Cat owners know and love their furry pal’s independence. Like people, most cats prefer a consistent home routine, and most owners can set their clock by their cat’s meows and stares that appear exactly at meal time. Cats’ litter box habits are no exception, and changes in frequency or location may be a clue that your cat has a medical or behavioral problem. House soiling is a common problem for pet owners, and more than 10% of cats will develop an elimination problem. Our Somerset Animal Hospital team describes four reasons why your cat may be peeing outside the box.  

#1: Your cat has a chronic disease

Many pet owners become frustrated when their cat urinates outside their litter box. However, this unpleasant behavior may indicate that your cat has developed a chronic illness, with middle-aged and senior cats at highest risk. If your cat is drinking and urinating more than usual, inappropriate urination in various home locations could be related to their sense of urgency and their inability to reach their litter box in time. Common chronic diseases affecting your cat’s urination frequency include:

  • Kidney disease — More than 80% of geriatric cats develop kidney disease, whose signs include weight loss, poor hair coat quality, lethargy, and dehydration, despite increased water intake. 
  • Hyperthyroidism — This condition is the most common feline hormone imbalance, and is characterized by weight loss in cats who have a voracious appetite. Additional signs include restlessness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Diabetes — Obese cats are four times more likely than cats who maintain a healthy weight to be diagnosed with diabetes. Many cats can achieve diabetic remission with weight control, specialized diets, and proper medical management. 

#2: Your cat has an age-related disease

Cats are living longer because of advances in veterinary medicine and improved home care. In fact, many cats live well past age 20. However, senior cats are more at risk for degenerative changes that may affect their ability to use the litter box properly. Cognitive dysfunction, a degenerative brain disorder similar to Alzheimer’s in people, can affect your cat’s memory and they forget to use the litter box. Other age-related signs include vocalizing at night, excessive sleeping, defecating outside the litter box, and staring into space.

Additionally, cats are skilled at masking pain, and can make their suffering from conditions such as degenerative joint disease (i.e., arthritis) difficult to recognize. Many pet owners mistake arthritis signs as simple slowing down from aging. Signs your cat may be suffering from arthritis include: 

  • Difficulty getting in or out of their litter box
  • Limping 
  • Decreased grooming
  • Reluctance to go up or down stairs
  • Increased hiding
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Reduced jumping ability 

#3: Your cat is anxious or stressed

Changes in your cat’s environmental or emotional state, including new people, pets, or routines, can be stressful, and they may urinate in various home areas to relieve their anxiety. Anxious cats are also at risk for feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which most commonly occurs in middle-aged, overweight, indoor cats who have limited outdoor access. Problems associated with FLUTD include:

  • Urinary tract infection — Bacteria, fungi, and some viruses can infect your cat’s urinary tract, causing an increased urgency to urinate, which may result in inappropriate house soiling. 
  • Urinary stones — A collection of minerals in the urinary tract may lead to urethral or bladder stones that may require a special diet to dissolve the stones, or surgical removal. Male cats with urinary stones have an increased risk for urethral obstruction, a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary care. 
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) — FIC is the most commonly diagnosed condition in FLUTD cats younger than 10 years of age. This disease is not fully understood and may affect other organ systems. 

#4: Your cat has a litter box aversion

If your cat has received a veterinary examination and any medical problems that may be causing them to urinate outside their litter box have been ruled out, a litter box aversion is a possibility. Cats are fastidious about their grooming and self-care, including their litter box preferences. However, determining the underlying reason why your cat is urinating outside their litter box can be challenging. Common causes of litter box aversion include:

  • Type of litter box (i.e., a covered box, a box without multiple entries or exits)
  • Site preference (e.g., some cats may prefer a quieter room, or a closer location)
  • A negative association following a previous medical condition
  • A desire to spray or mark their territory
  • Too much, or not enough, litter
  • Litter type
  • Lack of privacy, or uncomfortable location
  • A dirty litter box
  • Too few boxes for too many cats 
  • A litter box that is too small or cramped
  • A litter box whose sides are too high

Don’t get frustrated with your cat. Call our Somerset Animal Hospital office if you have any questions about your cat’s urinary health, or schedule an appointment if they are urinating outside of their litter box.