Litter Box Problems With Older Cat

Q. My 15-year-old cat doesn’t want to use the litter box anymore.  We’ve taken her to the vet and she’s checked out okay; he says it "just happens when they get older sometimes."  We do have another, younger cat, who seems to intimidate her, and I wonder if that may be part of the problem. Does anyone have any ideas about how to get her to stop doing all her business on the floor?

I work with a humane society and there are several things that you can try.  First it is important to take an inventory of any recent changes in the house.  Is the cat responding to something different in her environment?  The younger cat could definitely be a problem.  Sometimes just giving the older cat extra attention helps.  Make her feel that she is more important than the new guy.

How many boxes do you have in your home?  It is always good to have a litter box for each cat.  If you only have one box you may want to consider adding another one or two.

Have you changed the brand of litter lately? This could cause problems.  There are some litters that cats like better than others.  If the litter is scented, the cat may becoming sensitive to this.  You could experiment with litters and see if that helps.

Is the litter box in a place that is difficult for her to get to?  As an older cat, she may be having a harder time getting around.  I have an incontinent cat.  He uses his box, but has accidents in his sleep. Could this be a problem or have you seen her when she goes outside the box?  Also, is it only urine which could have something to do with a weak bladder, or is she also pooping outside the box?

Is your litter box covered?  You may want to get rid of the cover as some cats are sensitive to the smells as they can be really strong inside the enclosed box. 

How often do you change your litter?  Changing it more often may help.

Those are just a few ideas.  Without knowing exactly what your cat’s patterns are, it is difficult to give you more specific suggestions. –Jill

We have 4 adult cats and 1 10 week old kitten.  We found the best way to keep the younger one from spooking the older one.  We placed a small bell on her collar and this way she can’t sneak up on them.  This is a big help.  Now everyone is happy and getting along just fine and no accidents.  Sandy

My roommate and I each had a cat.  They had lived together using one box for several years.  They each, at different periods during their time together, went through the same thing.  We decided to set up separate litter boxes for them and that worked out very well. 

Try using two litter boxes.  Put the litter box for the older cat in a separate place that the younger cat doesn’t have access to.  To acclimate the cat, try and sequester the older cat in a room with the new litter box.  Once the cat begins using it regularly, you may re-introduce the cat to the rest of the house.  However, you should continue keep the other cat away from the new litter box.

Another problem might arise if you have changed the type (scoopable versus regular clay) or changed the actual box.  Perhaps you are using a new cleaning solution for the box or around the box?  Cats are highly sensitive to change.  Even if they seem to go along with a major change at first, they may mount a rebellion down the road.   Best of luck!

Try getting a second litter box, and placing it where the messes are (unless they are right next to the litter box).  If they are, try placing it in another room.  If your cat has arthritis she may have trouble jumping into a high-sided litter box, so this is something else to consider.  You also might try changing brands/type of litter, she might have trouble with with a scent or texture.  Good luck!

I have been reading a book by Dr. Nicholas Dodman titled "The cat who cried for Help".  The book has a chapter specifically geared for this problem. It covers many aspects to this problem, from behavior modification to medication. I do believe that the new comer to the house hold is a problem. Many vets don’t deal with the psychology of animals. I hope you can find your solution. Check your local library! Sincerely, Kate

The older cat might not want to use the same litter box as the younger one, or yes, she may be intimidated by him or her.   Best thing I can think of is to use two or more boxes, so that one is always available to the older cat. Also, is she a bigger than average cat?  You might want to get her a bigger litter box, in case it has become uncomfortable for her to "assume the position" in cramped quarters.  My cat quit using his box, after being a very clean cat since I’d had him.  I couldn’t figure it out.  Well, he had just gotten too darn LONG to be comfortable.  As soon as I got him the biggest box on the market, he reformed.  (Bailey is a Maine Coon, and they grow forever…at least till they’re about 3) Hope this helps, Helen

I have two cats.  One male and one female, the female is younger.  When she hit what the vet called her teenage years she started being demanding to our male older cat.  Anyway the vet suggested two litter boxes with one available for the male to get to.  We also have seperate food and water bowls for them.  This helped our male.  He never stopped using the litter box, but it helped having the extra one for when the female was being rude to him. Try that it might work for you. –Cassie

If your two cats share a litter box, you might try getting another one. I’ve heard it recommended that a person provide one box per cat, so maybe this will solve the problem (if the older cat is intimidated by the younger cat, maybe you should put the boxes in different locations, giving her two options instead of just one). Your cat is getting up there in years, so I hope you can find a solution to the problem. Good luck!  Brenda

I assume your vet checked urine and blood samples to make sure no bladder infection or kidney or thyroid disease were present.  If these checked out OK, I would suggest getting an additional litter box and placing it somewhere your older kitty can easily get to it.  Cleaning any spots in the house that she has used for her bathroom duties with a good enzymatic cleaner (ask your vet) should help to keep her from going back to these places.  And keep and eye on her; look out for any other behavior changes.A cat this age should have blood and urine checked at least once a year, if not twice, to make sure kidneys and thyroid are working right!  – DVM in Illinois

