When kitty eliminates outside of the litter box it’s probably the most frustrating behavior that a cat parent ever has to cope with. All of a sudden, the cat who never caused any problems has suddenly started viewing the dining room carpet or living room sofa as makeshift litter boxes. Plastic coverings start making their way onto the sofa, the dining room becomes off limits, the box is cleaned to perfection and the owner starts looking at the beloved family cat as if he has become a total stranger.
When a cat eliminates outside of the box he isn’t being spiteful, stupid or willfully disobedient. He is trying to solve a problem. It may not make sense to you but it’s normal behavior for the cat. For some reason he feels he can’t use the box. Your job as the one with the bigger brain is to figure out why.
Surprisingly, in many cases, litter box aversion has an underlying medical cause. It could be feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), the start of renal failure, diabetes, IBD, constipation, diarrhea, or a number of other medically-related issues. Very often, what happens is that the cat associates the pain he feels with the box itself. He thinks that if he eliminates somewhere else it won’t hurt so much. In the case of urinary issues, he may try to retain the urine as long as possible because it hurts too much to pee. When his bladder reaches maximum capacity the cat may not be close enough to the box to get there in time. With some urinary problems the accumulation of any amount of urine in the bladder can cause pain so kitty will pee in small drops throughout the house. And, if you see traces of blood in the urine (either on the carpet or in the litter box), then you know there’s definitely something going on that needs immediate medical attention.
When it comes to leaving fecal deposits outside of the box, the cat may by experiencing painful stomach cramping due to gas accumulation and feels the need to try to eliminate wherever he is at the moment. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is one condition that can commonly result in kitty having to eliminate frequently due to cramping and pain.
No matter how convinced you are that a litter box problem is behavioral, don’t overlook that all-important trip to the veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical cause. If you simply assume it’s behavioral, you may cause your cat to suffer needlessly.
Any change in your cat’s behavior, litter box habits or eating/drinking habits should be viewed as a potential medical red flag. Always have your cat checked by the veterinarian as soon as you notice a change.
Some Signs of Potential Problems
- increased or decreased urination
- elimination outside of the litter box
- frequent trips to the litter box
- crying or straining while in the litter box
- voiding only small amounts of urine
- change in urine color
- change in urine odor
- traces of blood in urine
- painful abdomen
- distended abdomen
- Change in fecal color
- Change in fecal odor
- blood in feces
- Mucus in feces
- Excessive gas
- weight loss
- change in appetite
- change in water consumption
- inability to urinate (this is an absolute EMERGENCY)
- frequent licking of genital area
- ammonia odor to the breath
- exxcessive vocalization
Want More Information?
For more information on litter box problems, refer to the book Think Like a Cat. You’ll find an in-depth chapter on the correct litter box set-up, avoiding problems and how to deal with litter box aversion.
Note: This article is not intended as a medical diagnosis. If you notice a change in your cat’s litter box habits, contact your veterinarian.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.