Cat Litter Box Disasters10 min read

 In Cats



Soiling outside of a cat litter box is a major problem encountered at one time or another by almost all cat owners. It is also one of the main reasons how an indoor cat becomes an outdoor cat.  Many people may have just purchased new furniture or carpet and a cat that repeatedly soils the new purchase can get on the wrong side of the owner.  Before you turn that cat outside or give it away, it is crucial to understand why a cat urinates or defecates outside of the cat litter box in the first place.

Before we get into the causes of this behavior you have to get inside the head of a typical cat.  This is difficult since they only meow but by looking at normal healthy cats you can gain an understanding of what they might be thinking.  A cat is the ultimate creature of habit. Everything has to be just perfect for any cat to be happy.  A cat approaches the cat litter box, looks at it, sniffs it, prances around in it a certain way, sniffs some more, scratches the litter, gets into the position to void, sniffs some more, may or may not cover or spray litter all over the place, sniffs some more and finally gets out of the box with a big smile on its face.  ANYTHING physical or emotional that stops or alters the smooth flow (excuse the pun) mentioned above will cause a cat to void outside the litter box.  Period.  Cat litter box problems account for about 20-25% of all cat visits to a veterinarian.  Litter box training is crucial when starting out with a new kitten.  This will avoid many problems in the future.

People that live in a multi-cat household will find they have further problems.  The first question that always arises is, “which cat did it?”  The first thing to do is to lift up the tail of each cat and just check to see if you see any of the hairs tinged with blood.  That is a dead give away.  You may have lucked out and found the cat that is causing the problem.  With several cats, put each one in a separate room with their own litter boxes.  In time, you will figure out which cat is causing the soiling problem.




  • Urinary Tract Infection- A whole book can be written about this subject.  It is one of the most common causes of cat litter box issues.  When an animal is straining to urinate the cat feels an immediate urge to go.  If the litter box is not nearby it will void elsewhere.  Keep an eye out for any blood tinged urine.  This warrants a trip to a veterinarian.  The cat may even obstruct making it impossible for urine to be passed.  The majority of cats are placed on therapeutic diets such as Hill’s® Prescription Feline c/d.
  • Dirty Cat Litter Box- This problem varies with the cat.  Some cats have heart failure if there is one stool or glob of urine in the litter box.  Other cats could care less if the litter box looks like a cow pasture or fecal minefield.  For those fussy cats that need a clean box to urinate or defecate in, clean the litter box daily and apply fresh litter as needed.
  • Cat Litter Box Too Far Away-  Imagine how you feel on a road trip and you have to go!  A cat that has a full bladder and has to go to the other end of the house to potty is often going to urinate elsewhere.  Make sure the cat litter boxes are close enough to where the cat hangs out.  The same problem occurs if the animal has a gastrointestinal infection.
  • Not Enough Litter Boxes- This is a big problem in multi-cat households.  The rule of thumb is 1.5 litter boxes per cat.  So that means about 2 boxes for a one cat household and 3 for 2 cats.  For more cats, do the math.  These boxes should be evenly distributed throughout the home.  A lack of cat litter boxes is akin to women standing in a 5 mile long line waiting to enter an amusement park restroom.  There just aren’t enough stalls!  The same thing happens with cats.
  • Any Change To The Status Quo- Cats do not like change.  New furniture or even rearranging furniture can freak out a cat. A new baby or a new puppy or kitten will also drive cats to urinate or defecate outside of the box.  The trick is to put the cat in a bathroom with all its utensils and litter box.  Over time the cat and the “new” animal will be sniffing each other under the door and playing footsy with each other.  After a few days of this slowly put the animals together with adult supervision.
  • Idiopathic Cystitis- This is a version of cystitis that is not related to excess magnesium (ash) in the diet.  Idiopathic is a fancy word for “only God knows what the cause really is.” Cats act like they have a typical urinary tract infection but nothing is found in the urine.  Prescribing a gel version of glucosamine/chondroitin  (used for treating arthritis) usually does the trick.
  • Scared or Frightened Cat- This usually is caused secondarily by the introduction of a new puppy or kitten in the household.  Understanding cat body language is essential in these cases.
  • Changing Cat Litter Texture/Brands- This is another common cause of cat litter box problems.  People often buy whatever brand of litter that is on sale.  That is a mistake.  This goes back to what I initially said about upsetting the mechanics of using a litter box.  A cat scratches at the litter.  The cat knows immediately that the texture or smell is different.  The solution is to stick with one brand of litter (clumping or non-clumping) that makes the cat happy.
  • Turning An Outdoor Cat Into An Indoor Cat- This can be very difficult to succeed at.  Outdoor cats will urinate and defecate wherever they want to.  I have said many times that the outdoors is the world’s largest bathroom for dogs and outdoor cats.  Confining the cat to a small area or cage with its litter box nearby is the only solution.  Sometimes this works, many times it doesn’t.
  • Cats with lower back (lumbar) problems-  Cats that have been hit by a car or injured in some other manner may have damage to the lumbosacral portion of the spinal column.  This can lead to urinary incontinence or an inability to get to or into a cat litter box.  The same thing happens with old cats suffering from hip joint pain.  A partial solution is to cut out a section of the litter box so an animal can just walk into the box without having to hop into it.  This approach also works well with small kittens.  An adult box is way too tall so make it easier for the young animal.
  • Changing The Type of Cat Litter Box- There exist regular litter boxes that are cleaned and filled with litter.  There are automatic litter box cleaners and there are litter boxes with covers on them.  Deciding to change from one to another will totally freak out most cats.  The sound of an automatic litter box cleaner can spook any cat.  Stick with one type of litter box container.




