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My cat's not using the litterbox!

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

Any toileting activity that is not in the litter box is considered ‘inappropriate elimination’

This is often a frustrating issue for cat owners and sometimes can end in the rehoming or even euthanasia of a pet. Inappropriate elimination can be a difficult issue to solve.

The first thing to do is to rule out a medical cause for urinating or defecating outside the litter box.

Urinary tract infection and cystitis (bladder inflammation) can cause a sudden urge to urinate meaning your cat may not make it to the litter tray in time. A urine sample is useful in detecting these illnesses.

Other causes include osteoarthritis in older cats. Sore joints mean cats may not want to lift their feet over the high walls of the litter tray to use it and may opt for other surfaces instead.

If medical causes have been ruled out, we then turn our attention to the home environment.

Starting with the litter box. If the litter box is not regularly cleaned cats won’t use it. Remember cats are self-cleaning so even the smallest damp patch may be enough to make your cat look for other options.

There should always be at least one extra litter tray in your household per cat e.g. two cats need three litter boxes. Some cats prefer privacy so try and make sure the litter boxes are away from main walking routes through the house such as hallways or dining areas. Some litter trays come with hoods for extra privacy during their toileting time.

If you suddenly change the litter type this can be enough to put your cat of using the litter tray. If you need to change litter types try and gradually introduce it over a few weeks so your cat gets used to it. Some cats prefer softer litter types as it is easier to ‘scoop’ which is an ingrained behaviour during the toileting process.

Stress can be a massive factor with inappropriate elimination. Stress can be from many sources such as a new baby, building works in the home, a new cat in the area or a cat entering the home.

Sometimes the cause of the stress is obvious sometimes not. A bit of detective work is needed here! Try and close curtains or blinds during the day if you think the cause is related to seeing other cats in their ‘patch’.

Using a microchip cat door can stop unwanted visitors entering the home and causing stress. Cats will sometimes ‘spray’ urine near windows or doors if the problem is related to a cat entering the home or a cat crossing their ‘patch’.

The root of stress can sometimes be a change in work routine of their favourite person. To counteract this try and put aside 10-15minutes per day to spend with your cat one-one for bonding. Try grooming, playing with toys or simply cuddling to increase the positive feelings your cat will get from being around you.

Pheromone sprays are a good way of helping to alleviate stress related soiling around the home. Pheromone sprays or diffusers release a chemical signal that basically says ‘everything is ok, you can relax’ and the cats pick this up and their bodies respond to this chemical signal.

The most popular sprays and diffusers used in NZ are a product called Feliway. It’s important to follow the guidelines appropriately for effective use, including the number of diffusers needed meter squared of your room or home.

Giving your cat a safe space is also helpful. Try and create and area in the home just for your cat to use and preferably have some sort of hiding aspect e.g. a box, a raised resting platform or bed with a roof. This creates the feeling of security and helps alleviate stress.

When your cat does urinate or defecate in an area of the home it’s important to thoroughly clean this area. Sometimes a UV light is needed to spot areas that may have already dried but still needs cleaning. If you do not clean the area properly, the scent remains and invites the cat back to this area for continued urination or defecation.

As you can see inappropriate elimination is a difficult topic and a lot of ‘trial and error’ goes into this process. However I would encourage you not to give up and to be methodical in your attack on this problem. As always if you are struggling and need help talking through potential causes and home modifications we are always here to help!

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Thank you for this. It helped me settle myself.

We have two cats - a Devon Rex mother/daughter pair. Daughter Zena (now about 4.5 years old) has started inappropriate elimination. She was diagnosed with FIP over a year ago and more recently Stage 2 CKD (based on her bloods). She was defecating outside the box but doesn't do that any more, but does urinate inappropriately. Often if I am in the room with her, she will use the litter tray.

She is very clingy and always wants to climb me. And she developed eye problems with one pupil dilated - I suspect she has lost sight in that eye.

We started her on k/d food but she lost so much weight…

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