I so often hear stories about people’s cats urinating outside their litter boxes. This happens not only in my practice, but when I travel or meet people who discover that I am a vet. There are some basic “rules” to follow when you are personally faced with this problem, and I will mention a few here. Cats have not evolved over years and years to know house rules when it comes to going potty. We are lucky that cats are generally fastidious and we take advantage of that. However, a clean litter box is a must. The cat will find a different place to go if the litter box only gets cleaned once a week. Some cats refuse to use the box after only a day or two of non-cleaning. The litter box has to be in the realm of the cats natural territory in the house. Putting the box in the farthest back corner of the basement does not promote use. Having one box for two or more cats to share is not enough. Having two boxes side by side equates to one box in the cat’s mind. The box can’t be too close to the food and water. Some cats like to urinate on one type of substrate and defecate on another. Some cats can’t fit into the box provided. Cats have great noses – the litter box should smell like a favorable place to go potty, but not like a field of flowers (scented litter is for the humans, not the cats). Cats may be returning to a formerly soiled area due to the odor that persists. Some cats develop the tendency to urinate outside their boxes as a result of a medical condition. Others have behavioral problems that have been triggered by other stressors or changes in their lives.
You are probably getting the picture now. There can be many factors at play and frequently medical problems must be ruled-out before behavioral therapy can be initiated. But no matter what the cause, the rules to follow are good ones and making a change may correct the problem. Even better, fix the situation early before a problem develops.
Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)