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Litter Box Blues: Why Doesn’t My Cat Use Her Litter Box?

Does your cat ignore the litter box? Are you frustrated by her behavior? This week, we have a question from a frustrated cat owner about litter box habits. Our animal behaviorist, Kristen, answers the question for us in our Ask the Expert column.

“Why does my cat sit on the edge of her litter box and then squat and go outside the box instead of in it? It’s a clean litter box and it’s right there! How can I get her to use it properly?          – John, owner of an American short hair cat

“From the sounds of it, your cat does not care for the toilet you have provided for her! Cats can be just as picky as humans when it comes to what makes up a preferred bathroom.  The best way to find out what kind of toilet your cat wants is to set up litter box trials. Provide different style and size of boxes and different types of litter so you can determine what she likes.

Here are some general guidelines though: An ideal cat box is 1 1/2 times the length of the cat.  This way they have plenty of space to turn around in it. Plastic sweater boxes make great toilets for cats. She also may not be stepping in the box because she doesn’t care for the substrate (litter) in it. Most cats prefer unscented, clumping litter. Scented litter has far to strong of a smell for most cats. Once you have set up a variety of boxes, keep a log to help you determine what box and litter she likes best. A good way to tell if a cat likes the litter is if they cover their feces. Cats that do not like the litter will not dig in it to cover the stool. Track what she likes for a week or two before settling on the box and litter combination that she likes best.


  1. NorrinRadd

    January 2, 2017 11:55 pm

    Honestly, it sounds like you misread the question. John’s cat is doing what mine *sometimes* does: Sit IN the box, but at the side, with the operative portal pointed in the wrong direction. So HE is IN the box, but half the ejected product lands OUTSIDE the box.

    The box is 20″ x 12 “x 5” and I’m starting to suspect I may need something roomier. But it doesn’t matter how big it is if the doofus doesn’t know where to aim his weapons.

    • Lori Hilliard

      January 3, 2017 2:55 am

      Thanks for the insight! Perhaps the cat doesn’t actually realize he is missing the litter when he is sitting “half in and half out.” If cat owners suspect this is part of the problem, a larger litter box could be in order.

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