Cats are very clean animals by nature, so when your cat starts urinating outside the litter box, this is usually a sign that there is something wrong with either the cat or the litter box.
The first thing you should do is take your cat to the vet to rule out a physical problem such as feline diabetes, FLUTD and old age. Once the physical is ruled out then it’s time to look at what is causing your cat to urinate outside of the litter tray.
Is my cat spraying or urinating?
It’s important to distinguish between inappropriate urinating and spraying.
When a cat urinates it squats down when it sprays it generally stands upright and sprays against a vertical surface such as a wall or sofa.
Causes of inappropriate urination in cats:
The first explanation is that the litter box is not being cleaned frequently enough. Remember that a cat’s sense of smell is about one thousand times greater than our own. Cats will not want to go near a litter box that smells offensive any more than we would want to use a filthy toilet. The litter box should be scooped out at least once a day and cleaned with soap and hot water at least once a week for a house with one cat. Do not use strong-smelling detergents that may be too harsh on a cat’s nose. Rinsing with a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water followed by air drying will help kill odour causing bacteria. Houses with multiple cats should have multiple litter boxes. A general rule of thumb is one litter tray per cat. Placement of the litter tray is also important. Just as humans like privacy, so do cats. Placing the litter tray in a busy area may result in your cat’s refusal to use the litter tray. Also, some cats will enjoy the privacy of a fully covered litter tray, while this may be too confining for other cats. Generally, I prefer to have a combination of both trays to suit my cat’s different preferences.
Another thing to remember is that cats do not like to go to the toilet near where they eat. So make sure the litter box is placed far from your cat’s food and water.
Stress is another major cause of inappropriate urination in cats. Factors causing stress in cats can be moving house, the introduction of a new family member (pet or human), a neighbour’s cat roaming your garden etc. Helping your cat overcome these stresses may well result in the inappropriate urination stopping, however, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the behaviour can become so ingrained in the cat that even once the stress has been removed, the behaviour continues. If this is the case it is a good idea to seek advice from your veterinarian as to how to re-train your cat. Some cat owners have had great success using Rescue Remedy on their cats, although this isn’t advisable until you have spoken to your vet.
Of course, there are other reasons that a cat may urinate in an improper place. ”Spraying” when a cat sprays urine on a vertical surface, is a way that cats communicate with other cats. What they are essentially doing is marking their territory. Therefore it is very important to clean these ‘marked’ areas properly with an enzymatic cleaner that will remove every trace of urine scent (see our article on removing cat urine odours). Cats will continue to spray over areas that have already been marked with urine. This marking behaviour is found most common in male cats, although female cats have been known to spray also. Neutering your cat should greatly reduce the spraying problem. You may also want to use a spray-on cat repellent in the areas most frequently marked by your cat.
Declawing sometimes leads to refusal to use a litter box. Often the cat’s paws are tender and scratching around in cat litter can lead to pain and discomfort. In this case, it is advisable to find a softer litter which is less harsh on your cat’s feet.
There are several conditions that can lead to inappropriate urination in cats. These include;
If you do catch your cat urinating in an inappropriate spot quickly move the cat and gently place him in the litter tray. Never use physical punishment on your cat, this will make your cat afraid of you and may well make the behaviour worse as it will stress the cat further.
Confining your cat to a small room such as the laundry can often help matters. Once your cat is using the litter tray, gradually increase the area.
Make sure litter trays are cleaned regularly and there are enough trays for the number of cats. As a rule of thumb, you should have one tray per cat, plus one tray extra. So, if you have two cats, you should have three trays. Although understandably not every home can accommodate lots of trays. If you are limited in how many trays you can have, make sure you remove solids and urine several times a day, and fully empty/disinfect at least once a week.
Please bear in mind that as the cat ages the frequency of inappropriate urination may increase. Conditions such as arthritis may make it painful to enter and exit the litter tray, especially if it has high sides. Poor eyesight, dementia and incontinence may also be contributing factors. Again, if it is always best to seek advice from your veterinarian on these matters as he/she will be able to best advise you on how to help your cat in old age.