By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
There are plenty of non-medical reasons why cats will urinate or defecate outside the litter box, such as the box being located in a busy area of the home or near food and water dishes, other animals or children bothering the cat while he tries to use the box, dislike of the cat litter type, or the box being too filthy. However, cats that begin having accidents should be taken to a veterinarian to rule out medical causes before assuming that the problem is psychological, as there are a number of illnesses that cause cats to avoid the box.
Medical conditions can cause cats to soil around the house for a number of reasons. Some health problems make urination or defecation extremely urgent, or cause pain that the cat comes to associate with using the box so that he seeks other places in the hope that it won’t hurt. Certain rarer conditions can reduce or eliminate the cat’s ability to control his body properly.
By far the most common medical cause of accidents outside the box is feline urological syndrome (FUS), which is an umbrella term that covers a broad array of conditions, including cystitis, urinary tract infection, crystals or stones in the bladder or kidney, blockage of the urethra, and others. Other problems that may cause accidents outside the box include:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Consumption of non-food items
- Declawing surgery
- Feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (kitty Alzheimer’s disease)
- Food allergies
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)/irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Kidney disease
- Neurological diseases
Certain medications (such as tranquillizers, antianxiety medications, and painkillers) may also cause accidents because these medications can lower inhibitions.
General stress can trigger urinating and defecating outside the litter box (which is why punishing cats for going outside the box is more likely to make the problem worse than stop the behaviour). Cats may become stressed by major changes such as moving house or a new roommate. Providing extra attention and play therapy during times of stress may solve the problem in such cases.
When a cat is having accidents due to a medical issue, treating the condition will usually solve the problem. If the issue is psychological, different approaches are required depending on the underlying cause. See Why Cats Soil Outside the Box for strategies to prevent accidents when the problem is stress, fear, litter box aversion, or territorial marking.
Accidents outside the box are not the same as spraying, which is a deliberate, natural scent-marking behaviour usually done by unneutered males, though unspayed females (and occasionally fixed cats) may also urine mark territory. For more on this behaviour (and how to stop it), see Cat Spraying.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Edgar, J., Reviewed by Cook, A., BVM&S. (2011). “Solving Litter Box Problems.” Pets.WebMD.com.
- Hines, R., DVM, PhD. (2011). “Litter Box Accidents: What To do When Your Cat Soils in the House.” 2ndChance.info.