Whether your cat regularly urinates or defecates outside the litter box, or it only happens once in a blue moon, your feline friend may be trying to tell you something about his or her health, stress level, or personal preferences. While this is a very common issue that many cat owners experience, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially when your cat decides that your favorite rug or your freshly washed sheets are his or her preferred elimination location.
Ruling out a medical reason for urinating or defecating outside the box is the best way to initially approach this issue, and making an appointment with your veterinarian is a great start. Your veterinarian will likely recommend performing bloodwork, a urinalysis, and potentially a urine culture to help rule out problems like a urinary tract infection. Cats with mobility issues may have trouble getting in and out of a covered box, or a box with high sides. Cats can even develop stones in the urinary tract, which can lead to partial or complete obstruction to elimination. If your cat is unable to urinate or is urinating very small amounts, this is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. Finally, your veterinarian will be able to help determine if the inappropriate elimination is likely to be due to a behavioral issue.
So how should you go about making your cat’s litter boxes as “user-friendly” as possible? First, consider the number of boxes present, as well as their locations. A good general rule is that the number of litter boxes available should be the number of cats plus one extra box – if you have two cats, we recommend having three litter boxes. This can help prevent competition between cats for a particular box. If you have a very large house or multiple stories, consider having even more boxes present, so that your cat is never far away from a litter box. Litter boxes should be placed in quiet, low-traffic areas away from potential disturbances, such as dogs, children, or loud noises.
Cats usually develop a preference as to litter type, and most cats prefer clumping, unscented litter. Many cats prefer the type of litter they had as a kitten. Cats will often not use a litter box that has not been cleaned to their liking, so we recommend scooping the box at least once daily, and cleaning out the entire box with soap and water weekly. For many cats, the bigger the box, the better! Using litter box liners or covered/enclosed litter boxes may also discourage cats from using the box.
Finally, cats dislike change, and may decide to stop using the litter box if the type of litter, box location, or box type changes. If your cat is doing well with the current litter box setup, avoid making any changes unless absolutely necessary. Major environmental changes such as moving house or introducing a new pet, can also make a cat suddenly start urinating or defecating outside the box.