My Cat Keeps Going to the Litter Box But Nothing Happens

Repeat visits to a litter box without passing urine or defecating are often the result of a medical problem.

This might include a urinary tract infection, an urethral obstruction such as uroliths (crystals) or constipation.

Inexperience of using a litter box can also result in unproductive litter box visits.

  • Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
  • Feline Upper Urinary Tract Disease
  • Constipation
  • Untrained/Kitten
  • Diarrhea

What Causes Unsuccessful Litter Box Visits

If your cat exhibits any of the above symptoms you should consider contacting your vet.

Let’s now look at them in a bit more depth. What follows is for informational purposes only.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

A feline lower urinary tract disease refers to issues of the bladder and urethra. It can affect cats of both sexes at any age.

FLUTD describes a broad range of issues affecting the lower urinary tract, among them cystitis and blockages, such as plugs or stones.

While cystitis is often used generically to describe inflammation without implying an underlying cause, a urinary blockage relates to a specific issue.

How Do I Know if My Cat Has a UTI (FLUTD)?

Spotting a FLUTD can be very difficult. Both frequent and infrequent urination are potential symptoms

Others include voiding outside the litter box, blood-tinged urine and straining upon urination.

Squatting and not peeing is another sign that your cat either can’t urinate or is straining.

This may be a symptom of cystitis or a urethral blockage.

Urinary blockages and obstructions are often caused by uroliths.

Roughly translated, these are crystals that have hardened into stones in the urinary tract.

They tend to affect male cats more due to their longer, narrower urethras.

Comprising crystal fragments and mucous, this sandy material can eventually plug the opening of the cat’s penis, causing the urine to build up in the bladder.

If your cat’s urethra is blocked, he may repeatedly lick his genital area. It may also be possible to feel his distended abdomen. Lethargy is another common symptom.

Suspect that your cat has an urethral blockages and you should contact your vet – it can cause death if left untreated.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of UTI symptoms to look out for.

FLUTD Symptoms
Blood in urine
Change in color of urine
Change in odor of urineIncontinence
Excessive Meowing/CryingAmonia Odor on Breath
Frequent litter box tripsCrying/straining when urinating
Increased/decreased urinationVoiding outside litter box
Lack of appetiteWeight loss
Painful abdomen or Distended AbdomenVomiting
Passing small amounts of urineInability to urinate

Can a Cat UTI Go Away By Itself?

It’s possible that your cat may fight off a UTI if he’s got a strong immune system and is experiencing only mild symptoms. But generally, treatment is going to be required.

Potential Treatments

As far as general UTIs go, your vet may prescribe antibiotics and possibly anti-inflammatory medications for pain management.

In terms of long-form treatment, prescription food based on the cat’s specific medical issue is considered the best remedy.

To prevent a UTI, ensure that your cat is hydrated, has lots of exercise and remains at his recommended weight.

Make sure the litter box is clean and accessible too.

Treating a blockage of the urethra may require your vet may insert a needle into the bladder to extract the urine.

There are however instances where the plug can be removed through anesthesia.

The vet may then insert a catheter to keep the urethra open to avoid any further obstructions.

Thankfully, prescription-based diets have drastically reduced the need for surgery.

Feline Upper Urinary Tract Disease (Kidneys)

Feline Upper Urinary Tract Disease refers to the kidneys and ureters. The ureters are two tubes that connect the bladder to the kidneys.

The kidneys filter out toxins from the bloods and thus play an extremely important role.

Like humans though, this super-efficient filtration system can sometimes be affected by disease, infections and toxins.

Without treatment, the kidneys can suffer lasting damage.

How Do I Know if My Cat Has a Kidney Problem?

The main indicators here are fever, loss of weight and decreased urination.

Other symptoms include halitosis, diarrhea and mouth ulcer.

Here’s a more comprehensive list:

Kidney Disease Symptoms
Water Consumption IncreaseDull Coat
Water Consumption DecreaseExcessive Shedding
Change in Stool AppearanceJoint Pain
HalitosisDiscoloration of Tongue
Blood in UrineMouth Ulcers
Pain In BackAnorexia
Hunched PostureIncrease in Urination
Weight LossDecrease in Urination

Potential Treatments

Fluid therapy is often administered to a cat with reduced kidney function. This corrects dehydration by replacing lost electrolytes, effectively serving the function of dialysis.

Dietary changes are highly recommended to help prevent kidney problems.

Prescription-based diets that are lower in phosphorus and protein are very effective too. This is because they reduce the kidneys’ workload.


Constipation occurs when stools remain in the colon. This causes the stools to become hard and dry, making them difficult to pass.

On average, cats expel a single stool at least once a day. Anything less frequent and your cat may be suffering from constipation.

So it’s important to keep track of his bowel movements although this can prove difficult given that felines often defecate outdoors.

How Do I Know that My Cat is Constipated?

A lack of appetite and lethargy are typical symptoms. Hard/small stools as well as the presence of blood or mucous may also suggest constipation.

Constipation Symptoms
Non-Productive StrainingDifficulty Passing Feces
Decreased Frequency of DefacationPassing of Small, Hard Dry Stools
Passing of Fecal FluidLack of Appetite
Hunched PostureTense Abdomen
Avoiding Litter BoxEntering/Exiting Litter Box Repeatedly

Potential Treatments

First of all, try to increase your cat’s water consumption in order to treat potential dehydration.

The most obvious step is to provide a fresh bowl of water. But cats aren’t all that great at drinking standing water – so consider investing in a cat water fountain.

Alternatively add water bowls around the house or even leave a faucet dripping.

However, your cat’s constipation may be caused by a food allergy. As well as making it difficult to pass stool, allergies can cause intestinal inflammation.

So try to identify the food that’s causing the problem and change it up – take care to include an alternative protein source be it, chicken, lamb, turkey etc.

There also plenty of cat foods that help to prevent constipation.

In terms of professional treatments, you could also ask your vet to recommend laxative.


A young or untrained cat may struggle with the entire concept of passing water or defecating in a litter box.

In both cases, your cat will need to learn and become familiar with the box, its location and the material used therein.

It’s therefore really important to allow your cat time to adjust.


As pointed out by veterinarian, Dr. Tabitha Henson on the Hepper website, your cat might have defecated so much as a result of diarrhea that there’s nothing left to expel.

But your cat may still be experiencing the urge to pass stool at the litter box but has already done so elsewhere.

So be sure to check other areas of your home both indoors and outside.

Also look out for other symptoms such as messy fur on your cat’s behind, loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting.

More Information

ASPCA – Litter Box Problems

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