Help! My Cat is ‘Going’ Outside it’s Litter Box!

The title of this post says it all. Cats are very clean animals by nature, so if your feline friend is relieving him or herself outside of the litter box, it’s usually a sign of a physical or environmental problem that needs fixing. In this post we’ll talk about ‘inappropriate elimination’ in cats and what you can do to help your pet get on the right track if this problem is occurring in your household.

The first thing to do if your cat starts to relieve himself outside of the litter box is to take him to the vet. Your pet’s doctor can rule out any physical problems (such as diabetes or a urinary tract infection) that could be causing the change in behavior. Physical problems that cause a cat to eliminate outside of his box are sometimes simple to resolve and sometimes more serious. It’s important to get in and have a check-up right away to insure that if something is amiss with your cat’s health, it can be treated in a timely fashion.

If your cat passes his health inspection it’s time to consider environmental factors that might be making him reject his litter box. Here are several potential causes that you’ll want to consider in your quest to resolve the elimination issue:

  • Your Cat Doesn’t Like the Litter – Cats are known for their picky dispositions. If your pet doesn’t care for the type of litter you’ve chosen, he may decide not to use the litter box at all. There are numerous different types of litter available from clay to sawdust and pellets. Most cats have been known to prefer fine clay litter because of it’s likeness to sand and dirt (which resemble optimal bathroom spots in the wild). That being said, not every cat likes clay litter. If your cat starts to eliminate outside of his box, try filling it with another litter and see if that resolves the issue. You may have to experiment with a few kinds of litter before finding something your cat likes.
  • Your Cat Doesn’t Like his Litter Box – Not all litter boxes are created equal, and guess what: your cat’s picky-ness extends to the type of box that you get him. Some boxes may be too small or narrow. Other boxes may emit an odor because of their material composition that could be unpleasing to your cat. Also, cats may prefer to have covered or uncovered litter boxes; this is just a matter of preference that differs from animal to animal. For a variety of reasons, your cat may not be fond of the litter box you’ve chosen. If you feel that this may be the cause of elimination problems, try observing your cat if he interacts with the box. Does he perch on the end of it uncomfortably? Does he seem intimidated by the door on his covered box? You may want to experiment with different litter boxes to see if you can find one he likes better; this can often resolve an inappropriate elimination issue.

  • The Litter Box Location is a Problem – The location of your cat’s litter box can sometimes be at the root of an inappropriate elimination issue. Often, boxes that are too close to loud appliances can be the culprit. Another undesirable area may be a dark closet or a tight space. If your cat feels uncomfortable venturing into his litter box he will find another place to ‘go’ so that he can avoid the unpleasant experience. Make sure that his litter box is set in an easily accessible, semi-private space. Also make sure that his food and water are not close to the box. Due to their clean tendencies, cats will often avoid using a box that’s near their eating space.
  • Negative Experiences with the Litter Box – Sometimes a cat will encounter a frightening or displeasing experience while trying to use or exit his litter box. Such experiences can include: difficulty getting in and out of the box because of obstacles left in its way, confrontations with other household pets when trying to use the box, or even loud noises in the general area. Such a negative experience can sometimes be associated with using the box, thus discouraging your cat from doing it again. If you feel that this may have been a factor in your cat’s situation, try relocating the box to a different area of the house. If you have other pets, make sure that they are not interfering in your cat’s attempts to get to his litter box. Your goal is to eliminate negative environmental factors that may be making the ‘going’ experience uncomfortable. Another thing to pay attention if you have multiple cats in your home is the number of litter boxes you have. A good rule of thumb is to have 1 more box than you have cats; for instance, if you have 2 cats you should have 3 litter boxes.
  • The Litter Box is too Dirty – All that grooming isn’t just for something to do! Cats are very clean-conscious animals. They are sensitive to touching dirty things with their paws as well. If your cat’s litter box is not maintained frequently, he may stop using it. It is best to scoop waste out of the box every 1-2 days and to completely empty and refill the litter and wash the box with mild soap every other week or more often if you can. You may notice that keeping a cleaner litter box makes your cat much more inclined to use it!
  • Your Cat is Anxious – Cats have sensitive temperaments and are sometimes easily susceptible to anxiety. Moving from one house to another, introducing another pet to the household, bringing a new friend around, or even changes in the weather have been known to create stress and anxiety in cats. Sometimes this distress manifests itself in a cat rejecting his litter box and eliminating in areas that are off limits. If your cat is exhibiting signs of anxiety such as hiding, acting nervous around others, eating less, or being defensive, take measures to reduce the factors in your home that might be causing the problem. If you are unable to determine what the cause of your pet’s distress is, or are having difficulty reducing his anxiety level, come see us at Boulder’s Natural Animal Hospital. We may be able to prescribe some anti-anxiety medication that can help your cat ease back into comfort. This medication can be administered until you notice your cat returning to normal levels of relaxation and ease. Often times, cats will start to use their litter box again without any additional effort on your part once their anxiety level is reduced.

Is Your Cat Spraying or Eliminating?
If you’re noticing that Fluffy is eliminating outside of his box, it’s important to know whether he’s spraying or actually ‘going’. When a cat sprays, he or she is releasing a heavily scented substance that is sometimes accompanied by a small amount of urine. This is usually done as a way for a cat to mark his territory and is most often spotted in cats when new pets or people are introduced to the household or after a move. Spaying or neutering a cat decreases spraying behavior by up to 90%. When a cat is actually ‘going’ outside the litter box, he will empty his bladder completely and sometimes defecate as well. You should be able to tell the difference in spray and urine simply by the quantity and smell. As spraying and eliminating are usually attributed to different causes and often treated in separate ways, it’s important to make this distinction.

Thank you for humoring us by listening to our potty talk! Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions for your pets. If your cat is experiencing problems using his litter box, don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll discuss your options with you and make sure your feline friend is physically on the up-and-up!

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