A Surprising Cause of Litter Box Aversion In Cats: Hip Dysplasia

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Some cat owners have the unfortunate distinction of struggling with a cat who suddenly – seemingly out of nowhere – develops an aversion to his litter box. This can take the form of peeing outside the box, preferring soft towels or carpets to the litter box, or even pooping directly outside or on the edge of the litter box.

A litter box aversion can drive cat owners crazy! If you’re the unlucky owner, you may have tried everything to fix the problem. You might have gotten a checkup with the vet for a UTI and received an all clear. You might have tried all different types of litter in the hope that your kitty just decided the feel of a certain clay under his paws was unpleasant. You might have tried putting the box in a different location in case something was scaring him. It just seems like nothing works.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your cat is still uncomfortable with his litter box. In these situations, you might be dealing with a surprising cause: hip dysplasia.

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joints in a cat don’t grow normally. This can lead to degeneration, small fractures, cartilage damage, and other problems. It’s more common in female than male cats, and certain breeds have a higher incidence, such as Persian cats and Maine Coons. As many as 18 percent of Maine Coons may suffer from hip dysplasia.


Hip dysplasia comes in varying severity and, thus, varying levels of pain. Symptoms can include:

  • Decreased activity
  • Lameness in a back limb or limping
  • Standing with the back legs extra close together
  • Pain in the hips
  • Excessive licking or chewing around the hip area
  • Larger shoulder muscles from trying to avoid putting weight on the back legs
  • A “bunny hop” when your cat walks or runs

Connection to Litter Aversion

Sometimes, litter aversion can be an undiagnosed symptom of hip dysplasia in cats. This happens because your cat feels pain in his joints when he tries to get into the litter box, so he learns to start avoiding it altogether. If your cat is peeing or pooping very close to the litter box, this can be a sign that he wants to use the box, but he just can’t.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect litter aversion, take your cat to a vet. A blood panel can show if there’s inflammation in the joints. X-rays can show signs of degeneration. Treatment can range from physiotherapy to even surgery. In less severe cases, your vet may recommend pain medication or anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling in the hips.

Help Your Cats by Changing Their Litter Box Size

If your cat’s diagnosed with hip dysplasia or if you suspect this or another painful joint issue, there are easy steps you can take to help the litter problem. Because your cat may be feeling pain when he tries to get into the litter box, buying larger boxes with lower sides can make a huge difference. To eliminate your cat’s need to step up to get into the litter box altogether, consider cutting a hole in one side of the litter box so he can just walk into the box and not have to step up at all. You may find that this alone or combined with pain medication from the vet is enough to eliminate his litter aversion altogether.