My Cat is Going Outside the Litterbox – Help!

| September 1, 2023

If you notice your is going outside the litterbox, it’s important to address the issue promptly to avoid potential complications. This can be a silent cry for help from your kitty, so pay attention and listen. 

Why is My Cat Going Outside the Litterbox?

Cats can choose to do their business elsewhere for 4 main reasons: 

  • Medical: Your cat may be experiencing a health complication that is preventing them from going to the bathroom comfortably. This can include Urinary Tract Infection, Urinary Blockage, Kidney Failure, Kidney Stones, or Constipation. Book a vet appointment immediately to properly diagnose the issue and seek treatment. 
  • Marking: Both male and female cats can spray if they aren’t spayed or neutered. Make sure to spay or neuter your cat if they are marking your home. 
  • Sub-Optimal Litterbox Environment: Cats prefer to use a litterbox that is large, clean, and free of clumps. The litterbox should be 1.5x the nose to tail base of your cat in length, and nose to tail base in width. For multi-cat homes, you should have one additional litterbox for as many cats you have in your home. Litterboxes should be kept away from intimidating locations such as washing machines as the loud noise can make the experience uncomfortable. 
  • Stress: If cats are experiencing stressful changes to their environment such as a new home, new animal sibling they aren’t getting along with, boredom, or changes in their routine, this can make them stressed, preventing them from using the bathroom properly. 

It’s important to remember that multiple of these issues can occur at once. A cat may be experiencing a combination of two or more of these issues which will further increase their inability to use the litterbox. 

What Steps Should I Take If My Cat Is Going Outside the Litterbox?

  • Book an Appointment with Your Veterinarian: Provide them with every bit of context you have. It’s important to rule out medical conditions first and foremost as not only can they be treated if caught early, but they can also be life-threatening to your cat.  
  • Keep Track of How Often Your Cat is Going Outside the Box: Do you catch them once a day? Once a week? Also, keep a mental note of the location that your cat is choosing to go. Do they use one litterbox but not use another? How often are they in the litterbox? Ask yourself these questions to narrow down your options when it comes to treatment. 
  • Scoop Their Litterbox Daily: Make sure it’s kept neat and tidy. Dr. Jacklyn Ellis, Director, Behaviour at Toronto Humane Society recommends not having any accessories like hoods, liners, self-cleaning boxes, or tracking mats as many cats can find these a deterrent. While they may seem helpful to us, your cat may be straining in their litterbox simply due to a harsh perfume. 
  • Optimize Their Litterbox Environment: Review what you’ve noticed over the past couple of days and react accordingly. Make changes to their litterbox environment to set them up for success. 
  • Identify and Reduce Sources of Stress in the Household: Notice if there is a pattern to when your cat is going outside the box. Is the other cat in the house blocking access? If so, consider adding more litterboxes in different areas of your house. If the problem just started, did anything happen to cause this behaviour such as another person moving into the house, loud construction outside, or moving homes? If so, try to create a positive association between your cat and that change to modify the unwanted behaviour. All these changes are potential threats to a cat’s territory which can lead to stress and going outside the box. 

For more information on out-of-box elimination written by Dr. Ellis, click here. By following these tips and reacting accordingly, you’ll discover the root of the issue and provide your cat with a comfortable, safe, and healthy life.