Cat peeing outside the box?

Cats are normally fastidious about cleanliness and where they eliminate. However if your cat has had peeing ‘accidents’ that occur outside the box, here is how to identify and solve the problem.

Before concluding that it is a behavioural problem, observe if your cat is showing any symptoms of a urinary tract disorder, which is the most common feline health problem that leads to peeing outside the box . Feline urinary tract disorders can be either a urinary tract infection or the more serious feline lower urinary tract disorder (FLUTD) which was previously known as FUS. If your cat is, apart from peeing outside the litter box, also:

  • Visiting the litter box more frequently than usual
  • Straining to pee – squatting for long periods without much elimination
  • Having ‘leaks’ – pee spots in its common resting areas such as the cat bed
  • Having a fever

Then your cat’s urination outside the litter box is not a behavioural problem but a health issue. Seek veterinary attention. Your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories, if the problem is UTI. In more serious cases a catheter has to be inserted to allow the urine to pass through. In serious cases of FLUTD, surgery is required. Male adult cats, even neutered ones, are more susceptible to urinary tract disorders because of their narrower ‘plumbing’. Home remedies for urinary tract disorders include cranberry extract supplements, vitamin C supplements (to acidify urine), Danzen (available OTC from pharmacies), pet-specific supplements such as Azmira Kidni-Biotic. You will also need to ensure your cat is drinking enough water – supplement its diet with wet food, syringe it with water, or best of all, get a cat water fountain.

If one of your cats has UTI or FLUTD, and you have other cats in the household, then you may find that your other cats are also peeing outside the box, particularly at spots where your sick cat has marked. You will need to identify which one of your cats is ill, if at all, with a urinary tract problem, and give it veterinary attention first before you can solve the problem of your other cats marking on the same areas outside of the litter box.

Once you have ruled out the possibilities of urinary tract disorders, then you can move on to behavioural problems – identifying the reason behind the peeing outside the box, and solving it. There are a number of reasons why a cat will pee outside the box despite not having a urinary tract disorder.

  • The litter box is dirty.
  • Your cat does not want to share a box with other cats.
  • Change of type of cat litter.
  • Change of position of litter box.
  • Your kitten has become an adult and has outgrown the size of the litter box.
  • Stress due to household changes – anything from sudden schedule changes, new family members (pets or otherwise), your own level of stress – something which cats can always discern.
  • Over-zealous cleaning of the house or removal of your cat’s own furniture, thus removing its territorial scent – take note during spring cleaning times.
  • Failing to neuter your male cat – male cats spray urine everywhere when not neutered. Even neutering too late (past 6 months) may result in the cat’s habit of spraying to remain unchanged because it is already used to it. 
  • Your cat is getting along in years and less able to control its own eliminations. 

 Steps to solve the behavioural problem:

  • The first immediate step is using Feliway. For every spot that your cat has urine-marked on, after cleaning the area by deodorising it, spray it with the Feliway spray. If you have a multi-cat household, get the Feliway diffuser as well. 
  • Clean the litter box and refill with new litter more often. 
  • Set up another litter box, if possible, where your cat has marked. Where litter boxes are concerned, more is better than less. Choose a variety of boxes to see which one your cat prefers most.
  • Set up another litter box in a more quiet and private area. 
  • If you have a senior cat, apart from more litter boxes for it, consider a box that is lower and easier for your senior cat to enter and exit.
  • If you have changed the kind of cat litter – even a subtle change in brand – revert back to the same litter your cat has been using before the change. If there really is a need for change, convert your cat to the new litter slowly by substituting the new litter incrementally.
  • Try other kinds of cat litter to see if your cat has a preference.
  • Reduce overall stress of your cat – lavender essential oil in a diffuser, products like Rescue Remedy, Pet Calm, Pet Ease, or music.

There are other less common reasons why cats will pee outside the box. Your cat may have an injury that restricts its ability to enter and exit the litter box, such as a leg injury, or arthritis. If you have dogs that are not neutered (thus pee to mark territory) your cat may be inclined to pee over where your dog has marked. A sudden trauma that sparks fear in your cat may cause it to have a one-off ‘accident’ outside the box – our Scooter peed outside the box when we wanted to bring him out for a walk on a leash (he got scared of the loud urban noises) and when we had to syringe him medication (he hates it). Or if you have a newly adopted cat, it might have been trained previously to pee on the toilet floor and is now disinclined to using a box. But by far, the reasons listed above are the most common and you should be able to safely eradicate the problem of ‘accidents’ outside the box.

And remember, don’t scold your cat too harshly if it happens, because illness or behavioural, your cat is doing this because of some level of stress and is likely already unhappy over its own ‘accident’ outside the box.

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