Is Your Cat Ignoring the Litterbox? Correct It, Fast

One reason many people decide to become the proud owner of cats rather than rabbits or other cute, furry creatures is that cats are famous for their ability to care for themselves. It is good to know that you don’t have to confine your cat in a cage to keep them from making a mess in your home or have to stop what you are doing and take them outside on a leash for a “bathroom break.” Cats have long been praised for their dedication to keeping themselves clean and covering their waste. The sages of the Talmud single out the cat as a creature that is concerned about its personal cleanliness and praise the cat for covering its waste. However, there may be times when a cat doesn’t quite make it to the litter box. This is true particularly with regards to urine rather than solid waste. If you notice your cat is urinating or even defecating outside of the confines of his or her litter box, it is worth investigating the causes and finding ways to get your cat back on track.

There are a number of reasons why your cat might suddenly miss urinating in his litter box. If the cat has reached the age of 7 months, he is already mature and may be starting to mark his territory. Like many mammals, cats are guided by their scents, and that is how they recognize each other. Spraying is their way of declaring that an object belongs to them. The smell can be a put-off and make your home less pleasant, so it is important to identify cat marking behavior and to figure out what to do about it.

The first step is to understand what motivates cat marking behavior. It is estimated that 30% of cats who urinate outside of the litter box do so to “mark their territory.” Cats are different from dogs and have a distinct communication style which, unfortunately for cat owners, includes spraying urine in order to make a statement. Dogs have a different form of social organization and communicate through body language. They may assume roles of dominant or obedient to avoid fights breaking out between them, whereas cats often are involved in power struggles over territory they have marked as their own. A cat, unlike a dog, will never act or regard itself as an inferior to another member of its species. At best, cats regard each other as neighbors. If you have more than one cat, you may notice how they allow each other to share the same territory, but at different times. They may seem cordial much of the time, but if there is a dispute, they may hiss and even fight. Even though a cat may surrender temporarily, he or she, at least on an emotional level, will never really give up or believe in its heart of hearts that it has lost to a feline opponent.

One thing a cat does when it has had to back down is to leave messages for the other cat in the form of urine spray. The cat might have lost the battle, but it is determined not to lose the war which it can wage through stealth. Cats can “passive aggressively” leave their mark here and there to ensure the other cat knows who owns the territory. The urine messages that cat leaves are not always aggressive. They can denote when he is considering coming back or if he is looking for a mate.

Often when cats are neutered, they are less likely to mark their territory than cats who are not neutered. Former feral cats, however, may mark their territory even after they are neutered. Cats who live on the street with other cats have more conflicts over territory, mate often and communicate more often with other cats. Therefore, they have a greater need to mark their territory. Cats that are thoroughly domesticated may have one other cat in the house or none, and may not need the kind of communication required outdoors with other cats. If they are spayed or neutered, they obviously are not in search of a mate, and would not spray for that reason, either. There is no guarantee that a domesticated cat will never spray, since urine marking is an instinct, but if you are wondering why one of your cats seems to be “missing” the litter box and the other one is on target, it might be because the one who is urinating outside the box is a former feral cat. However, even cats that have spent all of their lives indoors may mark their territory when they feel threatened, such as in the aftermath of a move to a new home or the introduction to a new cat. If your cat has endured sudden changes, that may answer the question of why he is urinating outside the litter box and the phase may pass as things calm down for you and your cat.

Most pet owners understand the importance of spaying and neutering cats. Not only does it help reduce the pet population, but it can prevent your cat from marking his territory on your couch. Competing for mates is a major reason many cats mark their territory with urine, and once this component is no longer relevant in a cat’s life, you may find a decrease or complete cessation of urine marking. In any case, spaying and neutering cats is a humane solution, because there are many more cats in the world than there are loving homes to take them in.

If your cat is urinating outside the box, you may not be certain whether the cat is engaging in marking behavior or whether he or she has a health issue. Cats may urinate outside of the litter box because of a urinary tract infection or another problem. However, marking is simply an issue of communication rather than health. In any case, cats should be taken to the vet for an annual checkup, but if it isn’t yet time for this visit, you may not want to make a potentially unnecessary visit to the vet if the issue is simply one of communication. There are telltale signs of either issue to help you sort it out if you notice the clues. First of all, do not assume that cats who urinate in their litter boxes aren’t also spraying outside of the box. The urination in the box has a different purpose than marking, which is for communication. However, do not assume that if there is urine in the litter box that your cat may not have a bladder issue. A cat may be trying to urinate in the litter box but may miss from time to time if there is a health issue. This is particularly common in older or arthritic cats.

