The Scoop on Litter Box Problems in Cats

Urinating out of the box is one of the most common reasons that cats are left at the shelter or even euthanized. To keep our cats in a happy home, it is important to remember to first decide if the problem is medical or behavioral. Since we can’t sit down and have a discussion with our cats about what is bothering them, medical problems need to be ruled out first with the help of your veterinarian. The items below are essential to help rule out a medical reason for the problem:

  • A thorough history taken by your veterinary medical staff. This will help us determine if the behavior is inappropriate elimination vs. marking behavior.
  • A physical exam performed by your veterinarian. The doctor will look for signs of disease, including signs of discomfort that may be leading to the problem.
  • Bloodwork to rule out internal problems such as kidney disease or diabetes.
  • A urinalysis to look for blood, crystals, inflammatory cells, or bacteria in the urinary tract.

If the findings are all normal, only then can it be determined that the problem is behavioral. Remember, serious disease can show up after a stressful event in your cat’s life. So although you may feel that your cat is getting back at you for going away on vacation, the stress of you leaving may have been what caused her kidney disease to rear it’s ugly head.

After you and your veterinarian have determined that the problem is behavioral, try to think of the problem from the cat’s point of view. Two key factors often play a role: litter box aversion and stress.

Litter Box Aversion

If your cat does not “like” his litter box, two things to carefully consider are litter box location and maintenance. Some cats need privacy, while others want the ability for a quick escape. Some cats require that the box be spotless in order for them to use it. The following tips may help avoid litter box aversion:

  • Scoop the litter box at least once daily. In addition, thoroughly clean the box by emptying the litter and washing in hot water and gentle soap at least once weekly.
  • If the box is over 1 year old, replace with a new box.
  • Experiment with different type of litters. The most commonly preferred litter by cats is the clumpable, nonscented type.
  • Place the box in a quiet location of the house away from household appliances and food/water bowls.
  • Place a litter box on each floor of the house.
  • Provide the proper number of boxes on EACH floor of the house. (# of boxes/floor = # of cats + 1)
  • Is the box covered or placed in a closet? If so buy a large, noncovered box and/or place it in an open area to allow the cat a “quick escape.” If not, try a covered litter box to allow more privacy.


Consider factors in your home that may be stressful for your cat. Remember, look at the problem from the cat’s perspective. Stressful factors to consider include:

  • The addition or loss of a pet or family member in the household
  • Change in the stress level in the household (new job, illness, etc)
  • Visitation by another cat or by a person who may have another cat’s odors on their clothes
  • Intercat aggression between cats in the household
  • Changes to the cat’s environment (new furniture, rearrangement of furniture, moving to a new home)

If you feel that stress may be playing a role in your cat’s problem, it is important to speak with your veterinarian to discuss ways to eliminate the stressor or medications may be necessary to help your cat cope appropriately with the stress.

Dealing with a cat that is urinating out of the box can be frustrating, but all is not lost. Call us to discuss your cat’s urinating issues. Our doctor and staff are willing to help in any way that we can to help keep your feline friend an integral part of your family.