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Why Do Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box?

cat in litter box

Written by Dr. Sam Parker, DVM

Cats peeing outside the litter box is a common issue that could be behavioral or medical. Read on, dear cat parent, and heed the Laws of the Litter Box… Well, the laws if your cat could write them! Dr. Parker, a vet with Hello Ralphie, reveals possible reasons why your cat may be peeing outside the litter box.

Why is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

view of cat head from above
There are several medical reasons why your cat may urinate outside the litter box. When in doubt, veterinarians will run a urinalysis or urine culture to determine if it could be one of these common issues: infection, inflammation, crystals or abnormal cells. Read “How Often do you Take your Cat to the Vet” here.

Cat UTI Symptoms

A Urinary Tract Infection, or UTI, in cats can present with frequent urination that is uncomfortable and it can be bloody or have a bad odor. Female cats are more predisposed to UTI’s since they have a shorter urethra, which means that bacteria have a shorter distance to travel.

Cats can get urinary tract infections many different ways, fecal bacteria migrating to the urethra during grooming or urine retention allowing bacteria to take up residence instead of being flushed out of the urethra during urination.

Cats may become more predisposed to UTI’s if they have a condition like diabetes where sugar in the urine attracts and feeds bacteria.

Inflammation in Cats (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease)

Cats can get a painful condition called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or Idiopathic Cystitis. This means the bladder is inflamed and painful. These cats often present like a cat with a UTI. Often the urine can be bloody or clear but most importantly this issue is painful for the cat.

kitten looking at camera

These cases do not need antibiotics unless there is a secondary infection. Cats with this disease benefit from anti-inflammatories and pain medications. Often, they are also given muscle relaxing agents or anti-anxiety medications.

There is some evidence that stress plays a role in this disease. I often recommend using Feliway, a feline calming pheromone spray. Feliway is dispersed via a plug-in diffuser, often plugged in an outlet nearby a cat’s litter box. 

Crystals in Cat Urine

Crystals in cat urine can be a sign of crystals or stones. These crystals (the precursor to stones) can get caught in the urethra, particularly in male cats, and cause a serious obstruction where the bladder is filling but cannot release. If your cat has crystals blocking the bladder, this is an emergency. Cats who present with crystals in their urine are often placed on a prescription diet to help dissolve the crystals and prevent further formation of them. If the prescription diet cannot dissolve the stones, they may need to be removed surgically.

If your cat is straining to urinate, is unable to urinate or is vocalizing from pain while urinating, it is important to get them to a veterinarian immediately. A urethral obstruction from a stone or crystals can quickly become a life-threatening situation.

Abnormal Cells

Abnormal cells in the urine could be transitional cells. Transitional cells are what line the bladder. A cluster of these cells often means a mass is forming, which could be a tumor. A veterinarian needs to take a closer look at the bladder for signs of a tumor or mass.

Laws of the Litter Box: Common Litterbox Issues and How to Fix Them

If your cat isn’t experiencing a medical-related litter box issue, it may be behavioral. Here are a few tips to keep your kitty happy and comfortable to encourage consistent litter box use. Read “How Often Should you Change Cat Litter” here.  

  • 1 litter box per cat, plus 1 more! Why so many litter boxes? Believe it or not litter box aggression is a real thing. Cats may “claim” one or two litter boxes as their own and drive another cat off, even while that cat is trying to urinate. 
  • Clean all litter boxes daily. I am a fan of the Litter Genie type of disposal methods to collect the litter easily then empty later. 
  • Cats prefer large, shallow-sided litter boxes. They like to have plenty of room to turn around and choose a spot to urinate. Also, shallow sides are easier for older, arthritic cats to enter and exit without discomfort.
  • Use litter boxes without lids in easy-to-find places, not hidden away.
  • Use dust-free litter to prevent respiratory issues from inhaling dusty litter while tossing and digging.
  • If you have a cat who may be missing the litter box, you can redirect his focus with a litter attractant. This also works for older cats, blind cats, or young kittens to help them sense their way to a litter box. I like the “Cat Attract” product by Dr. Elsey’s.
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  1. […] If you have more questions about litter box maintenance, or you are encountering litter box-related issues, read through our useful guide, which explains Why Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box. […]

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