Feline House-Soiling

One of the traits that make cats such wonderful house pets is that they are clean and can reliably use litter boxes within the home. When there is a breakdown in this fastidious behaviour and elimination of urine or feces occurs outside of the litter box, the bond between you and your cat can naturally become strained.

Why is my cat going outside of the litter box?

Medical causes such as urinary tract issues often cause a cat to urinate outside the litter box. For example, a cat that experiences pain during urination may associate the litter box with the experience and develop an aversion to using the box. Some medical causes include urinary tract infections, urinary crystals or stones, or idiopathic cystitis. Another example is arthritis, which may prevent a cat from easily getting in and out of their litter box. Bringing the cat to the veterinarian for a thorough physical examination and diagnostic tests is essential to help to identify any underlying medical causes, if present.

Marking or urine spraying is a natural part of feline behaviour in which a cat marks to leave its scent as a form of communication. It is more common in unneutered males and unspayed females, and can also be associated with anxiety in response to a change in the cat’s environment, or the presence of perceived threats, such as stray cats outside the home.

Environmental or social factors are also common. Since going to the bathroom is a very vulnerable and private activity, it is important to consider your cat’s perceived safety when determining the best location for a litter box. In general, cats need to be able to reach their litter boxes without having to encounter other cats. In multi-cat households, overcrowding or the presence of a cat that monopolizes litter box resources may cause less confident cats to seek out other places for elimination. Some cats may avoid using a litter box that is placed in high traffic areas (such as near the door or cat flaps), or in noisy areas (such as next to a washing machine).

An aversion to the litter box can also be associated with adverse experiences. For example, using the litter box as a site for administering medications, or trapping a cat in the litter box for any reason should be avoided. Cats may also choose to avoid their litter box if it is dirty, or if their specific litter preferences are not met, such as litter type or the use of scented litter which is, in general, offensive to cats.

General tips:

While it is important to pinpoint the cause of house-soiling in order to identify specific solutions, here are some litter box rules to start with, regardless of the cause:

  1. Provide n + 1 number of litter boxes, where n is the number of cats. This is especially important in multi-cat households.
  2. Litter boxes should be placed in separate areas of the house, and away from food or water. Placing two litter boxes side by side just appears as one large box to the cat and doesn’t help the cat if another decides to guard that resource.
  3. The litter box should be at least 1.5 times the size of the cat from the nose to base of tail, but the bigger the better.
  4. Litter type: cats often find scented litter offensive, and may choose to avoid the box as a result. Cats may vary in their preferences for litter type and depth, but in general, cats prefer fine, non-scented material at least 3 cm deep.
  5. Cats are naturally clean creatures, and will often avoid using litter boxes that are soiled. Waste should be removed at least once a day and replaced with clean litter. The litter box should be washed every 1 to 4 weeks with soap and hot water. Strong chemicals and ammonia-based products should be avoided as these smells are offensive to cats.