Authored by: Dr. Lindsey, DVM
It’s so frustrating if you are the owner of a cat that is urinating or defecating outside their litter box. Some people think their cat does it just to spite them but most of the time the cat has a good reason not to want to go in their litter box. According to the ASPCA, at least 10% of cats develop elimination problems. Some cats will not urinate in the box, and some will not defecate in it. There are other cats who will completely stop using the litter box altogether.
One of the easiest things to work on is making sure the litter box is clean for your cat. Just because the owner may think it’s clean enough, the cat may have a different standard of cleanliness. Make sure to scoop the litter box daily and clean it regularly. A rule of thumb for litter boxes is to have one plus the number of cats that are in the house. Some cats like to have the privacy of a covered box, but some cats don’t.
The litter box should be in a quiet place in the house so the cat doesn’t get scared while doing their business. I once had a client with a cat that had litter box issues and we were trying everything to get to the bottom of it. The owner figured out that the litter boxes were in the laundry room and if the cat was using the litter box when the dryer buzzed it would scare the cat and cause it to eliminate elsewhere in the house. Other factors that can cause a cat not to want to use the box include, the cat doesn’t like the type, feeling, or smell of the litter, too much or not enough litter, litter box is too small, or a litter box too deep or difficult to get in and out of. Never punish a cat for not using the litter box, it can just cause further problems with their litter box aversion.
Cats may also have medical problems that can cause inappropriate elimination. Issues like bladder discomfort, bladder/kidney formations, or inflammation of the bladder can cause a cat not to use their litter box. Clinical signs of a possible urinary problem include blood in the urine, straining to urinate, vocalization while urinating, or going in and out of the litter box more frequently. The cat should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. It’s best to rule out any medical problems first in a cat that is not properly using the litter box.
Dr. Lindsey graduated from Colorado State University in 2009 and works in general practice, shelter medicine, and more recently as a civilian contractor veterinarian for the Army. She is also certified in acupuncture and resides in Palm Springs, CA.