How to Spot and Solve Pesky Litter Box Problems

The most common reason for euthanasia in cats in the United States is behavioral issues. These issues can range from aggression and biting to elimination/litter box issues. And while there are circumstances where euthanasia is warranted for truly bad and potentially dangerous behavior, it’s also possible to head off most of these problems at the pass by getting to the root of the issue.

When a pet does something out of character like inappropriate urination or defecation, have your veterinarian first rule out medical reasons for the behavior. When it comes to cats that urinate in inappropriate places, one must determine whether it is urine marking, inappropriate urination, or whether the cat has an underlying medical condition, such as FLUTD. We understand the frustration of a kitty going outside the litter box, so we’re rounding up the most common reasons your cat might be eliminating inappropriately, and what you can do about it.


Reasons Your Cat Might Be Eliminating Outside the Litter Box & The Possible Solutions

cats going outside the litter boxIf your veterinarian has ruled out a UTI or other underlying medical condition in your cat such as kidney stones or FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease), the following could be reasons for the inappropriate feline elimination:

  • Litter Box Problem: Kitty prefers going on certain textured surfaces, such as area rugs, bedding, carpeting, or even the soil of plants in the home.
  • Possible Solution: This is a tough one, but the only thing you can do is to keep trying different types of litter. Trying different kinds of litter is one of the first things you should try, as cats are very particular about the scent and texture of their litter.


  • Litter Box Problem: The cat is in a multi-cat household.
  • Possible Solution: To help with the elimination problem, make sure each cat has at least one litter box plus there should be one extra.


  • Litter Box Problem: The litter box isn’t up to the cleanliness standards of your cat!
  • Possible Solution: Cats can finicky, so cleaning your cat’s litter box more often or more thoroughly is one of the first things you should try.


  • Litter Box Problem: Your cat’s litter box is too small.
  • Possible Solution: Again, cats are picky. You might simply need to buy a bigger litter box for your kitty. Almost all cats prefer larger litter boxes.


  • Litter Box Problem: You cat has trouble accessing the litter box.
  • Possible Solution: Keep in mind that your cat might have trouble accessing their litter box as they get older so watch to make sure that they have an easy time getting in and out. If not, you might want to get a litter box with a lower lip and consult your veterinarian about cat arthritis.


  • Litter Box Problem: The litter in the box is too deep.
  • Possible Solution: As we've said... Cats are picky. If you’re new to owning cats, you might not realize that they prefer the litter in their litter box to only be about 1-2 inches deep.


  • Litter Box Problem: This isn’t a litter box problem, per se, but unneutered cats will mark their territory by spraying urine on vertical surfaces.
  • Possible Solution: If the cat in question is not altered, it is a simple solution—neuter the cat. If the cat has just been neutered, give him a few weeks for the hormones to leave his system.


  • Litter Box Problem: Some higher maintenance cats don’t like to urinate and defecate in the same litter box.
  • Possible Solution: Try putting two litter boxes near each other. (This doesn't count toward the "one for each cat" rule. Cats tend to look at boxes that are side by side as one large litter box with weird walls.)


  • Litter Box Problem: When cats are “in the wild”, they are very careful about where they go, making sure to have an unobscured view of any potential predators. It’s possible that your cat simply doesn’t like the location of your litter box.
  • Possible Solution: Try a different spot! (Don't put the box in a high traffic or noisy area. Your cat won't like it.)


  • Litter Box Problem: The cat is irked by something about the litter box itself.
  • Possible Solution: If it has a cover, try removing that. Or try adding a liner insider before placing the litter or, conversely, if you’ve got a liner, try removing it. It’s all about experimentation at this point.


Medical Considerations For Inappropriate Feline Elimination

We've already touched a bit on underlying medical conditions that can cause this, and it's important to consider the following when you've got a kitty who's going outside the litter box. A cat that has FLUTD will urinate right in front of you for two reasons. The first is that the urge is so great, they can’t make it to the litter box. The second reason is they are trying to get your attention so you can help them.

A urinary tract infection is usually characterized by the presence of blood and white blood cells in the urine and a high pH. Male cats can obstruct when urine crystals are produced, so it is a medical emergency when a male cat is seen to strain at the litter box or is urinating in inappropriate places.


How Do I Know If It’s Urine Marking?

cats urine markingMuch like an underlying medical condition must be ruled out as the cause for inappropriate feline elimination, so must urine marking. As the ASPCA notes, "A cat who urine marks will regularly eliminate in her litter box, but will also deposit urine in other locations, usually on vertical surfaces. When marking, she’ll usually back up to a vertical object like a chair side, wall or speaker, stand with her body erect and her tail extended straight up in the air, and spray urine onto the surface. Often her tail will twitch while she’s spraying." You'll also likely see quite a bit less urine when a cat is marking versus going completely outside the litter box.


If there's one thing new cat owners learn very quickly it's that cats are not only extremely picky creatures, but they are also able to send you strong messages about their preferences. Don't ignore the signs, as you might end up assuming you have a naughty kitty when you simply have one who's trying to tell you to make a few adjustments. If you have any further questions about inappropriate feline elimination or you want to have your cat tested for an underlying medical condition, please give us a call.


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