If your cat is suddenly urinating outside the litter box, you may feel confused and frustrated—why would a previously easygoing, well-behaved pet suddenly decide to take their business elsewhere? While you may be shocked that your favorite rug is now your cat’s preferred deposit spot, know that your cat isn’t doing this in spite. At Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital, inappropriate urination is the number one behavior complaint we receive about cats, and 9 out of 10 times, physical or emotional distress is the cause. Here are the top five things you should do, if your cat is experiencing missed opportunities.

#1: Take your cat to the vet

Cats associate pain and discomfort with their surroundings—in this case, the litter box—and will eliminate elsewhere, to avoid those feelings. Unfortunately, urinary conditions, including infections, urinary calculi (e.g., kidney, bladder, or urethral stones), urethral obstruction, or stress-induced bladder inflammation (i.e., feline lower urinary tract disease [FLUTD]), can all cause pain that your cat will associate with their litter box. Kidney disease and diabetes, which cause cats to drink more water and urinate more frequently, are also problems.

Always allow our Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital team to examine your cat before trying any home remedies. Our veterinarians will evaluate your cat, and based on their physical exam findings, blood work, and a urinalysis, will determine any medical cause for their house soiling. If your cat receives a clean bill of health, we will review your cat’s home life, to determine a behavioral cause.

#2: Provide a clean environment for your cat

No one likes a dirty bathroom, especially your cat. Cats have incredible scent capabilities, and despise a smelly litter box more than we do. For example, exceedingly fastidious cats may avoid a box containing a single urine clump. 

In general, boxes should be scooped daily, and the litter changed completely every week, after cleaning, rinsing, and drying the empty box before refilling. In multi-cat homes, you may need to scoop twice-daily, to encourage consistent litter box use.

#3: Identify and eliminate feline social stress

Many cats appreciate another cat’s company, but subordinate cats may be subject to bullying or resource guarding from older or more dominant cats. Bully cats may block access to resources, including food, water, prime resting places, and the litter box—creating significant stress and anxiety in subordinate cats. 

Covered litter boxes should be avoided in multi-cat homes, as they reduce the cat’s visibility and typically provide only one exit, leaving the cat vulnerable to ambush. Subordinate cats may avoid the box altogether to protect themselves.

#4: Litter box accessibility and location

The recommended number of litter boxes is always one per cat, plus one extra. This rule ensures that your cat always has easy access, better odds for a clean box, does not have to “wait in line,” and is less likely to be bullied.

When selecting a litter box location, consider your cat’s needs. Select a central location that affords some privacy. If your cat is arthritic, stair-climbing can be painful for them, so ensure litter boxes are available on every floor. If your cat is older, modify their litter box by creating a lower entry door so they can walk, rather than climb, inside.

#5: Look for feline threats—perceived and real

Your house-soiling cat may be reacting to an environmental stressor. Cats are territorial creatures who use facial rubbing, or marking (i.e., releasing small amounts of urine on a vertical surface) to declare their presence, or stake their claim to an object or location. While marking is most common in unneutered male cats, any cat may urine-mark if they are stressed or confused (e.g., a stray cat outside, a new or missing family member), or to cover up scents they do not recognize (e.g., your new couch).

Take a closer look at where your cat is choosing to eliminate—cats commonly mark unfamiliar objects, or near windows and doors if the perceived threat is outside.

Encourage your cat to return to the litter box

Whether your cat’s problem is medical or behavioral, the following actions will help ensure a successful return to their box:

  • Clean thoroughly — Cats are comforted by their urine’s odor, and will repeatedly visit the same location. Clean all previously soiled areas thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner, and use a blacklight to search for old stains.
  • Relocate the litter box — You may need to move the box to your cat’s new favorite spot, and then gradually go back to the former location.
  • Avoid abrupt litter changes — Sudden changes in litter formula can cause cats to refuse their litter box. Avoid heavy fragrances and perfumes. If you must change formulas, do so slowly, and also provide a box with the old litter, so your cat has options.
  • Install Feliway diffusers — Odorless synthetic feline pheromones send “calm messages” to cats, and reduce stress. 
  • Scoop on schedule — Maintain a consistent litter box cleaning routine, so your cat has no reason to look elsewhere.

Inappropriate urination can be perplexing, but can usually be resolved with time and patience. If your cat’s puddles are more than periodic, schedule an appointment at Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital. We can help your cat return to their box.