Most solutions to the problem can be found by taking your cat to your local veterinarian.  Many disease conditions require a differential diagnosisMany diseases have similar clinical signs. Excess thirst and urination are signs of Diabetes mellitus. Other diseases such as renal and liver failure may have similar clinical signs. Therefore the signs of one disease must be differentiated from the other by the plethora of diagnostic tests available to the doctor. Clinicians deal with differential diagnostics every day of their lives. to be formulated.  Lists of possible causes are than ruled out by various diagnostic procedures or by trial and error.  The bottom line is that your veterinarian will formulate a treatment plan in an attempt to rid the animal of a case of cystitis or one of the other common causes of cat litter box malfunctions.   In numerous cases, it is a guessing game.

Veterinarians require a urine sample to perform a urinalysis.  This is extremely important when trying to differentiate a urinary tract infection from a behavioral issue. I often asked clients to bring in a sample and they looked at me and said: “you want me to do what”?!  This is quite easy if you use Kit4Cat® cat litter.  This special litter repels water (urine) so that it floats on top of the litter.  It is easily then transferred into a clean container using an eye dropper.

Regardless of the cause of the cat litter box problem, the only way to get a cat used to using a litter box again is by confining the cat in a bathroom or other small room with their food, water and litter box.  Cats do not want to lie in a small area that has been soiled.  They are very clean animals so all one needs to do is line the floor with newspaper for easy clean up.  Once the cat has begun using the litter box take it out and let it run around the home.  Keep an eye on the cat and check for mistakes.  This process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  The bottom line in cat litter box issues is correcting the primary problem.  It is usually one of the ones mentioned above.

Before a cause of the problem has been determined many cats have stained carpets around the home.  Most carpets have a liner or pad underneath for comfort.  The urine dries and the cat revisits that same area to urinate over and over.  The carpet and padding often need to be replaced.  Getting the smell out of carpet, leather or other garments or coverings is almost next to impossible.  This is much easier in southern states.  Most homes in Florida have tiled floors; which are much easier to clean and do not leave a stain, residue or smell after disinfecting.

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