House soiling is the most common reason that cats are surrendered to animal shelters every year. And as simple as it may seem—many cat owners immediately think it’s revenge— your cat may be exhibiting this behavior for several reasons. Older cats who have been using a litter box for years sometimes suddenly start peeing outside the litter box. 

If you’ve arrived home again to the distinct odor of feline urine, you are probably throwing up your hands in frustration, but, fortunately, with diligence, patience, and close observation, this behavior can be changed or avoided. Feline inappropriate elimination (FIE) accounts for nearly 50% of feline referrals to a veterinary behavioral specialist. Medina Veterinary Clinic explores the three most common reasons—medical problems, urine marking, and litter box aversion—that cause cats to urinate outside the litter box, and what you can do about it.

Medical reasons that may cause your pet to urinate outside the litter box

There are a whole host of medical reasons why your cat may urinate outside the litter box, so a visit to our veterinarian is definitely warranted. We will perform a comprehensive exam, along with simple urine and blood tests, to identify any medical reasons for your cat’s FIE. Some common medical problems that can result in FIE include:

  • Urinary inflammation
  • Kidney disease 
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid or other hormonal issues
  • Digestive tract diseases 
  • Age-related diseases, such as arthritis or cognitive disorders

Medication and management of the underlying medical condition can often help resolve FIE caused by a medical issue. However, some cats may not seem ill, despite their medical problem, so contact us to schedule an appointment if you are encountering inappropriate urination.

Urine marking in cats

Urine marking is a separate, different problem. Cats who urine mark (i.e., spray) are leaving their urine scent to announce their presence, establish territory boundaries, or signal that they are ready to mate. Cats also may spray when they perceive a threat, such as a new cat in the household, or outside cats nearby. They may also spray out of frustration with their circumstances, or when something is new (i.e., shopping bags, carpet, blinds, or furniture). 

In most cases, urine marking can be identified based on the marked surface, which is most often a vertical space. Urine marking on window sills, drapes, or baseboards under the window may be due to a perceived threat from an outside cat or wild animal. Marking directed toward furniture or inside doors may be because your cat has issues with another family pet. 

Urine spraying is often the result of hormones, so you should consider spaying or neutering your pet if they are still intact. These procedures decrease your pet’s hormone levels, so hormones affect their behavior less, and the urine marking may cease.

If your pet is already spayed or neutered, you need to identify and eliminate the source of stress that is leading to the marking. If the underlying cause is an issue with another cat in the household, they may need to be separated and reintroduced slowly, with lots of patience and treats for calm behavior. If the problem is outdoor cats, shades or blinds can prevent the indoor cat from seeing the cause for their stress outside, or motion sprinklers can be used to keep outside cats away. Medication such as Prozac, which can be used as a supplement to other behavior therapies, can also help eliminate urine spraying.

Cleaning the sprayed area is essential, because applying odor neutralizers can prevent your cat from spraying in the same place again. Commercially available synthetic hormones mimic the scents in a cat’s cheek glands, and may ease your cat’s stress and propensity to spray in the areas they commonly mark. 

Litter box aversion in cats

You may rightly consider your cat fussy, since they may refuse to use the litter box because it’s improperly set up, unattractive, or simply not clean enough. Common reasons that cats reject their litter box include:

  • Its position next to a loud device, such as a washing machine
  • Litter that is too shallow
  • Litter type is offensive
  • Litter box is too small for the cat to feel comfortable
  • Litter box is not scooped often enough
  • Litter box is cleaned with harsh chemicals
  • Litter box has a liner or a hood

With litter box aversion, your detective work begins. Observe your cat’s litter box behavior to determine the reason for their aversion, which may include:

  • Multiple household cats — Some cats avoid the litter box in multiple cat households, especially if they are terrorized as they use or exit the box. In these instances, ensure that the litter box is open, with a 360-degree view so there is less chance of an ambush, and the cat has an escape route. Always provide one litter box more than the number of cats in the house—for example, there should be three litter boxes for two cats—and place the boxes well apart.
  • Litter box size — Litter boxes should be approximately one and a half times the length of the cat, and large enough for the cat to easily turn around. Cats prefer open boxes to covered ones. Kittens and elderly cats need boxes with low sides.
  • Litter box hygiene Litter should be at least four inches deep, unscented, a clumping variety, and scooped at least daily. Litter should be completely changed every two to four weeks, and the box thoroughly cleaned with warm water.
  • Litter box placement — Position litter boxes in warm, comfortable areas, away from noisy machines, heating vents, or cold drafts.  

House soiling in cats is a common problem, but most issues can be solved with investigation, understanding, and patience. If you have questions or concerns about your cat and FIE, do not hesitate to contact the Medina Veterinary Clinic team. We are here to help.