Kitty, Please Use the Litterbox!

Litterbox problems are among the most frustrating for cat owners. Learn how to solve current soiling situations and prevent future ones.

By Marty Becker, DVM, and Janice Willard, DVM | Posted: Wed May 5 00:00:00 PDT 2004

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Location is important in distinguishing between marking and toileting. Marking is done near windows, doors, and areas where encounters with other cats occur," Bergman said. "By contrast, with toileting issues, the deposits are usually in a more hidden location, such as behind the sofa or at the end of a dark, quiet hallway. Also, look for inciting factors. For example, marking may occur right after encounters with other indoor cats, after seeing cats outside, or may be more common at certain times of day, such as dawn and dusk.

Many medical conditions can first show up as a change in elimination patterns. Therefore, if a cat is not using its litterbox, particularly if this is a change from previously good habits, have its health checked by a veterinarian.
For example, an older cat may have difficulty getting to the litterbox because of painful osteoarthritis. In fact, a change in litterbox habits may be the first sign of this painful condition seen by the owner.

Diabetes and other metabolic conditions also need to be considered. Very high on this list is bladder disease, known as Feline Urinary Syndrome (FUS) or Feline Interstitial Cystitis (FIC). Cats with FIC, which accounts for approximately 1.5 percent of cats seen by veterinarians, have frequent urination, pain and blood in the urine, and they urinate in places other than the litterbox. Stress seems to trigger FIC episodes, and cats with FIC seem to be more susceptible to stressful circumstances.

The Litterbox
Other reasons a cat may fail to use its litterbox have to do with the litterbox itself. The litterbox might be too small, not stocked with a litter your cat likes, or not clean enough. It might also be in a bad location, such as a busy hallway, hidden behind a rumbling clothes drier, next to the cat's food (who wants to urinate next to their food?), too far away, in a difficult place to reach, or past a scary dog.

"And let's not forget about the dark," said Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, director of the Animal Behavior Service of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Service in Athens, Ga. "I have seen cats who used their litterbox in the day, but eliminated in other places at night. With one of these cats, it turned out the litterbox was in a closet in the basement and the cat had to negotiate stairs and make it clear through the basement in pitch dark to get to the litterbox. Yes, cats can see well in dim light, but they can't see in total darkness. Adding a night-light solved that problem."

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Reader Comments

Cheri    Marietta, GA

8/23/2012 10:44:32 PM

Good one - but I think it just touches the top of the problem. My cats pee in hte litterbox always. But one, or both, also poop on the carpet - in my room in front of the bathroom's closed door, at the end of the hallway, in the middle of my bedroom, in the middle of the carpet in the office. I love these cats but you name it, I've tried it - I can't stop the problem. aaaugh.

shannon    toledo, OH

5/27/2011 4:24:19 PM

We have 2 male cats. One of them urinates on the carpet from timt to time. The litter box is cleaned daily (both) and is in a good location we think. They are both in the laundry room, but not next to each other and in the open. He usually urinates in the basement which is carpeted and just a few feet from the litterboxes. He is nuterd but we think we have saw him mark before, but it is usually puddles. He driinks more water then any cat I have ever seen. We have tried putting aluminum foil down in the areas he likes to go, and putting him in the room with the litterboxes for a week at a time (much attention still given) to reprogram his brain. We have even tried the plug in air fresheners that give off cat farimones to calm him down. Nothing seems to work for very long. We desperately need your advise.

Dianna    Toronto, ON

3/24/2010 10:57:17 AM

One of my four cats will urinate in all of four litter boxes I have, but poops outside them. She will poop right in front of the litter box (whichever one), but won't poop inside. They are all covered extra large boxes and are well-kept. My other three cats eliminate normally. She is the second oldest (five) and has no health issues. All my cats eat Hill's Science Diet Indoor mixed with their Oral Care kibble and also their wet food. I'm taking this problem as a mental issue and don't know how to resolve it.

LJ    Cambridge, ON

8/30/2009 3:28:52 PM

You discuss marking due to territorial issues, but how about some ideas for solving these problems?

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