Feline Inappropriate Elimination–Thinking Outside The Litter Box

Inappropriate elimination, or urinating outside of the litter box, is one of the most common problems noted by indoor cat owners. Currently, it is a dominant reason for owners to surrender their cats at a shelter.

While it is a frustrating issue, inappropriate urination can stem from a number of underlying causes, including behavioral or medical problems.

Dr. Carly Patterson, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, recommends that owners consult their veterinarian first to discuss the possibility of a medical issue.

“Medical problems may predispose a cat to change urination habits, whether it is due to underlying pain or the increased volume of urine produced,” Patterson said. “Disorders of the lower urinary tract or other medical conditions that increase a cat’s overall urine volume must be ruled out before proceeding with behavioral issues.”

One of the most common behavioral issues associated with inappropriate urination is marking, which occurs when intact cats mark their territory as a part of their normal habits. According to Patterson, deciphering between marking and normal urination behavior  with simple observation will differentiate the two behaviors.

“Marking behavior is characterized by a cat in a standing posture with the tail raised. Usually, the cat will spray back against an object and the tail may flicker slightly as a small amount of urine is sprayed,” she said. “In contrast, cats observing normal elimination habits will typically dig before fully emptying their bladder or bowels in a squatting position, and most cats will cover their eliminations using the litter in the box.”

If marking is not an issue, owners should note any environmental changes, including those in the family dynamic or the presence of new animals in the household. Cats with behavioral issues may feel anxiety within their environment, and because of this, cats may develop an aversion to the litter box itself.

Patterson advises that owners keep a complete and detailed history of the cat’s elimination habits, which will be paramount in determining whether a behavioral issue is at play.

“Owners should record details such as the frequency and duration of the issue, environmental or household changes, types of elimination postures, location of the inappropriate elimination, and litter box hygiene habits,” she said.

Although it may seem like an annoyance at the time, if inappropriate urination becomes a problem, owners should consult with their veterinarian, who can work with the owner to develop a tailored treatment plan, as well as share some of the new discoveries and promising options available, for your beloved furry friend.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.