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Why is my cat urinating out of the litter box?

Urinating out of the litter box falls into two categories; medical causes and behavioral causes. To differentiate between the two you should make an appointment to bring in your cat to collect a urine sample or pick up a urine collection kit from the clinic.

If the problem is medical you will likely be put on medication (antibiotics for infections or glucosamine for inflammatory cystitis) or have surgery or special diets if there are bladder stones present. Sometimes it is necessary to do x-rays or ultrasounds to determine the presence of stones, masses, strictures or anatomical abnormalities.

If the problem is behavioral we look at environmental factors that may be contributing to the problem. It is important to remember that cats are not housebroken and use the litter box only because it is their preferred place to urinate. If they are not using the box then something about the box has become undesirable. This could include but is not limited to:

  1. Location of the box, It should be in a quiet area (not the furnace or laundry), private (out of the main traffic) and preferably in a corner. It is best to be on the same level of the home that the cat spends most of its time (especially true for young and old cats).
  2. Size of box. It should usually be no more than 1 1/2 the length of the cat.
  3. Depth of litter. Usually litter should be no more than 1 ” deep
  4. Frequency of scooping and changing litter. We recommend daily scooping and weekly changing of the litter.
  5. Type of box. Most cats do best in uncovered boxes (covering locks in odor that over time deters the cat from using it). Be careful of the height of the sides especially in older potentially arthritic cats. If the box is more than two years old it may have absorbed enough urine to be objectionable to your cat (try a new box).
  6. Type of litter. We recommend an unscented scoopable litter but every cat is different. Some prefer clay, crystals, recycled newspaper, wood or play sand. It is best to do preference testing with side by side equivalent boxes using different litter in each one.
  7. Number of boxes. Experts recommend one more box than the number of cats you have.

It can help to treat soiled areas with enzymatic products to break down the urine such as natures miracle or antiickypoo. Sometimes a citrus scented spray may deter the cat from the area or placing a plastic carpet runner with the spikes up. If practical, placing a small amount of food in the soiled area will discourage urination as cats do not generally like to urinate where they eat. If all else fails we will sometimes use medications such as antianxiety drugs or antidepressants to help correct inappropriate urination.