Why Won't an Old Cat Won't Use the Litter Box?

Litter box issues are not uncommon in aging felines.
i George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

If your elderly kitty is suddenly experiencing problems with litter box use, even though she was a pro at it in her younger years, don't be too alarmed. Cats often experience litter box problems along with the aging process, whether related to cognition difficulties or kidney disease.


Classic memory loss may contribute to a senior cat's abrupt "refusal" to eliminate in the litter box. People often lose their memory with aging, so it's not much of a shocker that it happens to felines, too. If your cat just isn't using his litter tray anymore, consider the fact that he simply doesn't remember its exact location. If your cat gets lost somewhere else in your home and can't make his way back downstairs to one of his boxes, he may not be able to help relieving himself elsewhere -- poor thing.


Along with her memory, your kitty's eyesight and hearing might be going, too. Cognitive troubles are prevalent in cats as they get older, especially when they're at least 10 years old. Just like almost anyone else, cats rely on vision and hearing to make their way around. If your cat can't see where he's going and can't depend on his ears to provide useful clues, soiling outside of the litter box seems practically inevitable. Take this as a cue to up the number of boxes in your home. The more trays around, the easier it will be for your confused cutie to successfully make his way to one -- and not end up going all over your guest room rug. Phew!

Health Problems

Whether your cat is wise and elderly or young and bouncy, various health ailments may contribute to the frustrating house soiling dilemma. However, many medical disorders are especially common in felines past a certain age. Take matters into your own hands and bring your little one in for a veterinary examination immediately. The litter box avoidance may be a consequence of a variety of conditions including diabetes, urinary tract infection, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease and cystitis. Geriatric cats are especially prone to both diabetes and kidney disease, so take note.

One of the key indications of inflammatory bowel disease is diarrhea. If your cat is going No. 2 outside of the box, consider the fact that his body simply can't wait in time to make it.


Although in no way exclusive to older cats, stress may be a leading factor in your cat's litter box issue. Felines often respond to turmoil and anxiety in their lives by eliminating anywhere but where they should be. If your elderly cat is feeling out of control for any reason, whether you're spending less time playing with him than before or you just welcomed a new baby into your home and he's feeling confused by the changes, mysterious damp patches may start popping up everywhere -- ugh.

Problems With the Box

Cats can be finicky creatures whether they're young or old. Your cat's sudden rejection of the litter box may simply be because he's not satisfied with it. He may be upset that he has to share it with another cat in your home. It may be too tight and uncomfortable in there. The sides may be sky-high, and his elderly physique may have trouble maneuvering into it. Maybe the litter's fruity fragrance bothers him. He also may have taken on a new "surface preference." If you notice he's going to the bathroom on soft surfaces like carpet, blankets and towels, consider investing in a litter that has a smoother texture. Get to the root of what's possibly irking him about his litter and litter box -- and make any necessary changes!

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

the nest