Litter Box Problems With Older Cat

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


  1. Ivy says

    my 10 yr old female cat George has decided in the winter especially she is indoors 90% of the time and she is indoor/outdoor. she holds her BMs until it starts to come out as she trys to make it to the box. I even have 2 boxes she only uses one. nothing has changed, she hates and hides when her father and I argue. we r now at nite putting her in a nice basement alone and leave her out in the morning. my hubby can be very loud and very stern. always was though that hasn’t changed. I hate seeing her have to go downstairs. it worked then today she left a trail from the steps to the box. I don’t know how she kept all of that feces in her. ty

    • julia says

      Hello Ivy,
      It sounds like you love your kitty very much. For that reason you might want to consider providing her with a more peaceful home. Cats are incredibly sensitive creatures and are highly affected by their surroundings. If you and your husband argue often, I would imagine your kitty is quite traumatized. It will become more and more difficult for her to handle this kind of energy around her. She is probably very fearful and confused as to why she is being put in the basement when more than likely it stems from the arguing in the first place. She is also getting older and could have a serious health problem that is not being treated. If you really love her you would find a home that is calm and with someone who will take her to the vet when needed. It is horribly unfair for your husband to forbid you to seek treatment for your possibly ill family member. Please find a way to help her. She depends on you and has no other choice but to do that. I wish you and George the best. >^..^<

  2. Ivy says

    what r your recommendations for this issue. I feel so deeply sad for her, and he wont leave me take her to another vet. she was there in Nov. except I had no stool sample and I cant retrieve a urine sample, unless I take a clump up. please help she is so pathetic looking and I as all of us do I just LOVE her so very much. ty a desperate mother.

  3. Alice says

    My older cat does use the litter box to urinate but will not use litter box to shit, she shits on the floors through out the house. she just started that a few months ago, we are using 1 litter box and have not changed the type of litter we have not changed the food type.

  4. Kellie says

    My problem is totatly different and I can’t find anything online that will help. On some days the arthritis in my 14-year-old cat’s back legs must be worse than others. She is in her litter box, but doesn’t scooch down enough to urinate in the box and it sprays outside. She already has two boxes. One with high sides – the other does not – but it happens in both. For the first 11-years of her life she had a covered box, but then suddenly refused to use it. Once I removed the cover, she did. Any ideas on what I possibly can enclose around all sides of the litter boxes to try to eliminate her ruining my hard wood floors any more than she has. I already put the little boxes on piles of garbage bags, puppy pads and surrounded them with more to protect the floor, but it’s not enough. Other than this, she is a pretty healthy cat who still plays with her brother dog – she just doesn’t scoot down far enough in the little box.

    Help please.

    • Diane says

      I haven’t been able to find any information about this problem anywhere either and it’s exactly the same as yours. My thirteen-year-old arthritic cat doesn’t get far enough into the litter box and ends up urinating over the side. She also poops unpredictably. Once I caught her in the act and she didn’t even squat; just let the poop fall where it would. I’ve had to cover my entire hallway with puppy pads because that is her chosen spot. That is the best I can do to save my carpets and hardwood floors. We honestly haven’t seen our carpet in more than a year except when we clean up. My husband’s tired of this arrangement and wants to get rid of the cat. So if anyone can offer a solution, I’d be interested in hearing it.

      • TheFrugalLife says

        Hi Diane,

        There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Once a cat gets used to going in a specific spot they will keep going there unless you can remove the scent. Especially, if the cat is arthritic because like an arthritic person they want to save their steps and energy. When they can’t squat they are just so stiff that the limberness in their joints has gone away.

        Most products for humans can be used in your cat just Google the ingredients to make sure there isn’t a problem. White willow bark is a definite one to avoid. Also, their food like with humans can have adverse effects on the body especially if they are getting colorings and preservatives. If you were to do a search I am sure you could find some more testimonies connecting their food to arthritic symptoms.

        We just went through this with our 19 1/2 year old FIV cat. We had a cat door to her litter box and she began to not want to go through it because she had to step up. Then when she got to the box she wouldn’t go all the way in and her urine would go outside of the box. We don’t use medicine very often so don’t know if there are drugs to help a cat or not with arthritis. We tried herbs for her joints and she was able to get better for a period of time but then the other deterioration of her body caught up with her. Alas, we had to put her down because we could see in her eyes she was “just here” but not living.

        After we began the rebuilding process in our lives emotionally and physically we found places where she had urinated without our knowledge. This had been going on for a long time which convinced us even more she wasn’t feeling good for a long time. We have been reclaiming those areas using a product called Pet Force. You can see it on our website at

        We have taken great comfort in the fact that we will see her again and she is now pain free waiting on us.

        Hope this helps,


        • Diane says

          Thank you for your input. I’ll do what I can to make my cat more comfortable. I appreciate that you went through the same issues. I am sorry for your loss but you’re right; your kitty is out of pain and you will see her again. Peace to you.


