Why Won’t My New Cat Use the Litterbox?

CatChannel expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses resource guarding and the best setup for multiple cats.

Q: We brought our third cat into our household about six months ago. Before that, both cats used their boxes religiously. I think the new cat, Sparkle, isn’t using the litterbox. Regardless of how clean her box is, she’s now pooping next to her box and peeing outside the box. I regularly scoop the two litterboxes so I don’t think it’s a matter of cleanliness. Both boxes are in the garage. Any ideas? 

A: This unpleasant situation can probably be resolved with simple environmental management changes. Your current cat box setup is not ideal for a multiple-cat home. There aren’t enough boxes and their locations are not ideal. One of the main cat-box rules is: one box per cat and one for the house. Currently you only have two litterboxes for three cats. Cats like to have litterbox choices. You need two more boxes and they should be located in different areas of the house.

Locating all of the litterboxes in the garage can create a situation called resource guarding. Resource guarding occurs when a cat makes it very difficult and sometimes impossible for another cat to have access to resources such as food and litterboxes. One of your cats may be resource guarding by lying in a strategic location that makes it impossible for your other cats to approach the boxes without encountering him. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a cat who is resource guarding. He usually can be found lying in the path that leads to the room where the litterboxes are kept. Since cats prefer to avoid uncomfortable situations, some will choose an alternative location to do their business instead of risking a potential confrontation. Resource guarding can be discouraged by adding more boxes and placing them in different areas of the house.

Cats also don’t like to feel cornered. Covered litterboxes and boxes located in closed-in areas can contribute to cats not using their litterboxes. Cats can feel trapped in covered boxes since there is only one exit. Additionally, closets and showers are not good locations for boxes since cats can be cornered in them with no way of escaping. The best places for litterboxes are areas with a view. Find locations where your cats can see the whole room and out the door. This will help increase your cat’s sense of security and contribute to good litterbox habits.

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