Pet Articles

Elimination Disorders in Cats

Feline elimination disorders (FEDs) can be difficult to deal with. They may take time to resolve, require detective work to find the cause of the problem, and undermine the human-animal bond. However, there are ways to tackle this issue.

Inappropriate Elimination vs. Spraying: An important distinction

Inappropriate elimination occurs when your cat urinates (or, less commonly, defecates) outside its usual litterbox. There is usually a fair amount of urine, as it fully voids its bladder. A distinction must be made between this and spraying, where the cat backs up to a vertical surface, such as furniture or walls, and sprays a small amount of urine. These two types of behaviour have different bases and thus different methods to solve them must be implemented. Spraying is simply a means of ‘marking’ territory, while eliminating in inappropriate areas may mean the cat prefers to not use its litterbox for one reason or another.

Causes of FEDs usually fall into three main categories. The cat may simply prefer to eliminate in a place other than the litterbox, or, on the other hand, have a distaste for its litterbox. For example, it may be a shy, quiet cat, but the litterbox is in the middle of a busy kitchen, and so to avoid the situation, it eliminates under a bed or in a closet. Studies have been done to show that cats consistently prefer non-scented, fine, sandy litter. You can try buying a few different brands to see if your cat prefers one type over another. Some cats also prefer different textures, such as tile or even the bathtub. For these cats you can make makeshift litterboxes with the preferred material and see if it makes a difference. It is important to note that urine permeates certain materials, such as concrete, very well. The scent of urine can cause the cat to repeatedly eliminate in the same area. Thus, enzymatic cleaners are needed to get the smell out; keep in mind that a cat’s nose is many times more sensitive than your own.

Another cause of FEDs is medical in nature. It’s important to rule out these medical causes FIRST as the cat has no control over them. Your veterinarian must be called on in these cases to properly diagnose what is going on. There are a variety of medical causes that can cause a cat to avoid the litterbox. If after seeing the vet you have a definitive diagnosis, then you can apply practical solutions to help solve the problem. For example, a cat may be suffering from arthritis, which makes it both difficult and painful to climb into the litterbox. Solving this one practically is simple; use a shallow litter pan instead of a deep box. Boot trays filled with litter work very well for some cats. Other medical problems include bladder disease, kidney disease, or urinary obstructions. Something to note is that a cat that cannot urinate is a medical emergency; if you see your cat repeatedly straining at the litterbox, but producing no urine, an immediate visit to the vet is required.

The third cause of FEDs is environmental stress. There may not be enough litterboxes in a multicat household; the general rule of thumb is that the number of litterboxes available should be equal to the number of cats in the house plus TWO. This avoids scuffles at the box. Very importantly, the boxes must be spread out throughout the house, so that if a shy cat wants to avoid a bully, it can comfortably go to another area of the house to eliminate. A cat may also not want to use a litterbox after a recent change, such as after a move into a new house. Also, try not to leave a litterbox somewhere loud and where lots of activity goes on. Leaving it in a furnace room or laundry room may scare the cat if the furnace or washing machine suddenly turns on, and a shy cat may not want to relive the experience. Keep your cat’s personality in mind when you position a box.

All in all, the preceding tips should help you start to work out why your cat has developed an elimination disorder.  You may have to do a bit of work to figure out the inciting cause and first rule out medical possibilities. If the condition is non-medical it may cause some frustration at first to find your cat’s preferences, but in the end a happy healthy cat, eliminating comfortably in an appropriate spot, will be well worth your time!

By Amrita Banerjee – writer

7 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar Mamoox4 says:

    Why is my cat pooping on the floor? We have had her for 4 years and she has never done this before. We have 3 cats, 2 litter boxes, it has been like that for 4 years and never had a problem. Everyone is spayed/nutered. Nobody goes outside.
    There has been no changes in litter, litter boxes, box location, food, no new family members, no new furnitiure, no new pets. We have caught her numerous times in the act. Sometimes it’s a couple times a day and sometimes she won’t do it for days.
    My Hubby is at his wits end with her, but we love her and she’s part of the Family.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Whose job is it to clean the litterbox ;) ?
      If I had money to bet the litterboxes are not clean enough for your cat. The sensitivity of a cat’s nose can increase over time which is why this behaviour may be new.