When a cat is marking territory, it is usually on a vertical surface. If you have seen a cat spraying in action, he usually backs up, lifts his tail and directs the urine against a wall or the back of a chair. The urine used for this kind of spraying is often of lower quantity than urine that is for elimination and has a stronger smell. Urine marking for communication is more concentrated than regular urine. However, the contents of this spray are not just urine but contain the cat’s unique fragrance that serves as a signal to people and other cats. You may not notice the difference between the pungent odor of one cat’s spray and another, but they can make the distinction. What is like a designer cologne to your cat, however, is most likely something you do not want in your home.

There are a number of factors that make it more likely that your cat will mark territory. Obviously, an unneutered male has more of a reason to spray than a neutered male or a female, since he is advertising for a mate. However, don’t assume that your female or neutered male cat isn’t also spraying, particularly if there has been a sudden change and if the cat feels threatened. In addition, the presence of more than one cat is likely to lead to urine marking problems, since they compete for territory. The more cats you have, the more likely your house may be graced with a feline’s distinctive fragrance. Cats are sensitive to stress and dislike change. They may react by marking their territory. Don’t be surprised if your cat sprays as the result of moving to a new home, introducing a new pet or even a change in your schedule. Cats are sticklers for structure and will react if there is a disruption in the routine. One of the ways they react is by marking their territory. Cats may also leave urine messages if they are having a conflict with another cat. This can happen if the cat intrudes on its territory. This marking should not necessarily be interpreted as hostility, but it could be a way of dealing with the conflict by covering over the presence of the other cat.

There are ways to deal with cats urinating outside of the box as a way of marking their territory. One thing you can do is to make sure your cat is spayed or neutered. If your cat spends most of his time indoors, close the shades so he can’t see other cats and won’t mark if he feels threatened by them. If you have more than one cat, you should determine which one of them is doing the marking. For a colorful solution, consult your vet about obtaining Fluorescein for your cats, which causes their urine to have a blue color under ultraviolet light for 24 hours. It leaves no color on walls in ordinary light. Another solution is to confine your cats in turns to a room to see which one is marking its territory.

Even though litter boxes tend to take up space, it is important to have a litter box for each cat, especially if there is a conflict between them. Scoop out the litter daily and replace it entirely once a week. Wash out the litter box with soapy water or baking soda and disinfect it. Although cats marking territory doesn’t mean that they are missing the litter box, a cat can spray if another cat is in its personal space, and the litter box may be one area that can make your cat feel defensive. You should make sure that your cats have access to food at various places and enough toys. Having enough of these resources in separate areas can help two cats in conflict from coming into contact when they are upset. Also, make sure you pay attention to each cat in his or her space. If your cat is marking his or her territory because of stress, there are some things you can give your pet to calm them down. Using synthetic pheromones in places your cat sprays can help relieve anxiety. There are also medications for cats that can calm them. Discuss this option with a veterinarian, particularly if you are concerned that your cat may become aggressive.

While territory may be the name of the game for many cats and can be the source for many out-of-the-box urination issues, a health problem could be at the root of your cat’s tendency to miss the litter box. If your cat tended to urinate in the box and suddenly has started missing it entirely, that might be due to a urinary tract infection or a bladder problem. One symptom of these problems is frequent urination, and your cat may not be able to make it to the litter box in time. In addition, some cats may have painful urination and may avoid the litter box because of the association with discomfort. If you notice other signs that your cat is unwell and don’t believe he is simply marking his territory, take your cat to a vet and see if there is a urinary tract problem. The vet may give your cat a full urinalysis that will test blood, bacteria and urinary crystals. If certain factors are present, your cat may be diagnosed with Feline Urinary Tract Disease FLUTD. Cats may also urinate outside of the litter box because of kidney disease. If your cat receives this diagnosis, follow the veterinarian’s directives concerning treatment.

