Litter Box Avoidance After a UTI? How to Re-Train Your Cat


It’s common for cats to avoid using the litter box after experiencing a urinary tract infection (UTI). The pain and discomfort associated with urination can cause them to develop an aversion to the litter box. This can persist even after the infection has cleared with antibiotics or other treatments from the vet. Retraining a cat to regularly use the litter box again is crucial for preventing inappropriate elimination around the home. Allowing avoidance behavior to continue can reinforce it and make retraining more difficult. Proactively addressing litter box avoidance helps ensure your cat’s health and preserves household cleanliness.

Causes of Litter Box Avoidance after a UTI

According to experts, there are a few key reasons why cats may avoid the litter box after experiencing a UTI:

Pain and discomfort during urination can cause a cat to develop an aversion to the litter box. As noted by the ASPCA, “a urinary tract infection or crystals in the urine can make urination very painful. Cats often associate this pain with the litter box and begin to avoid it” (source).

Even after the UTI has cleared up, the cat may have developed a lingering negative association between the litter box and pain. As explained by Kitty Help Desk, “Cats often avoid their litter boxes when they have UTIs or bladder stones or other painful experiences during elimination” (source).

After experiencing pain and discomfort during urination, cats may develop a preference for softer surfaces outside the litter box. The ASPCA notes that once a cat starts avoiding the litter box, they can develop location and surface preferences that perpetuate the avoidance behavior (source).

Veterinary Care as the First Step

It’s important to first treat the underlying UTI or illness causing litter box avoidance. Cats often associate the litter box with painful urination, especially after a recent UTI. Taking your cat to a veterinarian to diagnose and treat the infection is crucial.

Your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics and may recommend additional medications or supplements to help soothe your cat’s urinary tract. Be sure to follow all treatment instructions carefully and finish the full course of antibiotics.

Even after treatment, some cats may still experience discomfort, inflammation, or a lack of urge to urinate. Discuss any ongoing medical issues with your vet, as additional medications, dietary changes, or tests may be needed to fully resolve the problem.

Only once your cat’s UTI and urinary symptoms have been successfully treated by a vet should you begin retraining for proper litter box use. Medical issues are the first priority before behavioral training.

Cleaning the Litter Box

Cleaning the litter box regularly and thoroughly is very important to encourage your cat to use it again after a UTI. Use a gentle, scent-free cleaner each time you clean the box to help avoid turning your cat off from the smells. The ASPCA recommends cleaning the litter box at least once a day, and more frequently for multi-cat households [1]. Scrub the box with dish soap and hot water to remove all traces of waste and odors. Rinse the box completely before refilling it with fresh litter. You may also want to replace plastic litter boxes every few months, as scratched plastic can harbor odors over time.

Trying Different Litters

One of the most effective ways to encourage your cat to start using the litter box again after a UTI is to experiment with different litter textures and types. Some cats may develop an aversion to their regular litter after associating the pain of urinating with their litter box. Trying a few different litters can help find one your cat likes again.

Focus on litters with soft, fine-grained textures first. Litters made from lightweight clay or gentle natural materials like wheat or corn can feel more comfortable under a cat’s paws. Silica gel crystals are another soft option. Avoid coarse litters for now that may irritate your cat’s urethra or paws. Dr. Elsey’s Senior Cat Litter formulated with soft crystals and Cat Attract is a good option to try.

You may need to experiment with several different litter options, gradually transitioning between them, before finding the right match for your cat. Be patient and consistent. With the right litter that your cat likes using again, you can get back on track with good litter box habits.

Using Cat Attractants

Cat attractant sprays and powders can help make the litter box more enticing for a cat recovering from a UTI. Products like Dr. Elseys’ Cat Attract contain herbal attractants that encourage cats to use the litter box.

According to a 2019 study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, cats showed a preference for litter containing feline pheromones and nepetalactone from catnip ( The study found cats urinated in boxes with these attractants significantly more than plain litter.

Sprays containing pheromones or nepetalactone can be applied directly to the litter to make it more attractive. Cat attractant powders can also be sprinkled on top of litter. Products like Dr. Elseys’ Cat Attract Litter contain patented attractants blended directly into the litter.

Using cat attractants can help encourage a cat recovering from a UTI to start consistently using the litter box again. However, attractants alone may not solve the problem, and other training techniques may also be needed.

Encouraging Re-Exploration

After a UTI, some cats may avoid the litter box out of fear or negative association. To encourage your cat to re-explore the litter box positively, try bringing them to the box and praising or treating any investigative behavior. You can place treats around and inside the litter box to motivate your cat to re-approach on their own. Offer treats, pets, and verbal praise when your cat shows interest in or enters the litter box. This helps re-shape their experience into a positive one. Just be patient – it may take multiple sessions before your cat is comfortable using the litter box again.

As recommended in the wikiHow article “3 Ways to Retrain a Cat to Use the Litter Box,” placing treats in and around the litter box can motivate your cat to investigate and eventually use it again.

Preventing Accidents

If your cat has started to urinate in areas outside of their litter box, preventing access can help encourage the use of the litter box again. You can try shutting doors to problematic areas or blocking access with furniture or baby gates. This can restrict your cat’s ability to urinate in those places.

Another tip is to use repellents or aluminum foil on surfaces where your cat has had accidents. Cats dislike the feeling of aluminum foil under their paws and the smell of repellents. Try placing sheets of aluminum foil or cat repellent sprays in problem spots to deter your cat from urinating there.

It’s important not to punish or scold your cat for accidents, as this can create more anxiety and avoidance of the litter box. With prevention and positive encouragement, hopefully your cat will get back to happily using their litter box.


Trying Additional Litter Boxes

If your cat continues soiling outside the litter box even after you’ve cleaned it thoroughly and tried various litters, adding more litter boxes may help. Cats generally prefer having multiple boxes to choose from. According to PetMD, having multiple boxes prevents overcrowding and gives your cat options for finding a clean spot.

The general guideline is to have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. So if you have 2 cats, aim for at least 3 litter boxes in different locations around your home. Make sure the boxes are easily accessible to your cat. Place them on each level of your home if possible, and avoid cramped spaces. Having multiple, easy-to-reach litter box options can encourage your cat to consistently use them.

When to Seek Help

If no improvement after consistent effort over 1-2 weeks, it’s time to seek veterinary help again ( Serious medical issues like persisting UTIs, bladder stones, or other conditions may require more intervention than behavior modification alone. Your vet can do additional testing and prescribe medication if necessary. In some cases, cats with recurring UTIs or bladder issues may need a prescription urinary food long-term ( Don’t hesitate to contact your vet if litter box problems persist despite your best efforts at home.

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