Since cats are inherently tidy creatures, it can be upsetting when they make a mess outside of the litter box. Most instinctively understand that the box is where they need to “do their business,” but once they persistently stray from doing so, it can be an uphill battle to correct their behavior.
Before tackling the problem, clarify that your cat is urinating, not spraying. The easiest way to figure this out is to catch them in the act. Spraying cats will generally back up to a vertical object, quiver their tail, and squirt urine. When cats urinate, they usually squat and leave behind a pool of urine. Spraying is a way for cats to mark their territory and needs to be handled differently than inappropriate urination.
Once you’ve deciphered that your pet is urinating outside the box you can begin problem-solving.
Medical conditions are a common reason for cats to urinate outside the litter box. It’s important to rule poor health out first because veterinary treatment is the only way to solve these problems.
Potential health-related causes of inappropriate urination include:
- Bladder inflammation
- Urinary crystals and/or stones
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney disease
- Arthritis or other conditions that make it hard to get to or in and out of a litter box
Health problems can make it hard for cats to get to the box in time. Also, if your cat has been in pain while urinating, the box will be remembered as the place where that happened. A visit with your veterinarian will inform you if any of these issues are at play.
Dirty Litter Boxes
Cats hate dirty litter boxes. What you consider to be clean might not be up to your cat’s high standards.
Cats have their own unique preferences. Scooping the box once or twice a day is enough for most, but if you have a sensitive cat, scooping as soon as possible after use might be required. Depending on the type of litter, you should replace the entire contents of the litter box once or twice a month. When you do this, give the box itself a wash with an unscented cleaner. If you use a scented cleaner that your cat doesn’t like, it will act as a repellant. Self-cleaning litter boxes are also an option, but many cats are unnerved by them, which can exacerbate the problem.
The more litter boxes you have, the greater the likelihood that your cats will be able to find a clean one when they need it. To determine how many litter boxes you need, gollow the n+1 rule (with n being the number of cats in your home). If you have one cat, you need two boxes. If you have three cats, you should have at least four boxes.
Unappealing Litter Boxes
While cleanliness is the number one consideration for making a box feline-friendly, there are other aspects to think about too. For example – the box itself. Cats with mobility issues might struggle to enter boxes with tall sides. Some people like the look of a box with a cover, but not every cat will take to that closed-in experience.
Litter type is another potential concern. Pet owners can choose from a wide variety including:
- Clay (clumping or non-clumping)
- Crystal or silica-based
- Deodorizing or scent-free
- Biodegradable (pine, corn, wheat, walnut shells, grass, recycled paper)
All of these options come with their own pros and cons. It might take some trial and error to figure out which litter best suits your cat. In general, cats opt for unscented, sand-like litter. It’s also best to avoid excessively dusty litter, especially if your pet has any respiratory issues.
Negative Associations with the Litter Box
When cats have a bad experience in or near the box, it can be tough to coax them back. If you have another cat or pet in the house, there could have been an unpleasant confrontation around the box. Using the litter box is a vulnerable act for cats, so they remember any potential threats that occurred there.
You can prevent this problem by keeping boxes in several quiet locations around the house. Ideally, they will be in low-traffic areas, offering privacy and security. Senior or special-needs cats will appreciate not having to navigate stairs.
Other Potential Stressors
Like most animals, cats thrive on routine. When that stability is shaken, it’s not unusual for cats to develop litter box problems. Since cats are highly aware of their environments, something as simple as a change in the furniture can unnerve them.
Common stressors include:
- Moving homes
- Adding a new pet to the household
- A loss in the family
- A change in the household schedule
If the anxiety is triggered by a new pet, dial back the interactions between your cat and the newcomer. A slower introduction may be required. Even just the scent of the new animal can be off-putting for your feline friend, so keeping the pets in separate areas of the house for a while might be necessary.
In some cases, your veterinarian might suggest soothing pheromone products, nutritional supplements, or even an anti-anxiety medication that your cat can take while you get to the root of the problem.
A Lingering Smell
When your cat does inappropriately urinate, make sure to clean the area thoroughly. If any smell lingers, your cat will be attracted to that spot again. Enzymatic odor eliminators are a great option, but don’t use them in conjunction with traditional cleaners, which deactivate the enzymes needed to get rid of the smell of cat pee.
Patience is Key
It’s undeniably frustrating when your cat urinates outside the litter box, but by taking time to weigh all of the possible triggers for the behavior, you can most efficiently decide on a solution and make the behavior a thing of the past.