You love your cat, but you don’t love cat pee odor. A feline friend who decides to ditch the litter box causes a frustrating—and smelly—problem. However, your cat could be communicating something important, and as a pet owner, your job is to interpret your feline friend’s message. Our Central Houston Animal Hospital team shares five reasons why your cat may be urinating outside the litter box. 

#1: Your cat may have an underlying medical condition

If your cat begins urinating outside the litter box, schedule a veterinary appointment. This behavior isn’t normal, and your cat may be feeling uncomfortable, signaling that something is wrong with their health. Medical issues that can cause your cat to pee outside their litter box include:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI) — Bacteria in the urine can affect a cat’s bladder and  kidneys, leading to inflammation. In addition to urinating outside the litter box, other  UTI signs include straining to urinate, urinating small amounts frequently, and having bloody urine. 
  • Crystalluria (i.e., urinary crystals ) — Crystalluria is a medical condition where crystals form in the urine because of abnormal pH. Cats with urinary crystals often appear normal or may have only slight bladder irritation that results in subtle habit changes, such as urinating outside the litter box.
  • Cystic calculi (i.e., bladder stones) —  Bladder stones are rock-like mineral formations that develop in the bladder, inflaming the bladder wall.  A cat with bladder stones may need to urinate more frequently, and in severe cases, the stones can also block the urinary tract, which is a medical emergency. 
  • Hyperthyroidism (i.e., hyperactive thyroid gland) — Middle-aged and older cats often develop an overactive thyroid, causing them to lose weight and muscle mass, vomit chronically, and vocalize more. In addition, cats who have hyperthyroidism drink a lot of water and urinate more frequently.
  • Arthritis — Osteoarthritis is a condition that inflames and degenerates one or more joints. Joint pain may affect a cat’s mobility, causing them to avoid their box, especially if they have to climb or jump to get in or out, or if they have to use stairs to access the litter box. 
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) — CKD occurs when chronic deterioration interferes with the kidneys’ ability to perform their normal functions. CKD is most common in middle-aged and senior cats, and may increase thirst and urination, decrease appetite, and may cause vomiting and weight loss.
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) — FIC is one of inappropriate urination’s most common causes. FIC can develop without any obvious underlying cause, and more than one unidentified, underlying condition that leads to FIC is possible. Cats with FIC show signs that indicate an issue with their lower urinary tract system. 

#2: Your cat’s litter box may need cleaning

Cats are particular about many things–including their toilet. If you have been slacking on keeping the litter box clean, your cat may find somewhere else to go until you tidy up. To ensure the box meets your cat’s hygiene standards, scoop the litter box at least once per day, and thoroughly clean and change the litter once per week. 

#3: Your cat may not like their litter box’s placement

Litter box placement is important to your cat. If you’ve recently moved the litter box, and your cat refuses to use it, their abnormal behavior may be because of the box’s new location. Ensure the litter box is in an easily accessible, low-traffic area, away from noisy appliances such as the washing machine and dryer. If your home has multiple levels, place a box on each level, so your cat has easy access.

#4: Your cat’s litter box may be the wrong size

Your cat’s litter box should be large enough for them to move around easily. A good rule of thumb is that the litter box should be as long as your cat from their nose to the tip of their outstretched tail, and as wide as your cat from their nose to their tail base.

#5: You may need more litter boxes for multiple cats

Cats don’t like to share bathroom facilities, and multicat households need multiple litter boxes.  Ensure you provide one litter box for every cat in your home, plus one extra. Multicat households typically have more inappropriate elimination issues than single-cat households. 

A cat who urinates outside their litter box is trying to tell you something important. If your cat is avoiding their litter box, consider our tips to help your feline friend get back on track. If your cat’s litter box avoidance continues, they may be ill. Contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team to rule out an underlying health condition.