Having had cats all my life, I have experienced this. I have had three that lived to be 15-18 years old and offer solutions that solved my problem. One, have the cat checked by another veterinarian.  Two, make sure the litter box is CLEAN – cats do not like to use dirty boxes, just as you would not want to use a commode that had not been flushed. Three, stay with the same brand litter. If you have switched to something completely different, they may not like either the smell or sound (such as the new crystals).  I have also found that when introducing a cat to the new crystals, mix your regular cat litter half/half with it for a couple of weeks until they become used to it. The crystals are sharp and hurt their feet; they also do not like the noise of the crystals when first introduced to it. If the above fails, try keeping that particular cat separated from the younger one for a while. If you have a room, nice comfy bed, and clean litter box in one room, try placing a screen door up for a few days (and cover the floor/carpeting with plastic for a few days to see if it will return to its litter box). You should use a screen door so it can see you/your family and not feel isolated.  This worked for me.  My major points, however, from experience, would be clean litter boxes (one for each cat) and a "second opinion" from another vet.  Good luck.

Your kitty is mad. Sometimes we cats can only communicate by "thinking outside the box" Your kitty #1 does not like kitty #2 invading her territory. Maybe if you tried two separate litter boxes…and separate places to live…well at least separate places in the house. We kitties like our own separate turf sometimes. A Geriatric cat deserves some special TLC so maybe some special treats and extra ear scratches or whatever kitty #1 likes will let her know she is still the number one kitty in your house and your heart. Purrfectly yours, Cleo the Cat.

We had a similar problem and gave each cat their OWN litter box in a different location. The problem cat just didn’t want to share a box with the "new kid". We bought a covered box which gave her some privacy and security since the new cat would often jump at her in the litter box.

I’ve had elderly cats and young ones at the same time. Sometimes elderly cats develop arthritis and the high sides of the litter box make access difficult.  You might find a box with lower sides or cut a small opening in the side of the litter box so that entrance/exit is easier for your cherished friend. Another thing that I’d found is to have MORE litter boxes as the cats age. First of all, she may feel safer in different location that her younger pal’s favorite littering spot.  Also, again, sometimes convenience becomes more necessary as it’s difficult being old.  One last thought would be to place the litter box in a position so the cat can quickly see any others coming in so she can exit if she chooses to avoid confrontation. This is especially important since by 15 many cats begin to lose hearing and eyesight so they feel much more vulnerable. Some cats like the covered boxes for privacy, others prefer to have a variety of exits… might not be a bad idea to get a covered litter box for your 2nd box and then remove the cover (they generally have shallow pans) if she doesn’t like it.  The last thing is that older cats urinate more frequently due to failing kidneys. Try to keep the litter box as clean as possible, perhaps adding an inch or so of fresh litter daily as you scoop away the soiled litter. Much luck to you and your beloved pals, I know how much they mean to us (and how difficult it is when they have a problem) –Annette

My sympathies – my 17 year old cat uses the litter box for urine, but only occasionally for solid waste. Because she moves slowly, she doesn’t make it to the litter box for solid wastes – sometimes it is right in front of the litter box. My vet said there were several alternatives. 1) Have her put to sleep – not an acceptable option for us. 2) Confine her to tile areas – difficult but we try. He said that along with the arthritis in her hips,  she is losing bowel control due to age and associated problems with hips. So twice daily we track down the small pile and clean it up. I have no small children at home (the cat predates my youngest child by a couple of years only) so this is an option for us. Since she doesn’t jump well anymore, we use baby gates picked up at yard sales to keep her off the carpet. I wipe up with a disinfectant solution and then use vinegar water to mop with. Good luck. Mary

We, too, have been experiencing some broken litter box training with our 13 year old spayed female cat Cami.  She has indeed been intimidated by our 3 year old, also a spayed female Torri.  We weren’t sure if it was old age or the tormenting once we found that Cami was using the living room floor as her "litter box," but then we saw Torri laying in wait for her under the kitchen table or on a kitchen chair.  She was "ambushing" her as she went through the kitchen on her way to the laundry room where the litter boxes are kept. Consequently, Cami would stay in the living room and then do her business in there.  Even with both of us working full time, we made sure that Cami was able to get to the litter box safely at least twice a day.  To do this, we carry her to the laundry room and then make sure Torri cannot get near her.  In the evening, once she is finished, we carry her back to the bedroom where she usually sleeps the entire night.  We have even gone as far as putting a bowl of food on a plastic placemat under a chair in the dining room so she will be able to eat without Torri terrorizing her.  We had noticed that she was becoming very thin so we had concluded that she wasn’t even making out to the food bowls due to the wild critter who was after her.  This seems like a great deal of effort on the humans’ parts, but we don’t mind as long as it keeps peace and the floor clean!  After all, these innocent animals give us their love unconditionallly day after day, so it is the least we can do for them.  [By the way, we have 3 other cats in the house along with these two and everyone seems to go along with this plan quite nicely.] Good luck!!! Eve B.

Usually when cats won’t use the litter box, there is a medical problem.  I had a cat that would urinate all over our apartment.  It turned out that she had diabetes and "crystals" in her bladder.  Maybe you need to go to another vet.  Hope this helps.

We had the same problem with our older (14 yr.) cat.  We solved it by putting her in one of our bathrooms with her food, water and a very clean litter box.  We had to leave her in there for 4 days, but we stayed with her and loved on her so she wouldn’t feel forgotten.  It worked well, and she hasn’t had an accident since.  Of course, you will need to use another litter box for the youngster, but it might be worth the try. –Sandy