Why Is Your Cat Urinating Outside Litter Box?

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Contributions to the FurKeeps Campaign from Catfoodsite.com Dr. Janice Fenichel and the Ask the Experts Forum

Urinating outside the litter box, often known as house soiling, is fairly common.

Non-medical causes, which are occasionally mislabeled as “behavioral disorders,” are typically completely normal feline responses to environmental stimuli and can be further categorised as urine-marking and normal voiding outside the litter box. The latter, which is the most common cause of feline house soiling, comprises cats who stop using the litter box because they dislike the type of litter or the location of the box. These aversions could be due to pain from a medical condition, fear of being surprised or attacked by another cat while in the box, or odor from infrequent cleaning. A behavioral expert can help discover why a cat stopped using his litter box and offer tactics for reintroducing him to it.

Cats, on the other hand, use urine to mark territory, compete with one another, and announce sexual availability. Unneutered cats, males more than females, and overcrowded houses are more likely to be marked.

Although some cats mark with their feces, the vast majority mark with pee spray. Cats typically empty by squatting and discharging a medium to large puddle on a horizontal surface. When a cat sprays, it stands with its tail straight up, twitches, and squirts a small stream of urine onto a vertical surface. I suspected marking since my second patient was depositing urine droplets on a vertical surface – the living room drapes. Mrs. Green’s cats were all neutered, but I assumed that having so many other cats in such a tiny territory was stressful. The remaining cats’ urine samples were all normal.


To put cures to the test

Blocking access to windows where outdoor cats may be viewed, putting more litter boxes to the home, and isolating cats so each has his own territory could all help. Even in a small apartment, private space can be created by installing accessible shelves on the walls or providing cat condos with enclosed ‘caves’ at the top.

To avoid re-attracting the offender or maybe attracting other cats who may begin marking as well, it is vital to remove all remnants of pee odor. I strongly recommend that you use urine odor eliminators for this task.


The Purpose of Drugs

If the marking habit remains after addressing social and environmental causes, medicines may play an important role in therapy. This is especially true in cases of long-term or recurring occurrences. Marking should be discontinued as soon as feasible because recurrent behavior can be encouraged in the cat’s mind. Drugs are not required in the majority of cases of non-marking house soiling.

Medicines used to treat marking include human sedatives, anti-anxiety medications, and antidepressants. None have been approved for use in cats, so their usage may be hazardous. Unfortunately, many cats only respond partially to medication, and almost all cats relapse once the drug is stopped. [Editor’s Note: According to our Animal Sciences section, a new product called Feliway, a synthetic feline facial pheromone sprayed in the cat’s surroundings, can reduce urine marking and stress.]


Peeing Habits

My cat pees inappropriately on a towel near our back door. When we went to pick up the towel, she peed on the area rug next to the litter box. She’s also peed on a cat tree that a coworker gave me. I believe it is a behavioral issue.

We’ve tried antibiotics several times, and the cats are all on Hills Prescription Diet urinary tract formula. I only provide them with distilled water. When I encouraged them to eat canned food, she began to pee more frequently. Furthermore, all of my cats detested it.

I’ve tried every sort of cat litter and almost every style of litter box imaginable. The most recent was the most prosperous. It was made from a Rubbermaid container with a hole cut in the top.

In the last two weeks, she has only peed outside the litter box twice. (Usually once a day, but occasionally twice a day.) The ONLY thing that has changed in the last two weeks is that we bought a new crystal litter. Nothing else has changed in my opinion.

She has no intention of leaving. I am completely committed to her. HELP!


First response

Depending on how long she has been doing this, she may have become accustomed to it and will need to be retrained. Examine your cat as an individual and think about how her environment may be affecting her.

Here are some things to consider:

  • For how long has the cat peed outside the litter box?
  • Do you have enough litter boxes to accommodate all of your cats?
  • Are they dispersed across your home?
  • What do the other cats think of her? Is she being targeted by the other cats?
  • Do the other cats bother her when she goes to use the litter box? The cat that is being picked on may be urinating inappropriately as a result of the stress.
  • Do you bring in foster kittens on a regular basis? This could be impacting her perspective.
  • Aversion can arise for a variety of reasons, but we must pay attention to how the cat acts.
  • Is the litter box scooped every day? She may quit using the box because of the stench or because she associates it with anything bad.
  • It could be because of stress.
  • Have you cleaned the area around the box well with a decent cleaner to remove the odor?
  • Have you tried Cat Attract, a product that attracts cats to the litter box?
  • Because you stated that she was fine during her medical check-ups, I assume no sickness was identified.

Debby Williams

Veterinary Services Manager at the Erie County SPCA

New York’s Tonawanda

The second answer

You appear to have accomplished everything, and I admire you for it! I also applaud you for sticking behind this kitty no matter what. I wish there were more people like you in the world.

I understand the frustration of dealing with this particular scenario because I’ve been there. Congratulations on going to the vet first! Many improper elimination problems in cats, I believe, are caused by urinary tract infections, which can be highly dangerous (even fatal) if not treated promptly.

You mention trying the antibiotic treatment twice, so I suppose you were sick at some point. Yes? And I’m assuming your vet has now given the cat a clean bill of health, despite the fact that the problem persists? If not, I would immediately contact your veterinarian. Chronic urinary problems are not uncommon and must be treated before you can hope to recover from this illness.

If, on the other hand, your cat underwent a urinalysis lately and the findings were “clean,” here are my suggestions:

  • It looks that your cat has acquired a “substrate preference” for fabric surfaces (towel/throw rug) over litter products, which is quite typical. Can you remove all throw rugs and towels and relocate the cat tree for a short length of time to prevent your cat from repeating the unwanted behavior?
  • If you are unsure if she is the sole perpetrator, you may need to separate this cat from the others for a while.
  • Try putting a second litter box merely so the cat may “vote” on the litter box substrates she “likes.” Use the new litter box, which appears to be working well so far, and then get another type of box.
  • Experiment with the depth of the litter if you haven’t already. Many cats, in my experience, prefer less litter while we humans like more, resulting in a “quicksand” experience for the cat. Put less litter in one box and more litter in the other, and then see which box the cat prefers.
  • It may seem obvious (but I’ll say it anyway) that all litter boxes should be scooped at least daily, especially if you’re attempting to fix this type of problem.

Best regards!

Sarah Babcock

The Director of Education and Training at the Richmond SPCA

Virginia’s Richmond

Third response

A urinalysis is required. I’m presuming the urinary diet was implemented because of crystals? Drugs may be unsuccessful in treating the disease because most middle-aged cats do not have a true “urinary tract infection.”

Consider the following if the urinalysis is normal:

  • Water is always an important factor to consider. Any canned food is superior to no canned food. We don’t want pee to linger in the bladder for long periods of time because it encourages the formation of crystals and is an irritation in and of itself.
  • Stress is a big component for cats. The American cat population has significantly more behavioral issues than their European counterparts. Some attribute this to indoor cats’ ennui. Ohio State University has developed the Indoor Cat Initiative to address this issue. A component of this is “play therapy.” You can also give her puzzle toys with her dry meals. Consider Feliway, a synthetic facial pheromone that helps cats relax. It comes in the form of a plug-in or a spray (the spray is best for areas you don’t want her to scratch).
  • When it comes to litter boxes, it’s all about placement, location, location.
  • The most usually prescribed medicine is Prozac. (It is inexpensive, safe, and effective.)

I hope you found this useful!

Wondering about Keeping Your Cat Calm at Night? Check it out on our latest post!

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