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  • Dr. Melanie Fisher

Why Is My Cat Urinating Outside Of The Box?

What are the most common reasons that my cat would urinate outside of the litter box?


1) Partial urethral blockage caused by stones, crystals, mucus, cellular debris, and/or inflammation

2) Urinary tract infection

3) Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)- bladder inflammation with no infection and no specific known cause

4) Behavioral

5) "Spraying"- male cats that have not been neutered


How do I know if my cat is blocked and cannot urinate?


Overweight male cats are predisposed to developing a urethral blockage. A "blocked cat" tends to be very vocal and painful on presentation. A common misconception that feline owners make is perceiving their cat as being constipated rather than unable to urinate. These cats are often found straining inside or outside of the litter box without producing urine or a bowel movement, making it difficult for owners to determine what the problem is. Other times owners may notice their cat dribbling small amounts of urine with continued effort and discomfort. The urine can often be blood tinged secondary to inflammation and irritation. If you suspect you cat has a urethral blockage this is an emergency situation that requires immediate veterinary attention.

What if my cat can urinate easily but continues to go outside of the box?

If you have a male cat that has not been neutered, there is a good chance that your cat is "spraying." Cats often spray when looking for a mate, marking territory, or when they are fearful. When cats urinate (to eliminate) they posture and produce a stream of urine on a horizontal surface. When cats spray they lift their tail standing normally, often treading their feet, as they spray urine on a vertical surface. This most commonly is a male tendency fueled by testosterone, but can be seen in neutered cats as well. "Spraying" is one reason why it is so important to neuter you cat around 5 months of age before he reaches sexual maturity.

If your cat is posturing to urinate outside of the litter box and has a steady stream of urine then this issue is likely either due to infection, bad behavior, or feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). As soon as this issue is noticed, you should bring you cat in for medical attention.

At the clinic, we make sure to perform an in depth physical exam to look for abnormalities that could be causing urinary issues. We also take time to consult with you to get a detailed history about what is going on with the pet. The patient's history is often one of our most valuable diagnostic tools. Next, we collect a urine sample and analyze it for abnormalities. If the cat has a urinary tract infection then it is generally easily diagnosed with this method and is treated with antibiotics. Sometime is it also necessary to perform a urine culture and sensitivity to make sure antibiotic therapy is appropriate for the type of infection at hand.


How do I fix behavioral issues or feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)?


Behavioral issues and FIC often times can have the same root cause (stress or environmental) but different pathophysiology. With behavioral issues the cat’s bladder is physiologically normal but the cat is reacting inappropriately to a trigger or stimulus in the environment by urinating in an unsuitable location. It is important to target the underlying cause of this behavior to resolve the issue.

Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) seems to be associated with interactions in the nervous system, adrenal gland and the bladder and is often triggered by stress or environmental changes/unsuitable environment (in the cats eyes). Studies have shown that decreasing stress is a huge part of treatment for these cats.

Cats with FIC are often times labeled as a cat with behavioral issues. It is important to determine the cause of your cat’s urinary issue with your veterinarian before jumping to this conclusion. Sometimes cats with FIC are very painful and need oral medications to help with inflammation and pain.


If you are struggling with a cat with FIC, here are some helpful pointers to consider:


1) Increase water consumption. Kitty water fountains are a great tool! Also depending on the pets needs, your veterinarian may recommend canned food to help increase water consumption.

2) It is also important to make sure there is plenty of clean litter in the box- cats love to have tons of litter! There should also be a litter box per cat in the household plus 1.

3) Litter boxes should be kept in an area of the home where it is relatively quiet. Also, avoid high traffic areas where kids or other animals may frequent. Cats do not like loud noises and want privacy.

4) Cats are truly creatures of habit and don't like change. It is best to find a litter that the cat likes and stay with that exact brand/type of litter. Some cats do not like the scents in certain litters, so you may consider an odorless litter.

5) Cats don't like changes or stresses in home. Things that could contribute to FIC could be a recent house guest, work being done around the house, or a new pet in the household for example.

6) Do not use strong smelling cleaners such as Pine sol or citrus to clean the box. Soap and hot water work well.

7) Many cats do not like the electronic self-cleaning litter boxes; the noise may frighten your pet.

8) Cats usually prefer an unlined litter box. Some prefer a hooded box and some prefer a box without a hood.

9) When making changes to the litter box/environment be sure to make changes gradually to be able to interpret the response. Of course, cleaning the litter box more frequently and adding litter boxes would not ever be considered a negative change to the cat so this should be done regardless (if the house does not have adequate number of boxes and the boxes are not being scooped at least once daily).

10) Clumping litter should be scooped daily. The box should be completely emptied and cleaned then replaced with new litter once a month. When cleaning the box, wash thoroughly with soap and water (avoid harsh disinfectants and bleach). The box should be replaced every 6 months.

12) Feliway (cat pheromone that can be purchased online or at a pet store) is great to spray in and around the box to entice the cat and help the cat to feel more comfortable in the environment.

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