As a veterinarian, one of the most common complaints I hear from families with cats is about urinating outside the litter box. Inappropriate urination in cats can be a frustrating and unpleasant issue to deal with, but it’s important to understand that there are many possible underlying causes and solutions.
Causes of Inappropriate Urination in Cats
There are several possible reasons why a cat might start urinating outside of their litter box, including:
Urinary tract disease, bladder stones, and other medical conditions can cause a cat to experience pain or discomfort while using the litter box.
Litter Box Issues
Cats can be very picky about their litter box and may avoid using it if it’s not clean or if the litter is not to their liking. Additionally, some cats may not like the location, type, or size of litter box provided.
Stress, anxiety, and changes in the cat’s environment can also contribute to inappropriate urination.
Joint pain may make a kitty more resistant to getting to/into his litterbox. Older cats may feel increasingly scared of potential threats blocking access to their box, such as other cats, loud appliances, or visitors.
Urine Marking (Spraying)
A marking cat is standing up, tense, and likely has a trembling tail while spraying a small amount of urine backward onto a vertical surface, often around a door, window, cat flap, curtains, bags, or electrical equipment.
Pro Tip: Inappropriate urination is not a revenge-based or protesting behavior! Rather, something is wrong inside or outside the affected kitty, and our challenge is figuring out what that is to best guide how we can help.
If your cat is experiencing inappropriate urination, it’s important to schedule a visit with your veterinarian. We can perform a physical examination and run tests to determine if there is an underlying medical issue.
Some of the diagnostic tests that may be recommended include a urinalysis, urine culture, blood work, and imaging studies, such as an ultrasound.
Once the underlying cause of inappropriate urination has been determined, treatment can begin. Some possible treatment options include:
If your cat has a medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection or bladder stones, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help treat the problem.
Changes to the Litter Box
Making changes to the litter box can help encourage your cat to use it. You can try switching to a different type of litter, providing more litter boxes, and changing the location or size of the litter box.
If your cat is experiencing stress or anxiety, making changes to their environment can help reduce their stress levels. Try providing more hiding spots, toys, or scratching posts.
In some cases, behavioral therapy, such as desensitization and counter-conditioning, may be recommended to help your cat overcome their anxiety or stress.
Pro Tip: Punishment does not help! Cats generally associate punishments like yelling, swatting, or squirting with the punisher, not their behavior. Punishments will likely worsen stress that is contributing to house soiling.
Home Interventions for Inappropriate Urination in Cats
There are also some steps you can take at home to help address inappropriate urination in cats. These include:
Clean & Eliminate Odors
- Clean up any accidents. It’s important to fully clean and remove any smells as soon as possible to help prevent your cat from continuing to use that spot. Use products specifically labeled for eliminating urine odors, then rinse the area. After the area is dry, mist lightly with a deterrent like rubbing alcohol. If a carpeted area is persistently or badly soiled, it may need to be replaced after treating the concrete or floorboard beneath.
- Eliminate access to a soiled area for as long as possible to help break the habit. Consider moving pieces of furniture or closing doors to prevent access
Litter Box Etiquette
- Provide multiple litter boxes in different locations around your home to give your cat more options. Make sure litter boxes are in quiet corners that are not disturbed by dogs, children, other cats, or loud appliances.
- Use the right type of litter. Cats can be picky about the type of litter they use, so try out different types to see which one your cat prefers. Most cats prefer fine grain (consistency of sand), non-scented, clumping litter.
- Scoop litter boxes at least daily and completely clean out the box at least weekly. Non-clumping litter should be changed more frequently. Make sure to thoroughly rinse any deodorants or disinfectants from the box if used while cleaning.
- Litter box liners occasionally catch claws and discourage litter box use–try eliminating the liner if you’ve been using one.
Increase Water Consumption
- Make sure your cat has access to plenty of fresh, clean water to support urinary tract health. Canned diets are often helpful, and many cats will consume more water through a drinking fountain or dripping faucet.
- Provide Feliway diffusers to help reduce stress.
Pro Tip: Each cat in the home needs his or her own set of resources, including litter boxes, water bowl, climbing tower, etc. It’s best to provide at least one more litter box than number of cats in the home.
Inappropriate urination in cats can be a frustrating issue to deal with, but it’s important to understand that there are many possible causes and solutions. If your cat is experiencing this problem, be sure to schedule a visit with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
By working with your veterinarian and making some changes at home, you may be able to help your cat get back to using their litter box consistently and comfortably.
Check out Everything You Should Know About Litter Boxes and what to do when your cat is Not Using the Litterbox from the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
Fill out this House-soiling Questionnaire and bring it with you to your visit.