  5. Karen says

    I have 4 cats. A 16yr old female, 14 yr female, 7 yr female, 3yr male. The 14 yr old stopped using the box. She stays upstairs most of the day. Very skitish and afraid of the male. My 2 daughters moved out of my house in January. Now she never sees them any more, and basically sees me only at the end of the night. She has her own litter box up there now because she stopped coming down to use the box during the night.Started to use area rugs, I got rid of them, put a litter box in one of the bedroom with a large towel under it, she pees on the towel (part that sticks out.) What do I do. I love her, but she is ruining my floors. I think my daughters not here any more has a big part in it. But the day I put the area rugs down, thats when she started to do it, about 2 weeks after they moved. Before all this occurred with my girls moving out, I would carry her down to one of the boxes every night to pee and she would, now she just jumps out because she already has gone on my rugs. HELP

    • rob says

      Get a large rubbermaid tub and cut a “u” shape hole in the side. It will likeley be bigger than your current box and have high enough sides. Just cut it down low enough at the entrance.

  6. Kayla Talbert says

    My 11yr old female cat will hold her urine and poop all day until I carry her to the room her litter box is in, she will then pee and poop and run back to the kitchen and living room, she pees a normal amount and doesn’t act like she’s sick at all, should I be putting her litter box closer to the living room?is that sometimes normal for cats her age? She doesn’t have any joint problems I know of, still can jump on the counter and jumps from counter to counter and follows us all around those rooms just basically won’t leave those two rooms.

  7. Amy McIntyre says

    My diabetic cat is my sweet baby.. she is 14 yrs old.. She gets insulin twice a day but still drinks way to much water. But that isn’t the issue.

    My issue is she uses the liter box just fine to poop and moves to the back of the box to do it… but when she pees she gets in and doesn’t turn around .. just jumps in and pees.. but she isn’t crouching low enough and the pee comes out of the entry door. I have put an extra small box with a small amount of litter to catch it but she just can’t crouch low enough.

    I have changed to a box lid to see if that will help and sometimes it does.. but that got to be a pain… and in the long run didn’t work. So maybe i’ll go back to the dome type box that has a ramp and easy access.. but then the pee just goes down the ramp. lol I love this baby and she is trying to do the right thing so I can’t be mad.

    Any suggestions on box types?

    • TheFrugalLife says

      You can make your own out of a storage box and make the walls the height you need and don’t have a door. Set it up so she can just step into it. Our cat was doing the same thing because she was too stiff to crouch down it seemed. Here is a link to what I am talking about.

      You can get different sizes depending on the size of your cat. Hope that helps.

  8. Barbara Floyd says

    Our 18 yr old cat does not have to share a catbox with other cats. He recently had teeth pulled and a mild UTI. This cat has never had catbox issues before! Now, he will poop in the box but pees right in front of the box. I’ve tried everything. His personality has changed also. No longer loving and affectionate. What can I do? He’s a really good cat but this is unacceptable behavior.

  9. Jessie says

    I have a very old cat my family got a very long time ago. She is probably around 14 years old at the minimum. This has been going on for a while were she does go in the litter box but she will also go outside of the litter box close to it but not on any carpet, her litterbox is in the basement. She goes once in it then stops. Shes never had problems like this before. My mom is extremely impatient and said that if the cat isnt going then she will. She refuses to listen to me about taking her to a vet to check if she has any problems. Is there anything i could try to see if i can get her back to normal? It needs to be quick, my mom is trying to convince my dad (the one whos actually attached to my cat) to put her down cause shes a dirty cat, and shes almost got him convinced.

    • TheFrugalLife says

      We had a cat do something similar and on watching her we realized it hurt her to turn around in the box or to squat down like she used to do. This seemed to be due to arthritis of her joints.

  10. Richard says

    I found this thread because my 15 year old has stopped using the box. But she has another problem, she’s blind. Normally that doesn’t hamper her; she knows the house better than I do. But lately she began not using the litter box. She was peeing, always in the same place but I shampooed, used copious amounts of urine remover and “roped off” the area with string. That seems to have stopped it. But she still #2s outside the box. We keep the litterbox in the powder room which is accessed by a short (3ft) hall way. She goes either in the powder room or in the hallway just outside the powder room door. Incidentally, we have hardwood floors. The other day I found poo in the pantry hallway just opposite where she usually goes. When she goes I clean the floor thoroughly but she doesn’t stop. She knows where the litter boxes are. What’s the best thing to use to keep her away from the places she uses? Thanks

  11. Carol says

    18 yr cat w/kidney and thyroid issues
    Couldn’t squat to pee. Vet said its
    Hard for the elders to squat. Tried a lot
    Of things but she would stream out
    Of the litter box. I put a low cat box in the
    Bottom of the plastic dog house with no top
    And she still misses but it’s caught in
    The dog house bottom. I spend extra time
    Cleaning but no peeing out of the two
    Box combination. Still looking for other

  12. shannon says

    I have a 10 year old male cat who used his litter box every day, but the other day my husband caught him squatting and pooping on our carpet by the front door. After that he’s been using his litter box just fine. About a month later I found poop on the carpet again and in the kids bedroom. It didn’t look like he used his litter box at all for a few days. I did change the litter recently, and not sure if that was the problem. He’s a big boy and we placed his litter box in a corner. But again, he never gave us any problems until recently. Any advice?

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