Picky About The Potty?

Inappropriate urination is one of the top reasons cats are relinquished to shelters.  Unfortunately, this also often means it is one of the top reasons people choose not to adopt these cats.  So, what are some ways we can combat it or even prevent it?


Prevention, as with all behavioral problems is always the key.  Encouraging your new cat/kitten to use the litter box by giving them a variety of options when you first get them can help. 

  • Some cats prefer enclosed litter boxes while others prefer open ones.
  • Most cats prefer clay-type litter.
  • It is also best to use unscented litter because it does not mask the smell.  Now, you’re thinking, that’s the whole point!  And that’s right, but only in our eyes…in your cats’ eyes, if they are using the box and suddenly can’t smell their urine and/or poop due to scented litter, they might go somewhere else trying to mark their territory.
  • Also, make sure you have enough litter boxes in the house.  You may want to vary the type throughout the multiple boxes to help if you have cats with different preferences.  The recommendation is to have one litter box per cat plus one.  This means if you have two cats, you should have three boxes.
  • The boxes should be all in different locations of the house.  You should also leave all of the boxes out all of the time.  Often one of the boxes goes unused so people take it away and then the cats stop using the boxes.  Options are important to cats so leave that unused box where it is!
  • We also recommend continuing to use the same type of litter throughout your cats’ life.  They often then develop a preference for what type of litter they like and changing it on them could be adverse enough that they stop using the box.  For some cats that one adverse time in the box is enough to make them hate it altogether.

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When your cat has a urine accident outside of the box there are two things to initially look for:

  • Where is the accident located?
    • It is near the box and you think they just couldn’t make it in time?
    • Or it is in a “socially significant” area in the house (i.e. window, door to outside, etc.)?
  • What position were they in when they urinated?
    • If you didn’t see your cat do it, then you can look at the pattern of urination to see which it is.  Cats will either squat and urinate (like they often do in the litter box) which will be more of a puddle on the floor as opposed to spraying to urinate which is when they lift their tails and have a stream of urine often going down a wall, doorway, etc.

Now that we have determined what type of urination they had, here are the next steps:

  • If they were squatting to urinate and this is the first time this has happened they need a trip to the vet.
    • Often either a urinary tract infection and/or crystals in the urine will cause cats to feel the urge to go frequently and therefore they have accidents.  It is important to rule out any medical causes of the accident.
    • If they have a medical problem your vet will be able to then assist you with how to best treat it.
      • Once treated the problem often resolves.
  • If they are spraying their urine, then they are often trying to mark their territory.
    • If it is in an area that has an outside wall, window, or doorway you need to do some investigative work to see who is on the other side of that wall!
      • Often we don’t even know that another neighborhood cat walks through that area or is using that area as a litter box.
      • If needed set up a camera so you can see who is walking through.  Once you know then you need to get rid of the cat, or sometimes other animals that are outside your area.  Even if you don’t see the other cat as a threat, your cat could.
    • How do we get rid of that intruder causing all the issues? If it’s another cat then using citrus peels (like oranges and lemons) spread in your garden will often deter them from using that area.  If the cat is persistent or it is another animal (raccoon, skunk, etc) then using either motion-activated sprinklers and/or spray canisters will often deter the unwanted guest.


If there’s no medical problem, there are no other animals outside in the house causing anxiety, and they are still having problems…what’s next?

  • As mentioned previously make sure you didn’t just change the litter, box location, etc.
  • If the boxes are all in the same spot in the house, make sure that no other cat is bullying that cat and not letting them use the box.
  • You also want to make sure that there are not any “social stressors” in the house for the cat.
    • That could mean they aren’t getting along well with another pet, they are feeling bullied, or just overall insecure in their environment.  Nervous/stressed cats either urinate or vomit or sometimes both in their environment.
  • We know that they don’t have a UTI or crystals, please make sure there aren’t any other health problems going on, i.e. diabetes causing an increased drinking and urine output.
  • Declawed cats have a higher incidence of not using the box.
    • The reason behind this is that often after their surgery, they go to dig/cover after they use the box and their feet hurt, so they no longer want to use the box.

      cat paws in shallow focus photography
  • Arthritis in cats can also cause issues using the box as they age.
    • Again covering after they go causes pain so they stop wanting to use the box.  Sometimes just stepping in and out of the box is too painful.
      • For these cats oftentimes switching to a box, they can walk into helps.  If they are still unsure then replacing the litter with a puppy pad that will absorb the urine so they don’t have to cover it will oftentimes help as well.  Still leave a regular box with the litter for bowel movements if possible.

What can we do to help fix the problem?

  • If they are routinely going in the same spot, try placing a box there. I realize it’s not ideal to have a box in your dining room suddenly but, this most likely won’t be a permanent change.  We just want to retrain them to use a box.  Most cats if given the option will then pick the box to go in if it’s close to their preferred spot (or even over top their preferred spot).  Then, once they are regularly using that and not going outside the box, slowly every couple of days start to move the box an about a foot towards the preferred area for the box.

A thorough evaluation by your veterinarian is always a great place to start! Be sure to catch our live discussion on Facebook on this topic!

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