All Pets Veterinary Clinic
INAPPROPRIATE URINATION/DEFECATION IN CATS
FELINE LITTER BOX PROBLEMS—
WHAT TO DO WHEN THEY ARE PEEING IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
Inappropriate urination and/or defecation are common complaints among cat owners. In
some cases a medical problem is to blame for "missing" the litter box. In many other
instances, a behavioral component may be the cause of inappropriate litter box usage.
This article will briefly discuss some of the medical and behavioral causes of
inappropriate urination and defecation in cats. In addition, a list of practical
tips will be provided to help tackle cats that miss the box for behavioral reasons.
Common medical conditions that can cause inappropriate urine elimination include feline
lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), bladder stones, urinary tract infection, bladder
cancer, and renal disease, among others. Cats that strain to urinate, visit the litter
box frequently, eliminate small amounts of urine frequently, lie in the litter box, or
urinate in strange places should be examined by a veterinarian for these medical problems.
Diagnostic testing to determine if a medical condition is present includes: urinalysis,
urine culture, abdominal x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, and routine bloodwork. If
these tests are within normal limits, the cat is more likely to have a behavioral issue.
Inappropriate defecation is more often associated with a behavioral issue. However,
cats with diarrhea or constipation problems may be more likely to defecate out of the
litter box. Diarrhea and constipation are not specific signs for any one illness and
can have many causes. For example, diarrhea can be caused by parasites, bacterial
overgrowth, dietary indiscretion, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergy, and
cancer, to name a few. Constipation can be the result of a low fiber or low moisture
diet, the presence of foreign material in the GI tract, or decreased GI motility.
Thus, examination and diagnostic testing by a qualified veterinarian are also
recommended for cats that are not defecating in the litter box before a diagnosis
of a behavioral issue is made.
Once medical causes of inappropriate elimination have been ruled out, a behavioral issue
can be considered. The two most common behavioral issues associated with inappropriate
elimination include stress (social stress and other sources of stress) and litter box aversion.
Many things can stress a cat. Some may seem small or trivial but it is important to
remember that cats are creatures of habit. They prefer things in their life to be stable
and unchanged. Changes that can cause stress for the household cat can be minor, such as
a change in work schedule, a new type of litter, or the presence of new curtains/furniture
that block a favorite window, or major such as the addition of a new pet, a new baby, or a
move to a new home. Social stress, caused by the interaction of multiple cats in the same
household, is another major cause of inappropriate elimination. Even thought there may not
be obvious tension between individual cats, social stress must not be overlooked.
Litter box issues are another major source of problems for cats. Cats develop a preference
for certain a certain litter type/texture at a very young age. Any deviation from the
predetermined litter preference may cause issues. Litter box size, location, cleanliness,
odor, etc. can all cause cats to find another place to urinate or defecate.
Keeping the above information in mind, the following tips can be tried to remedy behavioral
causes of inappropriate elimination:
--Use a fine, unscented, clumping litter. This will most closely mimic natural
elimination substrates. Once you find an acceptable litter, do not deviate from it.
--Add another litter box or boxes. The goal is to have 1.5 boxes per cat. This is
very important for multi-cat households.
--Add a larger litter box/jumbo box. Many commercial litter boxes are too small.
Try a RubberMade or similar storage container. I have had great luck with this tip,
especially in houses with a lot of cats.
--Remove litter box covers. Covers limit the amount of space the cat has to
eliminate, scratch, cover, etc.
--Keep litter boxes clean. Remove stool and urine clumps at least daily. Remove
all scoopable litter on a regular basis and rinse box with hot water. Don't use strong
scented cleaners, such as Pine-Sol, Lysol, or bleach.
--Don't put food near litter boxes. Cats don’t like to eat where they eliminate.
--Don't put litter boxes at a dead end in the house. Make sure there is more than one
way to access the box. This is especially important for multi-cat homes.
--Create core areas for each cat. Find where each cat likes and provide resources
(food, water, litter box) for each core area.
--Use an enzymatic cleaner to eliminate odors. This is especially important for areas
in the house that were soiled previously. Anti Icky Poo is one example that is available
--Make sure the litter box is not near anything "objectionable." Get on your hands
and knees and check for strange drafts, odd smells, loud noises such as an off balance
wash machine or loud furnace. These things can be scary for cats!
--Try Feliway or another feline pheromone. Pheromones can be naturally calming for
some anxious or nervous cats.
***The information provided here is for educational purposes only. It is not intended
to take the place of an examination and diagnosis by a licensed veterinarian. As always,
if you have questions or concerns regarding the health of your pet, please consult with
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
23 January 2006