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Jun 11 2014

Pee-mail; What is your cat trying to tell you?

We often get a lot of questions regarding cats having accidents outside the litter box. Unfortunately, this is a common behavioral problem in cats and often leads to frustration for pet parents. So why won’t Fluffy use the litter box; or why does she use it sometimes, but not other times? There are numerous reasons why, and at least 10% of cats are also like Fluffy and develop inappropriate urination problems. Here are some common reasons of why cats decide to kick their litter box to the curb, and move on to your favorite bed spread instead:

  1. Medical Issue: if your cat begins eliminating outside of the litter box, the first step is to call your veterinarian to make an appointment. Certain medical conditions that cause inappropriate urination can be common in cats and can cause increased urgency, or frequency in urination. Bladders infections, bladder inflammation or diseases that result in increased urine production can all occur in cats. It is important to rule these out prior to chalking up Fluffy’s urinary accident to just a behavioral problem.
  2. Dirty Litter Box: cats are finicky creatures that prefer cleanliness. In the wild, scent is very important to avoid predators, and if the litter box smells, your cat could be feeling vulnerable. The box should be cleaned often; in fact, it should be scooped out daily, and the entire litter should be changed weekly. It may seem like a daunting, smelly task, but so is washing your favorite pee stained shirt!
  3. Location, location, location: this is not something that just real estate agents stress, so does your cat! If your cat is unhappy with where the litter box is located, they may not use it. Avoid putting the litter box near your cats eating area, and ensure it is easily accessible. If Fluffy has to brave a scary stressor to get to the litter box (ie-washer/dryer), she may choose not to. Cats prefer quiet, safe and private places to do their business.
  4. Too Few: there should be a litter box for every cat in the household, plus one extra. So if you have two cats, this means you should have 3 litter boxes total. This is a very common problem in multiple cat households and can often be a quick fix for inappropriate urination. Cats can also have disputes over litter box usage. Cats are territorial, and in a multi-cat household, a dominant cat may prevent another cat from using a litter box.  This again stresses the importance of one litter box for each cat + one extra. Ideally, these boxes should be kept in separate locations and not side by side.
  5. Litter Box Construction: a litter box that Fluffy loves, may be exactly what Ozzie hates. Some cats prefer covered litter boxes, while others prefer open. If you have an older kitty it may be difficult for him/her to step all the way over the edge of that litter box, and they may appreciate a low-sided litter box. Trying out various types of litter boxes until you find one that works is key. Most cats prefer large litter boxes that they can easily get in and out of. Plastic sweater storage containers make excellent litter boxes.
  6. Litter Type: clumping, non-clumping, scented, pine, crystals…there are a million litter types and finding the right fit for your cat is important. Once you find the litter type they prefer, do not change it. Changing the litter can set your cat off enough that they will not use the litter box. Cats also prefer having just one to two inches of litter in the box.
  7. Stress: other cats, a barking dog outside, or any stressful change in your cat’s environment can lead to peeing outside of the litter box. Stress can be reduced by moving the litter box to a private, quiet location or avoidance of a known stressor. In some cases, using pheromone diffusers such as Feliway, can help reduce stress of your feline friend.
  8. Spraying: this is a marking behavior that is not associated with other litter box problems. The reason for this behavior is not related to stress or being picky over the litter box environment. Unaltered males and females can spray to mark their territories or if they are trying to look for a mate. Neutering and spaying cats usually ends this behavior.

As you can see, cats are finicky, picky creatures that do not like change. This can make it difficult to determine the exact reason why Fluffy has decided to no longer use the litter box, but with these tips, you may be a little closer to not having to smell pee on your fresh laundry. Remember, the first step is to always bring your cat to the vet to rule out any medical concerns.

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