Why Isn’t My Cat Using Their Litterbox?

Housesoiling is one of the most common reasons cats are abandoned or surrendered to a shelter, which often leads to euthanasia. Cats don’t urinate and defecate all over their home out of spite, but rather because something is lacking. If your cat’s social, physical, or medical needs aren’t being met, housesoiling commonly is how she will indicate that something is wrong. But don’t despair if your home has become a giant litter box—many methods are available to treat, manage, and prevent inappropriate elimination.

What causes inappropriate elimination?

Your cat didn’t urinate on your new boyfriend’s sweatshirt because she’s jealous. Instead, she may be stressed that her home life has changed. Housesoiling is categorized as medical or behavioral—unfortunately, they often are closely intertwined, so differentiating between the two can be an extensive, frustrating process.

If your cat is inappropriately eliminating due to a medical condition, she may be suffering from one of the following:

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Cystitis
  • Bladder stone
  • Constipation
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer

Medical conditions are easier to resolve than behavioral issues, which may include:

  • Stress
  • Intercat aggression
  • Having an intact male or female cat in the home
  • Moved or new furniture
  • New family members or pets in your home
  • Perceived threats, such as stray or wild animals coming close to your home
  • Intact male or female cats marking their territory
  • A dirty litter box
  • Unhappiness with litter choice or type of litter box
  • Litter box location

Inappropriate elimination often has no single cause, which makes it difficult to accurately diagnose and manage.

Diagnosis of inappropriate elimination

Schedule an appointment with your AAHA-accredited veterinarian if your cat is eliminating inappropriately. Finding the root cause of housesoiling is challenging. First, all medical conditions must be ruled out before concluding that the reason is behavioral, which requires several diagnostic tests, including bloodwork, urinalysis, fecal examination, and potentially, X-rays and an ultrasound. If these tests are negative for medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, bacteria in the urine, intestinal parasites, bladder stones, or arthritis, your veterinarian will study your pet’s at-home behavioral history for environmental factors.

Stressful situations often lead cats to marking behavior, which is determined by these characteristics:

  • Spraying on vertical, upright surfaces
  • Targeting items that bring in new smells, such as suitcases, backpacks, and shoes
  • Spraying by windows and doors to indicate an outside threat
  • Spraying in hallways, doorways, or stairways to indicate an indoor stressor, such as new pets or people in the household, active children, or remodeling
  • Defecating in the litter box, but urinating outside the box
  • Urinating in the litter box only some of the time

Be aware that the diagnosis process can be lengthy and convoluted—the correct cause only can be established through trial and error.

How should I manage housesoiling?

Managing housesoiling can be as challenging as finding the cause, but don’t give up! There are many methods and a combination of treatments often is necessary. Depending on the root of the problem, you may need to try methods from each of the three categories of housesoiling management: medical, behavioral, and litter box-related.

  • Medical
    • Treat a urinary tract infection
    • Regulate diabetes or other metabolic or endocrine disorder
    • Manage kidney disease
    • Prevent arthritis pain
    • Calm bladder inflammation
    • Remove bladder stones
  • Behavioral
    • Ask about antianxiety medication
    • Investigate calming supplements
    • Use pheromones for intercat aggression or generalized anxiety
    • Block access to windows or doors if stray animals are nearby
    • Invest in environmental enrichment, such as cat towers, climbing trees, scratching posts, interactive toys, and food puzzles
    • Minimize drastic environmental changes
  • Litter box care
    • Change litter and litter box, and keep the litter box clean
    • Increase the number of litter boxes
    • Invest in a larger, shallower litter box
    • Change the litter box location
    • Retrain your cat to use the litter box
    • Clean messes thoroughly

Cats are extremely picky about litter and litter boxes. Create an attractive feline elimination station by:

  • Choosing fine, granular, sand-like clumping litter that is odor-free
  • Providing at least one litter box per household cat, plus one extra
  • Placing litter boxes in various locations and on different floors
  • Avoiding placing litter boxes in cramped corners, near noisy appliances, or in heavy-traffic areas
  • Keeping food and water dishes well away from litter boxes
  • Avoiding covered litter boxes, box liners, or strong-smelling cleaners
  • Ensuring litter boxes are large and shallow, ideally at least one-and-a-half times the length of your cat from nose to tail
  • Scooping litter daily and routinely cleaning the box with soap and water

Inappropriate elimination is one of the most common, frustrating problems to plague cat owners. Housesoiling can be an emergency if your cat has a urinary blockage or other medical condition. Contact your veterinarian at the first signs of inappropriate elimination and be patient through the diagnosis and management process to restore your bond with your beloved feline friend.

