Cat Urinating Outside Litter Tray

Medical causes of inappropriate urination   Symptoms of medical causes urinary disorders  Treating the medical causes   Other causes of inappropriate urination   Fixing the problem   Cleaning cat urine  
Inappropriate urination is one of the most common issues that cat owners face and causes a huge amount of frustration and is one of the most common reasons why cat owners surrender a cat to a shelter.
Most cats are fastidiously clean animals and prefer to go the toilet in a clean place where they can bury their urine and feces. There are many reasons which can loosely be broken into two causes. Medical or behavioural. 

It is important to have a cat who isn’t using a litter tray to have him checked over by a veterinarian to determine if there is a possible medical cause.   Common medical causes of urinating outside the litter tray

  • Cystitis – Inflammation of the urinary bladder, seen more frequently in females, although males can be affected too.
  • Bladder stones – Rock like deposits which form in the cat’s bladder from high concentrations of certain minerals in the urine.
  • Bladder infection – Bacterial infection of the urinary bladder.
  • Bladder tumour – An abnormal growth in the bladder, the most common type of tumour is a transitional cell carcinoma.
  • Pain in the paws from declawing. Sometimes the claws can grow back deformed, leading to pain. Post-surgical problems can also occur, such as infection and abscess making digging around uncomfortable.
  • Arthritis is a painful condition of the joints which can make climbing in and out of the litter tray painful. This condition mostly affects middle-aged to older cats.
  • Dementia is a relatively common condition of older cats leading to confusion and/or forgetting where the litter tray is.
  • Diabetes.
  • Hyperthyroidism – A benign tumour of the thyroid gland.
Symptoms of medical urinary disorders
Common signs of medical causes include frequent trips to the litter tray, crying when urinating, licking the genitals, abdominal discomfort, blood in the urine (hematuria).

  Treating medical causes of inappropriate urination   Treatment depends on the underlying cause but may include the following:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection.
  • Surgery to remove stones or tumours, in some cats, further surgery if your cat has been declawed, but the claws grow back (usually deformed).
  • Medications to treat arthritis and lifestyle adjustments.
  • Anti-anxiety medications to help a cat who has dementia.
  • Diabetes is treated with a change in diet, and if necessary administration of insulin injections.
  • Hyperthyroidism can be treated with radioactive iodene to kill the tumour, surgery to remove the tumour or medication.

Determining the cause of inappropriate urination

If your cat has been given a clean bill of health, you will need to determine what is causing him to avoid the litter tray. Some questions you should ask include:

  • Has your cat always urinated outside of the litter tray or is this new behaviour?
Sudden changes in litter box behaviour can quite often have a medical cause. Other possible reasons may include a change in your house, moving litter trays, a new cat, one cat bullying another, changing brands/types of cat litter.
  • Does your cat always urinate outside the tray or is it just from time to time?
A very common cause of inappropriate urination is a dirty litter tray. If it’s not clean enough, he will find an alternate spot to urinate. Ideally, solids should be removed from the tray morning and night, and the tray should be thoroughly emptied, disinfected and have fresh litter once or twice a week.
  • How many litter trays do you have?

It is recommended that you have a minimum of one litter tray per cat. If too many cats are sharing a litter tray, you may find they start finding alternate places to go to the toilet.

  • How many cats do you have?

Again, the number of cats should correlate to the number of litter trays. But even with an appropriate number of trays, problems can still arise. One cat ambushing another when he or she is using the toilet can cause problems. Cat dynamics can also be a factor, particularly if one cat is dominant/bullying a more timid cat.

  • How old was he when he was taken away from his mother?

Ideally, kittens should live with their mum for the first 10-12 weeks of life. Not only does mum feed her babies, but she also teaches them so many things including toilet habits. The earlier the kitten leaves his mum, the greater the chance of adopting a kitten with possible behavioural problems, including inappropriate urination.

  • Is your cat declawed?

This procedure is becoming less commonplace than it was even a decade ago. For those of you outside of the United States, declawing is the removal of the claw and bone up to the first joint of the toe. It can be exceedingly painful for your cat to bear weight on the paws immediately after surgery and in some cases for the indefinite future. If pain occurs, your cat may become reluctant to dig in his litter tray and find alternate spots to go to the toilet.

  • Where is your litter tray located?
Cats like their privacy when they go to the toilet. If your litter tray is in a high traffic area or noisy area, your cat may prefer to find somewhere quieter to urinate. Also, cats don’t like to go to the toilet close to where they eat, so make sure it is a distance away from food and water bowls.
  • Have you made any changes to your litter tray recently?
Location, size, changed brands or type of cat litter can all play a factor. Cats are creatures of habit and just like us they have their own preferences. So if possible, find what works for your cat and stick with it. Some cats like open litter trays, others prefer covered ones for extra privacy. You may have to initially experiment until you can get the right set up for your particular household.
  • Are you sure your cat is urinating outside the litter tray vs spraying?
A cat who is urinating outside the litter tray will do so on horizontal surfaces. Usually the floor, but sometimes on furniture such as your bed, or a chair. A cat spraying will do so on vertical surfaces, such as walls, doors or windows. Spraying is territorial behaviour and is seen much more frequently in entire male cats.
  • How old is the cat?
Usually, by the time your kitten leaves mum to come and live with you, he has been toilet trained. However, sometimes the occasional accident will happen. Try to be patient. If necessary, confine him to one or two rooms for the first few days so he can slowly adjust to his new home. Make sure you have an appropriately sized litter tray. Most adult sized trays are too high for a kitten to climb into. At the other end is the elderly cat who for a few reasons may become less reliable with the litter tray for a number of medical and behavioural reasons covered in greater detail below.
Fixing the problem of inappropriate urination
  • Adding additional litter trays so there is at least one per cat.
  • Having suitably sized litter trays. I always start out with a small one for kittens in addition to the full sized ones for the adults.
  • Carefully think about placement. The trays shouldn’t be in a high traffic area such as the kitchen. A laundry or bathroom is the ideal spot as these areas tend to be quieter, and have tiled floors which are easier to clean. If your cat is urinating in the same spot, you may want to consider placing a litter tray over the area.
  • If you are not sure which type of litter your cat likes, try several different kinds in different litter trays.
  • Avoid heavily scented cat litters, cats don’t like strong odours.
  • Make sure that food bowls aren’t next to the litter tray. I do like to keep both within proximity, as I have found my cats tend to eat their breakfast and then line up to go to the loo. The food bowls are kept in the kitchen and the litter tray in the laundry, which is right next door.
  • Scoop out solids morning and night, empty, disinfect and replace all litter once or twice a week.
  • Try to not make unnecessary changes in your cat’s life. They like routine. Once you find a brand of litter your cat likes, stick to it, don’t move litter trays around unnecessarily.

Cleaning cat urine

Once a cat has urinated in a spot, even if you have cleaned it up, he may still be able to smell traces of the urine which will keep him coming back. There are commercial products available from your pet shop which can neutralise the odours. If your cat is still returning to the area,  seal it off is possible, temporarily cover it with a large patch of plastic hallway carpet runner, place the litter tray on top of the area (if possible), or put their food bowls there.

Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly where your cat has been urinating. A black light can be used to locate this. To use a black light, darken the room or wait until it is night, turn on the black light and move it around the floor. Urine will glow under the light. Black lights can be purchased from your hardware, pet shop or Ebay for a few dollars. 

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