Not all health problems that cause cats to urinate outside of the litter box are directly related to urination. Senior and obese cats tend to miss the litter box. The reason is clear—once the cat is overweight, it can be difficult to move around or fit in the litter box. If your cat has gained a significant amount of weight, consider putting her on a diet and make sure the litter box is big enough to accommodate the cat’s body. Although fat cats may look cute and cuddly, it is not good for their health to allow them to remain obese. Put your cat on a diet with low-calorie cat food recommended by a veterinarian. Try to get your cat to exercise with special toys that encourage vigorous movement. Older cats may have difficulties getting to the litter box. Human beings tend to move more slowly with age, and the same is true of cats. This is often the case for cats suffering from arthritis, which is a common problem among felines. Make sure that there is a litter box readily available for your cat, particularly if he or she has trouble moving from one room to another.

One reason why your cat may be eliminating outside of the litter box may be a commentary on the condition of their box. Cats are creatures who in general like cleanliness. If your cat is not using its litter box, it is possible that he or she is waiting for you to clean it out. It takes only a few seconds or minutes to scrape clumps out of the litter box every day. Change the litter completely every week and clean and disinfect the box. Many cats are so particular about a clean litter box that they may refuse to eliminate and can become sick as a result. Out of desperation, they may decide to urinate on the sofa or leave a “present” somewhere else. If scooping out the litter box is too much of a hassle, consider an automatic litter box that does the work for you.

Another reason your cat may be rejecting the litter box in favor of less convenient places for elimination is that he or she may have a serious issue with what is provided. Cats can be nitpicky, and this is part of their charm as well as a cause for occasional annoyance. They won’t be able to tell you what they like or what they don’t like about their potty arrangements, so they may register their complaint with their behinds. It could be that your cat doesn’t like the kind of kitty litter you use. Keep in mind that what smells great to us is not necessarily a fragrance enjoyed by a cat and vice versa. Your cat may object to scented litter or may not like the texture of it. Even the depth at which the litter is arranged can be an issue for cats. If you suspect your cat is not happy with the depth of the litter, arrange your cat litter so it slopes at different depths to see which level your cat prefers. In addition, humans may like hoods on litter boxes, but cats may feel otherwise. Hoods are great for people who don’t want to see the contents of the litter box, even if it is relatively clean, but cats can feel threatened by such covers. In addition, it could make them feel more vulnerable and trapped if there is another cat that uses the box. If you would like to be spared the constant confrontation with the contents of your cat’s litter box, a hood is worth a try, but if your cat doesn’t like it, ditch it.

If your cat has made an accident on the floor, couch or wall, resist the urge to punish. After all, “make an accident” is a phrase we use, but if your cat has sprayed and is not urinating outside of the box due to illness, there is nothing accidental about his or her giving the litter box a miss. Although marking behavior is done on purpose, showing disapproval and putting your cat into “time out” won’t help. With cats marking territory, getting at the source of the problem, such as providing enough litter boxes and food bowls to accommodate all cats is a better solution than discipline with felines. Dogs can be trained and taught to obey, but with felines, it is better to deal with the problem rather than the agent.

It is important to clean up these messes right away to prevent a repeat performance. Once a cat has marked his territory, he is likely to return to the scene of the crime for repeat applications. You can identify the exact location of the urine with certain kinds of flashlights, such as ultraviolet light. Following your nose may be helpful, but it may not show the exact location. Clean up the area thoroughly with enzymatic cleaners, baking soda or specialty cleaners to eliminate pet odors. Avoid using vinegar or ammonia that have a close enough fragrance to urine that they may encourage the cat to mark on the same spot again.

Most cat owners are pleased to report that their pets take care of themselves when it comes to the potty. However, cats, particularly unneutered males, may miss the mark from time to time, and often on purpose as a way of communication. You can get to the bottom of these problems by working to identify the cause and resolving the issue. Often it is due to a conflict with another cat or anxiety caused by a sudden change. In some cases, urination out of the box may be caused by a health problem or the age or weight of the cat. If there is a health issue that is the cause of out-of-the-box urination, take your cat to a veterinarian for a checkup. If it is caused by a communication issue or a threat posed by another cat, use your feline conflict resolution skills to find a solution.

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