Few things are as frustrating as when your cat eliminates outside the litter box—peeing, pooping, or spraying in unwanted areas. This inappropriate elimination can have multiple causes, including medical issues, litter box aversion, and stress. Identifying and addressing the root cause quickly is essential because cats are creatures of habit, and the longer they eliminate out of the box, the harder it is to break the habit.
Understanding Inappropriate Urination vs. Urine Marking
In general, urination on horizontal surfaces is considered “inappropriate urination,” while spraying urine on vertical surfaces is known as “urine marking.” Although it may be subtle to an owner, distinguishing between the two is crucial in determining the cause. The best way to identify whether your cat is urinating inappropriately or spraying is to catch them in the act. A spraying cat will stand, lift its tail and quiver, and then spray in several consistent locations. Cats don’t squat to spray as they do to urinate.
Why Does My Cat Pee or Poop Outside the Litter Box?
There are various reasons why a cat may urinate or defecate outside of its litter box. Some common causes of urination outside the box include urinary tract infections, idiopathic cystitis, increased urine production due to conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, pain during urination caused by urine crystals or bladder stones, anxiety or stress, arthritis pain, cancer, cognitive dysfunction, and litter box aversion/avoidance. On the other hand, common reasons for defecating outside the box are diarrhea, constipation, arthritis, cancer, anxiety or stress, and litter box aversion/avoidance.
When it comes to spraying urine, cats may do so to establish or maintain territory, in response to a perceived threat (such as a new cat in the home or nearby outside cats), out of frustration due to insufficient playtime or restrictive diets, in response to the smell of new carpet or furniture, to advertise they are ready to mate, or in multi-cat households, especially with four or more cats.
How Do I Fix the Problem?
If your cat is eliminating outside the litter box, it’s crucial to identify the root cause and address it promptly. Here are some steps to follow:
Step 1: Vet Visit
The first step is to take your cat to the vet for a complete physical exam and a thorough investigation into any potential stressors or triggers. This may include a urinalysis, a chemistry panel, and sometimes abdominal imaging. Medical conditions can often be diagnosed and treated, resolving the problem.
Step 2: Impeccable Litter Box Management
If no medical condition is found, focus on creating an ideal litter box environment for your cat. Consider the following:
- Have plenty of litter boxes, following the rule of thumb of having one more box than the number of cats in the household.
- Ensure the litter boxes are spacious enough, particularly if your cat has arthritis. A large under-the-bed sweater box can work well.
- Clean the litter boxes regularly, scooping them twice a day and using unscented litter.
- Replace the litter boxes every few months to prevent smells from accumulating.
- Make access to the litter boxes easy, especially for older or arthritic cats.
- Experiment with different types of litter to find the one your cat prefers.
- Choose peaceful and private locations for the litter boxes, away from noisy objects and strong odors.
- Clean areas that have been soiled immediately and neutralize any lingering odors.
Step 3: Eliminate or Treat Stress
Cats can experience significant stress, which can contribute to elimination issues. Take steps to reduce stress in your cat’s environment, such as:
- Neuter or spay all cats in the household to minimize hormonal influences.
- Avoid adding more cats to the household, as relationships can be complex.
- Provide supervised or protected outdoor time for indoor cats.
- Establish routines and stick to them, including feeding times, sleeping times, and dedicated playtime.
- Scatter fresh food and water bowls throughout the house, away from the litter boxes.
- Enrich your cat’s environment with toys and environmental enrichment to reduce boredom.
- Increase vertical spaces in your home to provide cats with more territory.
- Use collars with bells to help cats hear each other coming.
- Create a designated space for your cat to retreat to when desired.
- Identify outside stimuli that may cause stress and find ways to diffuse or remove them.
- Consider using Feliway diffusers, calming collars, or Bach’s Rescue Remedy.
Consulting with a veterinary behavior specialist can provide valuable insights and assistance in behavioral modification.
Step 4: Litter Box Boot Camp – Behavioral Modification
If your cat continues to eliminate outside the litter box despite following the previous steps, Litter Box Boot Camp may be necessary. This approach combines a simple routine with an attractive litter environment to encourage your cat to use the litter box consistently.
The Boot Camp consists of different levels, starting with confinement in a “studio apartment” (a large dog crate) with a litter box, food and water bowls, and a bed. Gradually, your cat progresses to higher levels of freedom based on successfully using the litter box without mistakes for two weeks at each level. The ultimate goal is for your cat to have unrestricted access to the house without eliminating outside the litter box.
Remember, solving cat elimination issues can be complex, but with the right approach and patience, it is feasible. If you have any additional questions or need further assistance, feel free to reach out to us at Katten TrimSalon.