Cats And Litter Box Problems

Cats and Litter Box Problems

Potty problems or urinating outside of the litter box are due to:

  • Litter box aversion, substrate preference or aversion, litter box location and location preference
  • Anxiety (spraying, toileting and is a cause of hemorrhagic cystitis)
  • Medical condition such as a urinary tract infection, hemorrhagic cystitis, uroliths (bladder stones). See your doctor for further information.

Aversion to a litter box or location:

Dirty litter box (or at least the cat thinks so):

The number one reason for inappropriate elimination is that the bathroom (litter box) is too dirty. What classifies as a dirty litter box depends on the cat and his or her preferences.Treatment involves having one litter box for each cat plus one more. The litter box should be cleaned at least once a day. The litter box should be scrubbed with soap and water once a week for non-clumping and once a month if clumping litter is used.Litter must also be deep enough and 4 inches deep is recommended.An optimal litter box should be 1.5x the length of the cat. Often with these changes a favorable response is seen even if the underlying potty problem is due to anxiety.

Most litter boxes sold in pet stores are actually too small for cats. What works great are the Rubbermaid ® or similar products storage boxes. For cats that tend to do a lot of digging in the litter box before going, the long, wide storage boxes may be the best. For cats that like to stand up when urinating, the high-sided storage boxes with one side cut out for access may work best.

Based on research, most cats prefer a finely textured scoopable clay litter (Fresh Step with carbon or Target brand seem to be the most-preferred brands).


  • Litter box must be conveniently located and away from barriers such as other household pets etc
  • There should be no line ups at litter boxes so again a litter box for each cat plus one more
  • Separated food from potty area.  Should be greater than 5 feet
  • Litter boxes should in more than one location and they should be in a private area

Negative association with the litter box:

This can happen if there was a scary or painful incident that occurred when using the litter box. For example, noises from a furnace or a dryer or pain from a urinary tract infection can create a negative aversion to using the litter box and the cat may end up finding a less “scary” spot elsewhere.

Personal preferences:

A preference for another toileting spot may develop on its own and the preference for another spot to potty can be discovered at any time. Treatment for this is to break old habits and form good new habits.

  • Make the appropriate potty place more appealing and the inappropriate potty place less appealing. Reduce the opportunity for inappropriate elimination.
  • Do a litter box cafeteria to determine what litter the cat prefers. Clumping, non clumping, deep box, shallow box scented, unscented.
  • Reward and train good litter box behavior. Reward the cat when he/she potties in the right place with toys play or food. Make the box a nice and pleasant place to be with pleasant interactions.
  • Block the off bounds area. Products such as Keep Off spray, tin foil, closing of the area or room or an air device that blows air when it is motion activated (Ssscat).
  • If all above fails confine your cat temporarily to a location where they won’t have accidents (such as a small room or bathroom).Usually want to confine them for about 1 month and then gradually open up additional house areas once your cat is re-trained to potty in the appropriate location.

Anxiety as a cause of potty problems:

Anxiety can be a cause of urine spraying.  Spraying involves a tail quiver against a vertical surface and there is no digging behavior associated with it. Spraying is often done in strategic locations to communicate with other animals to “stay away”.  Sometimes they spray if they are nervous and then spray in places where they may need re-assurance.  Often the anxiety comes from other cats inside the home or outside, but can also come from a change in the owner’s schedule or a new object in the house.  Products such as “cat away” or “garden ghost” or scarecrows can be used to deter other cats and can be purchased at local home and garden stores.

Anxiety or stress can be a cause of both inappropriate elimination from a behavior stand point, but it has also been associated with a medical disorder known as hemorrhagic cystitis. Hemorrhagic cystitis is a painful inflamed bladder and is characterized by blood in the urine.  This condition can be diagnosed by a veterinarian and is treated with pain medications, anti-anxiety medications, fluids or increasing water consumption and by reducing stress. Cats with hemorrhagic cystitis or inflammation of the bladder can also be prone to urinary tract infections.

Anxiety can be due to conflicts with cats or dogs inside the house or outside the house. Outside conflict is often manifested by your cat patrolling or pacing or staring out of windows. Anxiety can simply be due to a change in the family’s schedule, construction or loud sounds in the house, new house hold items etc.  If your cat is patrolling sometimes keep off spray or cat motion activated sprayers such as the scarecrow deter other cats. Environmental enrichment (play, teaching tricks, increasing vertical space  with cat posts and ledges) is recommended to improve your cats life and will separates it from stressors such as other pets.  Preventing the cats from looking outside the window at the offender, pheromone products (Feliway) and medications like Prozac and Buspirone can all help reduce anxiety and thus possibly fix the potty problem.

It is VERY important to get you cat in to see your veterinarian as soon as you notice elimination problems (urine &/or feces). The sooner we address the issues, the better the chances are to resolve the problem.

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