Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside Her Litter Box?

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The following is an excerpt from Petfinder.com’s FurKeeps Kickoff Ask the Experts Forum.

Q: I have a cat who pees inappropriately on a towel at the back door of our house. We have tried to pick up the towel, but then she pees on the area rug that is right next to the litter box. She has also peed on a cat tree that a coworker gave me. I think it’s behavioral.

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside Her Litter Box?

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We’ve gone the antibiotic route several times and all the cats are on urinary tract formula of Hills Prescription Diet. I give them only distilled water. I tried to get them to eat canned food and she peed more frequently. Also, all my cats hated it.

I have tried every cat litter under the sun and almost every type of litter box you can imagine. The most recent one has been the most successful. We made it out of a Rubbermaid container that we cut a hole in the top of.

In the last two weeks she’s only peed outside the litter box twice. (Usually it’s daily, and sometimes twice a day.) The ONLY change in the last two weeks is we bought a new litter with crystals. I can’t think of any other change that has occurred.

She’s not going anywhere. I am committed to her. HELP!

Answer 1: Depending on the length of time she has been doing this, she may have learned this as a behavior and you will have to retrain her. Look at your cat as an individual and see how the environment in your home maybe affecting her.

Here are some things to consider:

  • How long has the cat been urinating outside the box?
  • How many litter boxes do you have for all your cats?
  • Are they located in different places in your home?
  • How do the other cats treat her? Is she picked on by the other cats?
  • Do the other cats bother her when she goes to use a litter box there? The cat that is picked on may be reacting to the stress of this by inappropriate urination.
  • Are you constantly bringing in foster kittens? This may be affecting her outlook.
  • Aversion may be happening for various reasons but we need to observe how the cat is acting.
  • Is the litter box scooped everyday? She may stop using the actual box due to the odor or because she associates the box with something negative.
  • It could be stress related.
  • Have you thoroughly cleaned the floor area by the box with a good cleaner to eliminate the smell?
  • Have you tried Cat Attract which helps bring the cat to the box?
  • On her medical check-ups, you stated she was fine so I assume no infection was found.

Debby Williams
Veterinary Services Manager, Erie County SPCA
Tonawanda, NY

Answer 2: It sounds like you have tried all sorts of things and I commend you for that! I also applaud you for being committed to this cat no matter what. I sincerely wish there were more folks like you.

Having lived through this particular problem myself, I certainly understand the frustration of dealing with it. Good for you for having visited the veterinarian first! I would guess that lots of inappropriate elimination problems in cats are caused by urinary tract infections, which can be very dangerous (deadly) if not treated quickly.

You mention that you have tried the antibiotic route twice, so I assume that there was an infection at one point or another. Yes? And I also assume that your veterinarian has now given the cat a clean bill of health while the problem persists? If not, I would absolutely head back to your veterinarian. Chronic urinary problems are not uncommon and emphatically need to be addressed before you have any hope of addressing this problem.

If, on the other hand, your cat has had a recent urinalysis and it has come back “clear,” here would be my suggestions:

  • It sounds like your cat may have developed a “substrate preference” for fabric surfaces (towel/throw rug) over litter products, which, by the way, is fairly common. Can you pick up all throw rugs and towels for some period of time and move the cat tree, just so your kitty doesn’t continue to rehearse the unwanted behavior?
  • You might need to separate this cat from the others for a while if you are not 100% sure she is the only culprit.
  • Try adding an additional litter box, just so you can allow the cat to “vote” on what she “likes” in the way of litter box substrates. By all means, use the new litter box that seems to be working well so far — and then get another box of some type.
  • Experiment with the depth of the litter (if you haven’t tried this already). In my experience, lots of cats like less litter and we humans tend to like more, which often creates a kind of “quick sand” experience for the cat. Put less litter in one box and more litter in the other and see which one the cat seems to use.
  • It perhaps goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that all litter boxes should be scooped daily at least, especially while you are trying to work through this kind of problem.

Good luck!
Sarah Babcock
Chief of Education and Training, Richmond SPCA
Richmond, VA

Answer 3:A urinalysis is critical. I am assuming a urinary diet was started due to crystals? Most middle aged cats do not have a true “urinary tract infection” and, thus, antibiotics can fail to treat the problem.

If the urinalysis is normal, here are a few things to consider:

  • Water is always a critical factor. Any canned food would be better than no canned food. We don’t want the urine to sit in the bladder for long periods of time as it allows crystals to form and is a very irritating substance anyway.
  • Stress is a huge component for cats. The U.S. cat population has many more behavioral issues than our European counterparts. Some attribute this to indoor-cat boredom. Ohio State has introduced the indoor cat initiative to deal will this issue. A portion of this involves “play therapy.” In addition, you can add puzzle toys for her dry food. Also consider Feliway, a synthetic facial pheromone that helps de-stress cats. It comes in a plug-in or spray (note the spray works excellent at sites you don’t want her to scratch).
  • Litter boxes are always about location, location, location.
  • Drug therapy – #1 is Prozac.(Cheap, safe, efficacious)

Hope this Helps!
“Dr. Grant” Gugisberg D.V.M.
Parkview Cat Clinic
Mendota Heights, MN

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