems and Solutions

Inappropriate elimination outside the litter box

Litter box problems may be caused by underlying medical issues. Urinary infections, diabetes, cancer, and bladder stones are common reasons for elimination issues in cats, resulting in house soiling. If your cat suddenly “goes” outside the litter box, it is important to take them to the vet and address any underlying medical issues. Timely treatment can improve your cat’s condition more effectively.

If you move to a new location or renovate your cat’s litter box area, they might be uncomfortable with these environmental changes. Try switching your litter box placement and modifying the area to encourage your cat to use the litter box again.

Cats who are struggling to use the litter box due to age-related decline may need changes for comfort. Choose a litter box location and a design that are easily accessible to mitigate the effects of mobility and cognitive impairments.

Litter box avoidance or refusal

Many cats may refuse to use the litter box if it does not feel secure or comfortable. It’s important to determine why your cat is avoiding a litter box so you can fix the situation. This could be due to changes in the environment, litter type, or litter box. If a cat has associated the litter box or litter type with something painful or scary, they are likely to stay far away from it even if they need to urinate or defecate.

Different litter boxes have varying levels of privacy and automation. Experiment with various box types to determine your cat’s preferences. Some cats prefer an open litter box, whereas others are happier with covered litter boxes.

If you have multiple cats in the household, make sure that each cat has at least one litter box. Add an additional litter box for additional comfort. Cats are territorial and can come into conflict with each other when it comes to using the litter box.

Litter box anxiety or stress-related issues

Cats with behavioral issues or anxiety can struggle with using the litter box. If your cat has experienced any painful urination or defecation while in the litter box, a new litter box might be needed. Cats that have experienced anxiety-inducing moments while eliminating, such as being startled by a loud noise, may also start avoiding the litter box.

To soothe your kitty’s stress and encourage them to use a litter box again, aim to provide a safe and calm environment for your cat. Make sure the location is safe, private, clean, and quiet.

You can also use behavioral techniques to help your cat use the litter box properly. A cat behaviorist can also strategize with you to devise a plan that suits your cat’s personality.

A vet may prescribe your cat medication to deal with house soiling and other litter box issues. However, medication may have negative side effects, so make sure to only give your cat medication if it is advised by your veterinarian.

Sourcing Pet Insurance for Litter Box-Related Veterinary Costs

Benefits of pet insurance coverage for addressing medical issues related to litter box problems

Cover urgent expenses: Pet owners know that emergency vet care can be very expensive, costing you thousands of dollars in vet bills. Pet insurance provides valuable financial assistance, ensuring cat owners can afford the medical care that their feline friends need.

Peace of mind: Not needing to worry about emergency vet costs means that cat owners can focus on providing their cats with emotional support and care. This can make it easier to manage any litter box issues your cat might be experiencing.

Access to better veterinary care: Pet insurance is usually accepted by any vet you visit. This allows you to obtain veterinary care that you might not otherwise be able to afford, ensuring your cat gets the litter box issue treatment that they need. Prompt vet attention improves the prognosis of organ failure, infections, and other medical conditions that require treatment.

Factors to consider when selecting a pet insurance plan with coverage for urinary or behavioral issues

The main elements of a pet insurance policy to evaluate for urinary or behavioral issues in cats are:

Premium: The average pet insurance premium for cats is $32 a month for comprehensive coverage. Pet owners should choose a premium that aligns with their budget. Accident-only pet insurance starts at $10 monthly, but will not cover litter box elimination issues.

Deductible: You need to reach the deductible in out-of-pocket vet expenses before insurance coverage will kick in. Most pet owners choose a deductible of $250. Higher deductibles will have lower premiums.

Exclusions: Some pet insurance providers will consider a UTI as a pre-existing condition due to UTIs often being a recurring condition in cats. If your cat has signs of a UTI on their pet medical record when you first enroll in the pet insurance policy, treatment for the UTI will likely be excluded from coverage.

Comprehensive pet insurance typically covers urinary issues as long as they are medically necessary. This means if there are surgeries needed to save your pet’s life (e.g. bladder stones and urinary obstructions), pet insurance will cover relevant conditions.

To ensure a cat’s urinary and litter box issues are adequately covered, pet owners are recommended to obtain pet insurance as early as possible. That way if any unexpected illnesses or health issues arise, they will not be excluded from coverage as pre-existing conditions.

Types of pet insurance policies available for addressing litter box-related conditions

The main types of pet insurance and add-ons to consider for litter box conditions are:

Comprehensive coverage: Covers vet expenses related to both illnesses and accidents. Common eligible illnesses include cancer, diabetes, bladder stones, urinary tract infections, and arthritis.

Accident-only pet insurance: Only covers accident-related vet expenses, such as broken bones, lacerations, and toxic ingestion. Swallowing toxic substances can lead to internal organ failure, which may result in litter box issues.

Wellness plan: Covers preventive care and routine vet expenses. Can provide valuable reimbursements for pet health exams, dental cleanings, parasite prevention, and vaccinations.

Behavioral therapy: Some pet insurance companies offer policy add-ons that cover behavioral issues, such as litter box aversion.

Tips for finding reputable pet insurance providers and comparing policies

Finding a suitable pet insurance provider can go a long way in reducing your overall vet expenses. Here are some of the top pet insurance companies that cat owners should consider:

Importance of Budgeting for Veterinary Expenses

The cost of treating elimination and litter box issues in cats will vary depending on the treatment needed and the severity of your cat’s symptoms. Here are the common vet expenses related to treating litter box issues in cats.

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): $150 to 200
  • Urinary stones: $1,000 to $3,000
  • Urinary blockage: $1,500 or more
  • Diagnostic costs: $1,000+
  • Antibiotics: $30
  • Urine tests: $20 to $75 per test
  • Special food for urinary care: Up to $90 per bag

Taking care of a cat costs around $53 a month, which comes down to over $600 a year. If any unexpected accident or illness arises, the emergency vet expenses can skyrocket into the thousands. If you need to replace your litter or litter box, it could cost another hundred or so extra.

Pet insurance is essential in helping cat owners manage unexpected veterinary costs in case of emergencies.



Litter box issues should be addressed as soon as you notice them. Prolonged litter box problems can worsen a cat’s overall health and well-being. Underlying health conditions need to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian.

If you’re facing financial challenges when it comes to veterinary costs, it is a good idea to obtain pet insurance. Insurance coverage can greatly offset the high upfront expenses of treating litter box issues.

Remember that just as it is frustrating for cat owners to deal with a cat soiling around the home, the cat is likely frustrated, stressed, or in pain as well. Be patient as you determine what is the root cause of the litter box issue so you can better fix the problem. By staying attentive to your cat’s litter box habits and seeking veterinary care proactively, you can protect your cat against medical conditions and resolve litter box issues.

About The Author

Ru Chen

Ru Chen

Content Writer

Ru Chen is a content writer with several years of experience in creating engaging and well-researched articles. She mostly writes about insurance, business, digital marketing, and law. In her free time, she can be found watching horror movies and playing board games with her partner in Brooklyn.

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