Health Topics

Inappropriate Urination (Behavioral)

IMPORTANT NOTE: We always recommend a medical workup for urinary issues prior to assuming the problem is behavioral. Cats can have numerous medical problems that lead to urinating out of the box and these need to be ruled out first.

Identify and reduce potential stressors.

  • Are there any new animals in the house or critters roaming outside creating territorial issues?
  • Have you moved recently, added to the family, or had any major household changes?
  • Has your daily routine changed significantly?
  • Are other animals in the house bullying your cat? For example, not allowing access to the litter box, food, water, toys, etc.

Things cats TYPICALLY LIKE about their litter box:

  • Multiple boxes to choose from. 
    We recommend the number of litter boxes be at least the number of cats +1. For example, if you have 3 cats, you should have at least 4 boxes.
  • Litter boxes in different locations. 
    Cats view litter boxes placed in one location together as just one box. They prefer their boxes to be in separate rooms or levels of the house for easier access.
  • Bigger litter boxes.
    Try an under the bed storage container as a litter box instead of the ones meant to be litter boxes. Studies show feral cats can sometimes use up to 20-square-feet of dirt to find the best place to bury their eliminations.
  • Litter that is not dusty and easy on the feet. 
    Try to find litter that has virtually no dust. Sometimes a softer litter helps if your cat prefers soft substrates to eliminate on. You might try litter made from crystals or pine.
  • Clean litter. 
    Make sure you are scooping the box daily and dumping all the litter and completely cleaning the box with soap and water at least weekly.

Things cat DO NOT TYPICALLY LIKE about their litter box:

  • Litter box liners. 
    These plastic liners make it easy to clean the box, but cats do not like the sound or feel of them.
  • Covers or tops to litter boxes. 
    Cats prefer a box with an open top. This allows better light and ventilation.
  • Litter boxes in noisy areas. 
    Try to find quiet locations in low traffic areas.
  • Litter boxes that are hard to get to or hard to get into. 
    Is your cat a senior? Does your cat have arthritis? Consider the ease of your cat getting to the box. Older cats may not want to climb a set of stairs to get to their box. Also consider how easy it is for them to climb into the box. Boxes with high sides are harder for older cats. Consider cutting at least one side of the box down so it is lower.
  • Electronic or robotic boxes. 
    A lot of cats are scared by the noise or movement these boxes can make.

A few other suggestions:

Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract Litter additive can help draw cats to the box. You can find this at most pet stores and mix it in with any litter.

Try “happy cat” pheromones such as the Feliway products. These pheromones are supposed to mimic those that the cat produces when he or she is calm and happy. These come in diffusers that you can plug in or spray forms that you can spray on beds and cat trees.

Make sure to clean all areas your cat has urinated on with an enzymatic cleaner meant for cat urine. You can find these at most pet stores. Be sure to follow the directions on the bottle as some products are best applied and then left to dry without adding water or using a carpet cleaner. To find areas your cat has urinated, try using a hand held black light with the lights off. The urine will glow under a black light.

If the problem is really bad or persists despite trying many of these ideas, consider isolating the cat to a small room without carpeting or rugs to help re-train the cat to the box. Give the cat a clean box, food and water in the room. The idea is that if he or she only has one option of where to go, they will use the box and remember where they are supposed to urinate and defecate.  They generally have to be isolated like this for 5-7 days.

Sometimes if your cat is very stressed or anxious, medication can also be tried to help reduce anxiety.

Please remember behavioral urination issues can be very hard to manage and control. It is one of the hardest problems we try to solve for pet owners. If you ever have questions or need some advice on what to do next, please give us call, we are happy to help!