Urinating or defecating in places other than the litterbox can be caused by either medical problems or behavioral issues. Medical problems often relate to urinary tract infections or cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), which are often associated with straining and pain, usually producing only a small amount of blood-tinged urine. Diarrhea can also be associated with elimination outside the litterbox.
If your cat is straining to urinate or not urinating at all, please contact us IMMEDIATELY as this behavior could be due to a blockage, which can be life-threatening!
Behavioral causes usually fall into two general categories: Litterbox aversion (a dislike of the litterbox), or a stress-related misbehavior.
There are several factors that can contribute to litterbox aversion. Cats may begin to dislike the litterbox when it is not cleaned often enough, or when they object to the type of litter. Most cats are very fastidious creatures of habit that become used to the certain texture or smell of a specific type of litter. Many cats also shy away from the litterbox if it is located in a high-traffic or noisy area. Older cats may have difficulty getting in or out of a litterbox. They may also experience pain (from arthritis) which they then associate with the litter box.
Examples of common stresses associated with inappropriate elimination include a new person or pet joining (or leaving) the household, new furniture or carpeting, moving, and new cats in the neighborhood.
Treatment is aimed at the particular underlying problem. Medical issues should be addressed first – a thorough physical exam, urinalysis, and possibly a urine culture to rule out infection. Once medical conditions have been either ruled out or treated, then behavioral issues can be assessed. Your veterinarian may initially give you some suggestions on how to proceed. If the problem continues, your vet may recommend referral to an animal behavior specialist.
Behavior problems are often frustrating—patience and determination are usually key factors in successful treatment, and behavioral modification is more successful in some cases than in others. Some problems, such as a dirty litter box, can be easily corrected by more frequent cleaning. Other problems, such as those that have been going on for a long time or are in multiple cat households, are much more difficult to treat. In some cases, behavior modification can also be combined with judicious drug therapy.
Suggestions for cats with inappropriate urination:
- Make sure there are enough litter boxes available. The rule of thumb is one box per cat per floor of the house, plus one extra. (For example, for 2 cats in a 2 story house, there should be 3 boxes upstairs and 3 downstairs).
- Offer different types of litter, to determine if your cat has a substrate preference. Offer some covered and some uncovered boxes. You may wish to try “Cat Attract” litter, available at pet stores.
- Make sure litter boxes are not in a high traffic area – many cats prefer a little “privacy”. However, beware that if a litterbox is placed near a washer/dryer, or furnace, that the noise may frighten the cat away from the box as well.
- Clean each box daily.
- If there are cats outside that may be provoking your cat, try removing them from the area. Motion sensitive sprinklers work great for this. Also, don’t leave food out, and remove anything that could be attracting them (access to trash, etc).
- Limit access to areas where your cat likes to inappropriately urinate. Close doors, or cover the area with plastic. You may wish to put a new litterbox in this area. If your cat uses it, you can gradually move the box to a new location.