A common reason why cats end up for adoption, is eliminating outside of the litter box. And while this behaviour issue no doubt is a highly inconvenient one, there is almost always an underlying issue which can be addressed to try and resolve the unwanted behaviour. So, what are the reasons a cat might pee and poo outside of their litter box?
When a cat is peeing and/or pooping outside of their litter box, the first step is taking them to a veterinarian for a full checkup. There are several medical conditions which will lead to your cat eliminating outside of their litter box, such as urinary tract infections, kidney disease, and partial obstructions of the urinary tract. Eliminating outside of the litter box is also one of the indicators that your cat might be in pain from other medical conditions, such as problems with the hips or knees, which will make squatting or climbing in the litterbox painful. When your cat is declared fully healthy after the check, you can explore the following reasons which may lead to pooping and peeing outside of the litter box.
Litter Box Setup
When we set up the supplies for our cats, we often don’t give it a lot of thought. The litter box setup however, can play a big role in the willingness of the cat to use it. And while some cats aren’t too picky, for others small things can be deal breakers. A few things to keep in mind regarding the litter box setup are:
- Do not place food and water bowls near the litter box.
- The location of the box should be safe, quiet, and easily accessible.
- Some cats don’t like a closed box or scented litter due to their fine sense of smell.
- Make sure the box is clean, it should be scooped daily.
- The general rule of thumb is: 1 litter box per cat + 1 extra. (so for 3 cats, you would need 4 litter boxes)
- Some cats have a preference for a specific litter, it might take trail and error to find what they prefer.
To know more about what a perfect litter box would look like from a cat’s perspective, have a look at our article: All You Should Know About Litter Boxes.
Stress and/or Anxiety
A common reason why cats suddenly start peeing outside of their litter box, is when they feel stressed and/or anxious. As a cat owner, it might not always be easy to pinpoint why your cat suddenly may be stressed or anxious, and while big changes such as a move, a new pet, or the birth of a child, are obvious reasons, smaller changes in daily routine that may seem insignificant to us, such as new appliances, can stress out your cat. Artificial pheromone sprays and diffusers are ideal tools one can use to help relax their cat during stressful events.
A few examples of changes and things that may stress out your cat are:
- Adding of a new pet to the family, or the loss of a family pet
- The addition, or loss, of human family members
- Visitors in the home
- Change of routine, for example when you have a new job
- Change of their home, for example after renovations or change of appliances
- Too many cats or pets in their living situation
- A change of their litter box location
- Vet visits
- Loud noises, such as fireworks or construction
While separation anxiety is a common behaviour issue seen in dogs, cats also can get anxious while you are away. Besides eliminating outside of the litter box, signs of separation anxiety in cats are; trying to escape, vomiting of food/hairballs, destructive behaviour, excessive self-grooming, change of feeding habits, and excessive meowing. There are some simple things you can try to make your cat more comfortable while being alone, such as using pheromone sprays, providing them with distraction through enrichment activities, leaving the radio or tv on (if this doesn’t stress them), or getting a pet sitter for a visit during the day.
When a new cat owner finds pee inside, they may automatically assume the cat is urinating. However, urine can also be found if the cat is spraying. And while the steps to try and resolve peeing outside of the litter box for a spraying cat are very similar to the steps taken with a stressed or anxious cat, a specific solution that has a high success rate for a spraying cat is castration.
The difference between spraying and urinating, is that with spraying urine gets deposited in small amounts around an area with the intention of announcing the cat’s presence. It’s used to establish and maintain territorial boundaries and to let other cats know that they are ready to mate. Cats tend to spray inside when they believe their territory is threaded or when they are frustrated.
The difference between a spraying cat and a urinating cat, is that a spraying cat will stand, compared to a urinating cat that squats. During the spraying the tail will quiver while small puddles of urine will be sprayed in several locations. Cats that spray are usually unneutered males.
How to Clean up Accidents
Make sure to clean up any accidents as soon as possible with a special enzyme cleaner that breaks down the urine. Special cleaner should be used as these will break down the proteins of the urine that cause a cat to keep peeing in the same spot. Normal cleaners lack the ability to do this and while it may smell and look clean to us, for cats that depend primarily on their sense of smell, the spot will still be inviting to pee on again. Never punish your cat for accidents, as it will just confuse your cat, and makes them feel (more) stressed and anxious, making the problem worse.
Cats do not poop or pee outside of their litter box because they hold a grudge or to retaliate, and there is almost always an underlying reason for the behaviour. If the pooping and peeing outside of the litter box persists, a consultation with a cat behaviourist is advised. Together with them and your vet, a plan can be made. In extreme cases, medication may be an option, but this should always be used in combination with environmental changes.