How Do You Deal With a Cat Urinating Outside of The Litterbox?

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Inappropriate urination is a VERY common problem in cats. It can be caused by litterbox issues (such as the wrong litter or dirty litter), behavioral problems (e.g.territorial marking) or medical problems including kidney stones, infections, and urethral obstructions as well as a condition called feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). FIC by definition means “an inflammation of unknown origin in the urinary bladders of cats.”

Dealing with inappropriate urination can be so frustrating. Not only is it unpleasant to clean, but the resulting smell and property destruction can be embarrassing. Keep in mind, though, that your cat almost certainly isn't doing this on purpose; this behavior is almost always a sign that something is wrong. What can you do if your cat is urinating outside of the litterbox?

Here is common advice I give on the subject as a veterinarian.

  1. Don't assume it is behavioral.
  2. Get your vet's help (don't rely on the Internet!) to figure out the underlying cause. Allow your vet to perform some basic tests to determine if kidney or bladder stones or an infection is present. If an underlying condition is found, it should be treated. If none is found, it's time to look at your litter box situation.
  3. Take a good long look at your cat's litter box. Is it really ideal? If you were a cat, would you use it? There are a LOT of things that cat owners do wrong in their litter box care, location, and choice of litter that make it an unappealing place for cats. To learn more, read our very good and important article on the 8 most common reasons cats won't use the litter box. In short, make sure that you have enough litter boxes, that you are scooping often enough and using a litter attractive to cats, and that the location is good.
  4. Minimize stress. A worrisome environment can cause cats to develop behavioral or medical problems that cause them to go outside of the litter box. Try to minimize anything that causes them stress. For example, if they hate company, try giving them a quiet room to themselves where they can be happy for a few hours while visitors are there. If your dog drives them up the wall, make sure they have a refuge to escape from the canine intrusion. Dealing with conflict between the cats that share your home? Here is a good article on reducing multi-cat stress.
  5. Clean the soiled areas completely. This goes way beyond simply blotting up the urine. Use cleaning products that break down the urine molecules, not just cover them up. Enzyme cleaners or sprays such as Zero Odor are great options. If your cat has soiled a carpet, you may need to clean the carpet padding as well as the fabric itself. 

    If it is found that your cat does have FIC, don't get discouraged. Some cats with FIC will battle this disease their entire lives, true, but you can make some small changes that can greatly improve your cat's comfort and health:

  • Switch their diet; this often involves a change in diet from a dry food to a canned food.
  • Minimize stress in the home; focus on keeping the routine calm and regular for your cat's benefit.
  • Make sure your cat's environment is stimulating; ensure you have plenty of scratching posts, beds, interesting windows to look out of, bird feeders, toys, and other ways to keep them entertained. Get some tips here on how to create a happy indoor cat home.
  • Encourage playing; set aside at least 10 minutes a day to have some fun with your kitty.


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