Cats are fastidious creatures who are independent, and spend most of their days sleeping to energize for the evening’s hunt around the house. Most cat owners know that their feline pal won’t hesitate to signal when they want a cuddle, a treat, or playtime with their favorite toy mouse. Cats are unwavering in their likes and dislikes, including litter box habits and preferences. Many cat owners, unfortunately, are familiar with the frustration and disgust of their cat neglecting to use the litter box, and instead selecting an inappropriate area. More than 10% of cats will develop an elimination problem at some point in their life for various reasons. Cats who pee outside of the litter box may be experiencing a medical condition, or may simply be trying to tell their owners they don’t like their choice of litter box. Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team describes some common reasons your feline friend may be peeing outside of the box. 

Medical causes for inappropriate urination in cats

Many pet owners become frustrated when their cat chooses to urinate in locations other than the litter box. However, this unpleasant behavior may be a clue that your cat is sick or suffering from a painful infection. Any medical problem that interferes with normal urination can lead to litter box problems, and inappropriate urination. Common medical problems include:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI) — Bacterial urinary tract infections are painful and will increase your cat’s urgency to urinate. Cats with a UTI will produce frequent, small amounts of urine, and may not get to the litter box quickly enough. 
  • Cystitis — This complex disease causes bladder inflammation, and also leads to increased urgency. 
  • Bladder stones — Cats who have developed bladder stones may cry because of painful urination. Stones may also limit your cat’s ability to urinate normally, and cause small, frequent amounts of urine.
  • Kidney disease — More than 80% of geriatric cats develop kidney disease, with signs that include increased thirst and urination. The increased need to urinate can make reaching the litter box in time difficult. 
  • Endocrine diseases — Hyperthyroidism and diabetes lead to increased thirst, and increased urgency, and can cause UTIs in some cats. 
  • Age-related diseases — Arthritic cats may have difficulty getting in and out of the litter box, and will therefore choose easier locations to urinate. Cognitive dysfunction, which is similar to human Alzheimer’s, may also decrease your cat’s ability to remember to use the litter box. 
  • Pain association — Cats with UTIs, bladder stones, or other medical conditions may associate painful urination with the litter box, and seek alternative places. 

Bring your cat for a veterinary examination if they are urinating outside the litter box. Your veterinarian may recommend various blood and urine tests to check their organ health, or look for infection. Additionally, imaging, such as X-rays or ultrasound, may be recommended to check for bladder stones and other kidney and urinary tract problems.  

Non-medical causes for inappropriate urination in cats

Many pet owners mistakenly think that their cat is seeking revenge for leaving them alone, or introducing a new house pet, when they urinate outside the litter box. However, most cats don’t have the cognitive abilities revenge requires. Cats are particular about their litter boxes, and may be turning their paws away from their box for many reasons, including:

  • The litter box is dirty 
  • Too few boxes for the number of cats 
  • The litter box is too small or too cramped
  • The sides of the box are too high
  • The box holds too much or not enough litter
  • Litter type
  • Lack of privacy, or uncomfortable location
  • Litter box type (i.e., covered box, or a box without multiple entries or exits)
  • Different site preference (e.g., some cats may want a closer room)
  • Negative association with previous medical condition
  • Desire to mark territory, or spray in different location

Once our veterinary team has eliminated the medical reasons for your cat urinating outside the litter box, we may suggest that you consider a veterinary behavioral consultation to get to the root of their house soiling problem. 

Prevention and troubleshooting inappropriate urination in cats

Regular wellness care exams will ensure your cat receives a nose-to-tail exam and blood work to identify any problems that may lead to house soiling, which may take time and some investigating. Follow these tips to decrease the chances of non-medical causes of house soiling:

  • Clean the litter box daily.
  • Provide one litter box per household cat, plus one additional box.
  • Clean previous soiling locations with a non-ammonia based enzymatic, odor-neutralizing cleaner, because cats will continue to use the same location if they can smell urine. 
  • Never punish or yell at your cat when they urinate outside the box, because that will cause anxiety and make the problem worse.
  • Try different litter box types with easier entry.
  • If your cat prefers to urinate on soft surfaces, like clothes or bedding, try using a softer, finer litter. 
  • Place litter boxes in areas where your cat has previously urinated.

Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team understands your frustration when your cat decides to urinate outside their litter box. Call our office to schedule an appointment to rule out any medical or behavioral causes of your cat’s house soiling.