You come home after a long day of work and you’re tired. You spend the night relaxing and get ready for bed. As soon as you slide your foot into the bed, you feel something wet. Smelling the wet spot you realize it is cat urine! You change the sheets and plan a visit to the vet tomorrow thinking that there is surely something wrong medically. After seeing the veterinarian, they tell you there is not a urinary tract infection and that this could be something behavioral!?
Sadly, going outside the box is the number one reason cats are surrendered to animal shelters. What does “going outside the box” mean? This means that a cat is urinating and/or defecating outside of the litter box. There are multiple reasons that a cat may go outside the box.
1) Urinary Tract Infection
This is the most common issue that everyone thinks about. This is rarely the main issue. A urinary tract infection is when bacteria inhabit the bladder and/or urethra. This will cause irritation and minor bleeding. The irritation will cause the cat to strain to urinate with only a few drops coming out. Some of these drops will have hints of red or may even be bright red. There will be multiple, small puddles of urine either in the litter box or throughout the house. These cats are very uncomfortable. The infection can be caused by something they picked up in the environment or it can be from crystals or stones. If we are able to look at some urine, we are usually able to tell if there are crystals or not. If we do find evidence of an infection, we can give an antibiotic shot to help resolve the issue. VERY IMPORTANT: Male cats can form stones/clots that can obstruct or block the urethra! These cats will be UNABLE to urinate. These cats strain and strain with no urine coming out. They are also extremely vocal. If you feel your male cat is blocked, this is an EMERGENCY and needs to be seen right away.
2) Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
This long title is basically saying some cats have issues with the urethra and we have no idea why. These cats will have all the same signs as above, but we will find no evidence of an active infection. We believe these cats may have higher levels of stress that cause these issues. We have different diets to help reduce the level of stress these cats are feeling to help reduce the recurrence of the irritated urethra. This is a chronic disease that we have to manage and can not “cure.”
3) Other Medical Issue
Some cats will have Diabetes or Kidney issues. If the cat is urinating large amounts of normal looking urine then something more serious could be occurring. These cats will usually go to the litter box first and if it is full from the last large urination, they will find somewhere else to go. These cats will have other issues that you can notice: drinking lots of water, very hungry, weight loss and vomiting. Arthritis can also cause issues with the litter box. Is the litter box on a different level from where the cat is going? The cat may be too painful to walk up or down stairs. Sometimes they are even to painful to step up or over the entrance into the litter box.
4) Behavior Issues
This is the most common reason for cats to go outside the box. If the cat is urinating/defecating outside the box and the puddle/stool appears to be the normal amount they urinate, then chances are this is a behavior issue. If you notice your cat going outside the box, there is a checklist that we should run through before ever going in to the vet.
A) How many litter boxes do you have? We need to have one litter box per cat. Sometimes we even need an additional one. So, if you have 10 cats, you need 10 litter boxes and may even need 11! 1 big litter box does not count as 2 unless you have seen 2 cats using the same one at the same time and they don’t mind each other.
B) Where are the litter boxes? 2 litter boxes side by side count as 1, not 2. The reason they can not be next to each other is if you have a bully cat(and you may not always see one cat be mean to another), that cat may scare off the other cats or guard the boxes. The lower cat will then find somewhere else to go, like your fluffy comforter. Also, we ideally need to keep the litter boxes in a quiet, low-traffic area. If they are in the laundry room and you do a lot of laundry, the noise and commotion may scare the cat away.
C) Are they open or closed top? I understand it is kinda gross to look down and see your cat’s pee and poop clumped up in the pan. Or, even worse, your dog is always going after the little treats your cat leaves behind. The issue with closed top, however, is your cat can become trapped. Those boxes only have 1 entrance/exit. If another animal comes to the entrance/exit, or if you accidentally drop something and spook the cat and they can’t escape, they may never use that box again. The litter pan needs to be an open top, or at least have 1 way in and a SEPARATE way out.
D) How often do you clean them? A cat will not use a litter box that they feel is too dirty. If they go to step in it and there is no clean room for them to dig around, they will find somewhere else. Some cats need the box cleaned daily, some can get away with every other day. It just depends on how big the box is and the cat’s behavior.
E) Is the litter clumping litter? There are so many different kinds of litter out there! The most important statement on the bag is whether or not it is “clumping.” Cats prefer for the litter to clump together so they can bury and move it around. If it just falls to the bottom, the cat could become unhappy.
If you feel all your answers are the correct answers, then maybe something medical is occurring. These are quick and easy issues to fix before every being seen by a veterinarian.
If you see blood or frequent urination, then you should be checked out soon. If the urine volume is normal and you don’t see any blood, run through the checklist first to see if you can there is something you can fix at home before coming in to be seen! Cats going outside the box is a very frustrating issue, but sometimes it can be fixed as easily as adding another litter box!