Is your cat bitter about their litter? 

Cat owners are often frustrated and perplexed by sudden changes in their cat’s litter box behavior. How can a once-meticulous cat start treating the entire home like a public restroom? Inappropriate urination in cats is often because of various health and behavior issues. Here are three common scenarios that cat owners have described to WesVet Animal Hospital. 

#1: My cat is crying and vocalizing when they try to urinate

Urinary health conditions are common in cats, and can be acute or chronic. Painful cats who are vocalizing, straining, or producing bloody urine need prompt veterinary attention, to determine the cause of their discomfort. Our veterinarian will perform a physical examination and lab work to determine a potential cause, which may include:

  • Feline lower urinary tract disease — A group of urinary conditions, including urinary tract infection and inflammation, potentially affected by stress
  • Bladder or kidney stones — Painful urine crystal calcifications
  • Urinary blockage A bladder obstruction caused by a bladder stone lodged in the narrow urethra, which is a veterinary emergency, characterized by your cat straining to urinate, vocalizing, and having a rigid abdomen 
  • Kidney failure — Drinking and urinating more frequently, because the cat’s kidneys cannot concentrate their urine
  • Diabetes — Having increased thirst that causes increased urination and accidents

Treatment will depend on your cat’s diagnosis. When your cat’s litter box behavior changes, always presume a medical condition before attempting any environmental modifications. Ensuring your cat is healthy and pain-free first will result in a more positive outcome. 

#2: My senior cat with perfect litter box habits now eliminates near their box

Senior cats may struggle to maintain their old routine, because of physiologic changes and pain. In addition to possible urinary conditions, senior cats may avoid the litter box because of:

  • Arthritic pain — More than 92 percent of cats over 12 years old showed radiographic (i.e., X-ray) evidence of degenerative joint disease, which includes arthritic spinal conditions. Painful inflammation and cartilage damage may make getting in and out of the litter box painful. 
  • Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS)— Progressive mental decline may make finding, or remembering to use, the litter box hard for your older cat. Cognitive dysfunction affects 28 percent of cats ages 11 to 14, and 50 percent older than 15. 
  • Sensory decline — Cats lose visual and olfactory acuity with age, and may have a difficult time locating their litter box by sight or smell.
  • Obesity-related pain — Overweight senior cats can suffer painful joints, poor stamina, and cardiovascular health, making getting in and out of the box too strenuous.

Depending on your cat’s diagnosis, our veterinarian may prescribe medication to help your cat’s signs or discomfort. Environmental modifications can help encourage your cat to return to their litter box.

  • Add a walk-in entry Cut a low door in the box so your cat can walk in, rather than having to step up and over. Cover the edges with duct tape to prevent injury. 
  • Low-profile litter box — For cats with CDS or vision loss, a box with shallow sides can help them get in or out from all angles, rather than trying to find a door.
  • Easy access — Ensure your senior cat never has to travel far or use the stairs to reach their box. Add more boxes if necessary.

#3: My cat is urinating in their litter box, but also near the front windows

If your cat’s examination and lab work are normal, this behavior is most likely urine marking or spraying. Marking is the application of small amounts of urine to a vertical or horizontal surface.

While marking is often grouped with urinary house soiling, the motivations for this behavior are different, and may include:

  • Responding to a perceived threat — Cats may mark their territory if they see an outdoor cat nearby, and often will mark near windows and doors where they observed the intruder.
  • Identifying objects — Cats can find new and unusual smells perplexing, and may mark unfamiliar luggage, new furniture, or sports gear.  
  • Frustration Cats are social beings, and will mark because they are frustrated at their lack of attention or play time.

Marking behavior also looks completely different. If you notice your cat standing with their back turned to a vertical surface and twitching their tail, they are preparing to mark. 

Our veterinarian will review your cat’s behavior history to determine why your cat is marking, and create a treatment plan. Common methods to reduce marking include:

  • Spaying or neutering your cat Altered cats are less likely to mark.
  • Neutralizing the odor — Cats will re-mark familiar areas. Clean any marked surfaces thoroughly with an enzymatic urine remover. Avoid ammonia or vinegar products, which smell like urine to cats.
  • Removing the opportunity — Close doors, curtains, or blinds, to prevent access to commonly marked areas or windows.
  • Reducing stress — Provide your cat with extra attention and play time, maintain a consistent routine, and try a feline pheromone diffuser to help your cat relax.

Arthritis, senility, health issues, and stress are common reasons for feline house soiling, but many more are not included here. To determine why your cat is taking their business elsewhere, schedule an appointment at WesVet Animal Hospital.