How Can My Pet Have A Stress-Free Veterinary Visit?

Content courtesy of AVMA; www.AVMA.org

Many of our beloved pets don’t go to the veterinarian for their recommended annual visit, forgoing the benefits of preventive medicine. The reason? Stress—from wrangling your cat into a carrier, from trying to keep your dog from vomiting in your new car, from sitting next to barking dogs and yowling cats in a packed waiting room, and from watching your precious pup quake or feline friend lash out in fear. It’s no wonder so many pets skip their veterinary visits.

Fortunately for our pet’s physical and mental health—and ours—there is a shift toward low-stress veterinary care. Not only does stress negatively affect pets and create psychological trauma, it also can be so severe that test results are skewed and the immune system is weakened. If your pet has experienced a lifetime of anxiety, reversing her chain of reactions during her trip to the vet can be challenging. Follow our seven steps to calm fears and turn your furry friend into a pet who loves the vet.

Practice handling your pet

Two of the biggest challenges veterinary professionals face are a pet’s feet and ears. Many pets do not approve of these body parts being manipulated, and often they strongly object to being handled by a stranger. However, even a pet adopted later in life can be conditioned to accept handling, grooming, and restraint. Begin by pairing potentially unpleasant handling with delicious, high-value treats. Train your dog to give you her paw for nail trims, or have your cat or dog focus on a whipped-cream cone while you clean her ears. Creating a positive association with the handling of these two tricky areas vastly will increase your pet’s quality of life by reducing the struggle and fear commonly associated with nail trims and ear cleanings. Checking these areas is a critical component of preventive care because routine cleanings allow a peek inside your pet’s ears to catch an infection before it becomes painfully severe, while frequent nail trims keep the blood vessel inside each nail trimmed back, avoiding painful cutting. Distraction with high-value treats or toys, praise, and petting all work well at keeping your pet occupied during potentially unpleasant tasks, but conditioning her to realize good things come from handling goes a long way to reducing fear and anxiety.

Schedule appointments according to your pet’s fears

When scheduling your anxious pet’s appointment, ask for the earliest time slot. Routine appointments can run long, emergencies are squeezed in, and sometimes you and your stressed pet end up waiting in a packed waiting room before being shown to a quiet exam room. The earliest time slot allows you to avoid the chaos of a jam-packed waiting room on a Friday evening. If this is not feasible, call the hospital when you arrive and ask the client care representative if you can wait with your pet in the car until an exam room is open. 

The carrier is a cat’s friend, not foe

Most cats only see the carrier come out when it’s time to visit the vet. This negative association ensures the carrier is seen as a harbinger of doom, leading to a major struggle to get your cat inside scratch-free. To avoid this association, leave the carrier out at all times, treating it as the deliverer of delicious snacks instead. Routinely throw a few high-value kitty treats into the carrier, leaving the door propped open. Your cat will sniff out the goodies and learn to associate good things with the box of doom. Line the carrier with a cozy blanket spritzed with Feliway spray and add a soft toy or two to make your cat feel comfortable and secure while traveling.

Drop by with your pet for “happy visits”

Does your pet only visit the vet for vaccinations or when she’s sick? If so, it’s no wonder she associates a trip to the clinic with being poked and prodded by strangers. Stop by for a few happy, treat-filled visits with no needles. Load up on your pet’s favorite snacks and let the veterinary team offer them to your pet. Stop by for massages, belly rubs, and special treats. Soon your furry friend will be excited to visit the veterinarian.

Calm your fear first, then your pet’s

Our pets are remarkably in-tune with our feelings and emotions. If you are nervous about a veterinary visit, your pet will pick up on that and also become anxious. Project a calm demeanor, speak in a soft, soothing voice—no high-pitched, squeaky baby talk—and try to avoid excessive petting. Your pet will pick up on your calming cues and relax if you do.

Come as a hungry pet, leave happy

A hungry pet will be more treat-motivated, allowing your veterinary team to provide your pet’s favorite treat as a tasty distraction. Skip breakfast the morning of your appointment and bring treats you know your pet loves to reward her for good behavior.

Ask the veterinarian for help

Some pets become so fearful when visiting the veterinarian that they need anti-anxiety medication. Many pets benefit from a mild sedative, especially for such scary situations as nail trims and ear cleanings, but others may need additional medication. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations other than medication that will reduce your pet’s anxiety, such as compression wraps, pheromone sprays, essential oils, or calming supplements.

As well as searching for Fear Free veterinary professionals, choose your pet’s veterinary team based on the highest standards of care. Use our AAHA-accredited hospital locator to find the perfect team for your beloved companion. Your pet will change from fearful to fear-free and learn to love her veterinary team.