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Litter Box Upsets: Understanding Your Cat’s Toilet Issues

13 Nov 2019.

Cats and their litter tray

Cats are creatures of habit and routine, they are not animals that enjoy inconsistency or change. Being territorial animals, this is particularly true of a cat’s living environment. Cats are particularly fastidious about their litter tray and toilet habits. Disruption to a cat’s life or changes to their toilet area can be stressful for them and lead to accidents.

Below Cat in a Flat looks at some of the many reasons a kitty can end up having a litter box mishap. And some possible solutions and safeguards you can put in place to prevent accidents from happening.

Perhaps most important of all is to remember not to punish your cat when a problem occurs. A litter tray accident isn’t a sign of protest or revenge from your kitty. It usually indicates something in their world isn’t working and that they need your help. Punishing your cat could scare them, and even make the problem worse.

Why is your cat going outside the litter tray?

 1. Provision and location of your cat’s litter tray

It is essential to understand why your cat goes to the toilet outside of their tray or has accidents around the house. The first thing to do if you notice a change of behaviour in your furry friend is to consult a vet. If you can exclude medical issues, it is often litter tray provision and location that are the problem. Households with more than one cat should make sure there is at least one tray per kitty, plus one extra, to avoid clashes. Position litter trays away from your cats’ food and water, busy rooms and corridors, and cat flaps. Each litter tray should also be roomy enough for the cat to move around.

2. Hygiene

Any cat-lover knows that kitties are fastidious about cleanliness. Cats spend up to 50% of their time awake grooming, so it’s no surprise they take hygiene very seriously. Many cats will soil outside of the litter tray if it isn’t cleaned regularly enough. Our furry friends don’t like strong smells so owners should keep litter trays and toilet areas very clean. Litter boxes should be scooped at a minimum once a day, or more if heavily soiled.

3. Stress

Stress is another factor that can affect a cat’s toilet habits. Cats are at their most vulnerable when using the toilet, so they need to feel secure. The source of a cat’s stress can be subtle and not immediately apparent to an owner. It could be nearby building works causing vibrations, changes to the household, or a new cat in the neighbourhood. All these things can contribute to litter tray avoidance because of the sensory assaults these changes bring. Negative experiences that happen during toilet time can stay with a cat too. Loud noises or the application of medication while using the tray can lead to the cat being nervous about using their usual box.

Stress is also one of the leading factors in cats developing urinary tract infections and cystitis. The association of stress with pain can make the situation worse, so keeping Mr Whiskers calm is essential for an accident-free household. 

Why does litter tray accidents happen when you go away?

Disruption to your cat’s routine is the main reason for accidents when you go away. The stress of an unknown visitor and changes to your cat’s litter box regime can trigger accidents. Your absence might also make your cat mark the house with urine to try and establish their territory and feel secure.

To avoid toilet problems, it’s a good idea to allow your cat to bond with your chosen cat minder. Booking the same cat-loving carer each time can also help Mr Whiskers feel secure. Cat in a Flat asks cat sitters to spend time with the cats they care for – to play and cuddle your fur baby. Feeling less alone should help keep kitties secure, happy and free from stress.

It is also a good idea to ask your pet carer to bring a change of clothing if they have lots of cats of their own, or multiple cat-sitting bookings. The scent of other kitties can be distressing for your cat.

Tips and tricks for avoiding litter tray accidents

There is a whole world of cat etiquette around litter trays. Just making a few tweaks to your litter box regime will make your cats happier and help avoid upsets.

  • Cats don’t like to share: It is essential to have one tray per kitty in the home PLUS one extra
  • Litter trays should be big enough for your cat to move around
  • Don’t change the type of litter you use, stick to the same brand
  • Avoid scented tray liners as the smell can be off-putting to cats’ sensitive noses
  • Hygiene is crucial: clean trays once a day minimum. More so if the box is heavily soiled
  • Never place your cat’s litter tray near open windows, doors, cat flaps, in busy rooms or thoroughfares, as it doesn’t feel secure to your furry friend. It’s the equivalent of you doing your business with the door open!
  • Keep food and water bowls completely separate from litter trays
  • Try not to relocate trays suddenly; if you need to move them then do it gradually
  • Consider getting a shallower tray with lower sides for older cats with mobility issues
  • Never administer medication to a cat while it is using the litter tray
  • If your cat has started toileting in a new area, try introducing a tray to the spot and then gradually move it back to a more desired location. Keep the old tray in its original place until you can swap it for the new one

Potty training your kitten

Kittens don’t have the same bladder and bowel control as older cats. To avoid accidents, they need easy access to a litter tray at all times. For this reason, kittens should be kept in a single room in their new home until they are accustomed to using the litter tray. Once they have the hang of it, you can release the kittens into different areas of the house.

If you are starting toilet training with your new kitten, try putting the litter box where their first accident occurred. Cats are creatures of habit, so your kitten will likely repeatedly return to that spot. When they find a litter tray in the same place, chances are they will accept it as their new toilet. Once your kitten is used to using the tray, you can try moving it gradually to a spot you’d prefer they use.


Before you go away, talk to your cat sitter about your kitty’s litter tray routine. They should always keep the depth of the litter and location of the tray the same.  Hygiene is just as important; your sitter should regularly clean the litter tray cleaning with cat-friendly products. For indoor cats this is crucial, so consider booking a pet sitter to check in on your kitty twice a day.

On occasion, soiling outside of the litter tray is due to a medical complaint. Please always consult a vet if your cat’s behaviour changes to rule out illness.

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