Behavioural Solutions

Litter Box Issues

Promoting litter box use:

  • Have the litter box in a quiet, open area.
  • Have one litter box per cat, plus one.
  • Place litter boxes in different areas in the house.  Five litter boxes in the basement are most likely seen as one large litter box by the cats in the household.
  • Use unscented litter.
  • Open litter trays are often preferred over litter boxes with lids.
  • Scoop the litter twice per day.
  • Place litter and wash litter tray once per week (use hot water with either baking soda, vinegar or a small amount of a mild dish soap. Rinse really well).
  • Litter box liners - some cats don't like the feel of plastic litter box liners as they make it more difficult for them to dig in the litter.
  • Keep litter boxes away from food and water bowls.

Urinating outside the litter box

Possible health issue

If your cat, who normally uses the litter box on a regular basis, suddenly starts to urinate outside the litter box, it is advisable to have him seen by a vet to rule out any health concerns such as a urinary tract infection.

Other possible causes

Other reasons your cat may suddenly decide to urinate outside their litter box are as follows:

  • Spay/neuter – having your cat spayed or neutered can often prevent or correct inappropriate elimination.
  • Stress  - cats are animals that thrive on routine and changes within the household can cause them a lot of stress. These changes can be anything from a new pet, visitor staying, family member moving away or even picking up on the stress you are experiencing. Adding a plug in pheromone diffuser to the room he spends a lot of time in or using a pheromone spray may help him to relax and go back to using the litter box.
  • Multi cat household -  make sure that there are plenty of the vital resources available for each cat.  This may mean having one litter box per cat, plus one extra, and in different locations. Five litter boxes all lined up in the basement with only one way to access them actually means you only have one very large litter box.  The dominant cat can easily block the way to the litter box causing any other cat to feel the need to  relieve himself somewhere else in the house.  Even if you don't see that the cat is blocking the entrance, his 'look' from five feet away can be enough of a deterrent.   Lack of other resources that can cause disharmony in the household can be food, water and high places.  Ensure that there are several bowls of food and water around the house with different ways to access them.  Also, having more places for the cats to perch up high than the number of cats can promote harmony. If there is peace amongst a group of cats you will often find that they each use different high places at different times of the day.  A happy cat is more likely to use the litter box appropriately.
  • Dogs and small children –  as with a multi cat household, a dog, small child or just lots of household activity may make your cat feel that they can't access the litter box safely.  Having a number of boxes in different areas of the house can ensure that there is access to one at all times.
  • Maturity -  if you find that your once peaceful group of cats have, after a year or two, all of a sudden started to hiss and fight, this may be because one or more of them has reached the age of 2 – 4 years.  At this age, cats mature and may become 'territorial' if there aren't enough resources.  They may have been happy to share one litter and/or food bowl up until now, but if you notice a change, add more resources and you may find that harmony once again prevails, including appropriate litter box use.
  • Middening – defecating outside the litter box.  Check with a vet regarding possible health issues.  Middening can also be a way of marking their territory, so ensure that there are enough resources within the household.  (Also see Stray cats below).
  • Stray cats  – if your cat becomes aware of a cat that is on your property, he may mark his territory inside the house.  If you suspect the outside cat is lost, please see our section on Lost and Found.  If he is a neighbours cat that is indoors/outdoors, perhaps you could ask the neighbour to keep the cat indoors and off your property.  There are also ways to deter cats from coming onto your property such as sprinklers or lights activated by motion detectors.  There are also plants and shrubs that are known to repel cats that can be added to your landscape.  In addition, placing mulch or pine cones in areas that they are using can be a deterrent as their paws are very sensitive.  Remove or cover a sandbox (if you have one) as cats may find this makes a good litter box. This is also a health concern for children using the sand box.
  • Boredom - ensure your cat has plenty of toys and has the opportunity to play and interact with you each day.  A bored cat can also display inappropriate elimination behaviour.

If the above solutions are unsuccessful, please contact a cat behaviourist.