      Just like humans get grossed out when they see a dirty toilet, cats also get grossed when their litterboxers smell dirty and a cat’s nose is way more sensitive than a human’s.

      I’d also bet hard that when she is doing it outside the box a couple of times a day, the box is smellier than when she doesn’t do it.

      2 boxes for 3 cats is also too few. The rule of thumb for most cat lovers is one box per cat plus one. Therefore, you should have 4 litterboxes….for SURE you should have 3 especially w/this problem.

      The solids should be scooped out each day and the litter COMPLETELY changed at least once a week per box. Given that you have 3 cats and 2 boxes, the litter should be completely changed probably twice a week. (I have personally seen this identical problem with different cat owners and a cleaner box will help)

      I realize that nobody like to change a smelly litterbox….but it is without a doubt the number one reason a cat does its business outside the box.

      Good luck!

  2. Avatar Mamoox4 says:

    Thanks so much for responding: Ok to start I clean the litter boxes (always have) don’t think any of my children are responsible enough to “properly” care after the boxes. It was the one rule my Hubby had when the kids asked to have cats, he “NEVER” wanted to smell a litter box. He never had a cat only dogs. So with that I scoop all day (i honestly mean all day) and scrub/change litter 1x per week. What I find weird is why after 4 years?? I get the rules but they have never had a problem before. The litter boxes the food/water have never changed location either.
    Please any more suggestions??? Could something be medically wrong with her???
    Thank You

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Yes, there are also medical issues that should be ruled out – I should have mentioned that first actually.
      A vet checkup, especially if you feel that the litterboxes ARE clean enough, is DEFINITELY in order.

      I’d also recommend you join our forum for free for a better ‘back and forth’ with multiple people with tons of cat experience.
      Good luck!

  3. Avatar Sam says:

    Why does my cat pee outside his litter box sometimes? He is around a year and 4 months, he started going outside his box maybe around 5-6 months of age, right before he got neutered. Fixing him did not solve the problem… I scoop his litter box everyday as I feel he is very picky about a clean box and use non scented clumping cat litter. On occasions where he has peed outside I paired it with me being gone for a few days while visiting family on holidays etc… and maybe he just doesn’t like being alone and is doing it as a way of telling me he doesn’t like it? But other times I have literally been in my apartment when it happened or had just been gone to work for the day. The other weird thing is that he will urinate in spots he likes to sleep on? For example he has peed in his cat bed, a chair that he would regularly sleep on, and now (and also the most frustrating) my brand new couch. He’s peed on it about 4 times now. I try cleaning it with a water and vinegar mix and then put arm and hammer on it but it didn’t seem to stop him from peeing in the one spot. Ive not just resulted in taking the once cushion off the couch whenever i’m not around. But most recently he peed in a different spot, but in a spot where he frequently like to sleep on the couch. Why would a cat pee somewhere it likes to lay and sleep? thats what doesn’t make the most sense to me.
    Please help!

  4. Avatar Eileen says:

    My cat started going outside the litter box after a visit to the vet for her yearly checkup. She hates going into the cat carrier since she has been given away a few times before I got her. She cries pretty much the whole trip there & back. A first she would use the bath tub and only if I had been away-she has a sitter at all times. She only poops no urine-she uses the litter box for that. I got her own litter box & it is a shallow one. I haven’t changed the type of little (corn) and my other cat has no problems with going outside the box. At first it happened once a month now it is very two days. She is a Maine Coon so she is very fluffy and I know she gets quite upset is anything sticks to her fur.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      I might post this in our forum for a better back and forth between members.
      Things that come to mind are – where is this new litter box, is it in a noisy area?
      How does this new litterbox differ from the old one – maybe the old one is better?
      Good luck!

Leave a Comment

(Additional questions? Ask them for free in our dog - cat - pet forum)