Cat Pees Outside The Litter Box? Here Are Some Suggestions That May Help
The biggest complaint I hear from cat owners is, “My cat has started thinking outside the box, if you know what I mean.”
If you're a cat owner, the term "thinking outside the box" has an altogether different connotation. Probably, at some point, everyone who has owned a cat has had some unpleasant experiences with the cat "thinking outside the box."
I'm referring, of course, to the heartbreak of inappropriate elimination, as it's called in polite circles. It's been a problem ever since man first invited felines into the cave and allowed them to go potty in a designated area. What on earth was man ever thinking?
Anyway, I've helped a few people address that problem over the years, so I thought I'd share this one with you. A couple said their cat was just starting to go outside the box.
After a physical exam came back normal, I asked the couple a bunch of questions.
As it turns out, they kept the litter box in the basement and when I asked about any sudden noises such as a furnace or sump pump starting up, a light bulb went on.
They lived in a condo and often, when a new neighbor's washing machine went into the spin cycle, it would "dance" around the floor making a racket that could be heard in their own basement.
Perhaps on one or more occasions, the cat was scared away from the litter box.
I suggested that, because of that experience, the cat probably considered using the litter box to be a scary thing. So they moved the litter box upstairs and the problem ended.
I relate that story to illustrate just how difficult it can be to arrive at the cause, and how cat owners often have to think outside the box (in the human context, that is) to get to the bottom of the situation.
When a cat stops using the litter box it's because of a medical or behavioral problem. In the majority of cases, it's a behavioral issue, but the first thing you need to do is rule out a medical problem, so schedule a visit with the vet.
Often, when a cat is suffering from a urinary tract infection, or has crystals in the urine, there is pain upon urination.
The experts say that the cat associates the pain with the litter box and stops using it. I wonder why they don’t associate the pain with the “corner in the dining room,” or any other alternate site they choose.
Anyway, if an exam turns up negative, then you have to find the root of the behavioral issues.
This is difficult to do. Many things we encounter during our daily life around the old homestead are taken in stride.
We don't think of them as particularly out of the ordinary. But to a cat, well, that's a horse of a different color.
In general, cats like privacy and quiet when using the litter box, so anything, no matter how innocuous, that violates those requirements could cause them to avoid the box. By the way, it’s not out of modesty that they have these requirements. It’s out of vulnerability.
When you’re not at the top of the food chain, and you’re in the middle of a nature call, that's the ideal time for a raptor (such as a hawk or eagle), coyote or some other predator to take advantage of your vulnerability. And requiring quiet means you have a better chance of detecting the approach of a predator.
Some cats also have a surface preference. While most cats prefer a grainy surface such as that which litter provides, other cats may prefer a soft surface such as a carpet or clothing, while others my go for a smooth texture such as that of linoleum, tile or cement. The litter, itself, may be a factor.
Cats with LAS (litter aversion syndrome) may reject certain textures or aromas, the litter may not be deep enough for them to dig like they need to, or it may not be clean enough. Perhaps, if he's spent much of his life outdoors, he'd like the smell and feel of some earth mixed in with the litter.
Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to zero in on the cause, so don't give up too easily. If patience is not one of your virtues, your vet can ask the right questions and make suggestions, as can a certified animal behaviorist.
THE ABC's OF INAPPROPRIATE ELIMINATION
A few thoughts you should keep in mind are: A: The cat doesn't know it's doing something wrong, B: the scent of feces and urine invites further deposits at that site, and C: they don't do it out of spite or as "payback" for anything.
A. Since they don't understand our rules, and aren't well versed on the social graces of human society, it does no good to punish the animal. It won't make the connection since peeing and pooping are also ways in which animals communicate and establish territories. To them it's a necessary and positive thing.
B. They'll often re-enforce their boundaries by keeping their scent fresh at a particular site. It behooves you to remove the scent. About the only way to actually remove the scent is to use an enzymatic product available at pet supply stores and vet clinics.
Enzymes are molecules that consume organic matter. Such stain and odor removers may take time and repeated treatments, but they work. Remember that animals can smell "echoes" of bowel and bladder deposits, and cleansers just don't seem to be able to completely remove molecules of scent.
C. There are no valid, universally accepted studies to support the notion that inappropriate elimination is done out of spite. The debate goes on as to whether animals, other than primates, are capable of such complex thought processes.
If inappropriate elimination is a problem at your house, talk to your vet about it. The good doctor knows what questions to ask and how to best approach a solution.