When it comes to housebreaking, cats are supposed to be easy. Their natural instincts drive them to neatly bury their wastes in loose soil.
If your cat is having occasional accidents, or has stopped using the litter box altogether, it could be a sign of an underlying issue. Punishing your cat won’t help – they’ll learn to be sneakier next time.
You can get your cat to use their litter box again by ruling out these possible causes, one by one.
Medical Conditions That Cause Litter Box Issues
If urinating has become painful for your cat because of a medical issue, they may develop negative associations with their litter box. Urinary problems can also make your cat incontinent.
Your vet can easily test your cat for a urinary tract infection, kidney stones and feline interstitial cystitis, or bladder inflammation. In some cases, your cat will visibly strain or cry when they try to urinate, and only a few drops will come out. Blood in urine is another sign of a health issue. However, not all cats have the same symptoms, and many do not show obvious signs of pain.
Is Your Litter Box Cat-Approved?
Some cats stop using their litter box because they have found a more comfortable spot to eliminate. You will need to make your litter boxes more inviting.
Some cats feel safer in a hooded litter box, while others hate the confinement. Some prefer deep litter, others like it shallow. Perhaps you recently switched your cat’s litter type, or have not been cleaning as often as you usually do.
You might simply need more litter boxes. If you have multiple cats, they may dislike sharing their “bathrooms.” Cats that live in large, multi-story houses may be too lazy to run across the house when they need to eliminate.
Is Your Cat Marking Their Territory?
It’s easy to tell if your cat is urine marking, especially if you catch them in the act. Your cat backs up against a vertical surface, twitches their tail, and sprays a small amount of pungent urine.
Urine marking is most common in unneutered males, though females and neutered males do it too. There’s a chance that neutering or spaying your cat will help, but it’s not guaranteed. Cats who are fixed as adults will already have developed the hormones and behavioral patterns that will drive them to mark even after surgery.
Cats who urine mark often start up because they feel insecure. It’s especially common in multi-cat households and areas with roaming cats. If your cat feels they have competition over resources, they will mark as though to say, “this is mine.”
Sometimes, you can only do so much to make your cat feel secure. In a multi-cat household, you can space your cats’ bowls apart so they do not feel stressed when they eat. Make sure you have plenty of litter-boxes, beds, toys and other resources.
Discourage Repeat Accidents
If your cat is eliminating in the same spots, you’ll need to break the pattern.
Cats, like dogs and many other animals, will eliminate where they detect the scent of urine and feces, particularly their own. Use an enzymatic cleaner to remove odors. You’ll find this type of cleaner in pet stores.
No matter how diligently you clean known accident areas, your home may still carry odors. Cat urine glows under black-light or UV lights.
Cats do not like the smell of citrus. An orange or lemon based spray can humanely keep your cat away from areas where they tend to have accidents. You can also tape aluminum foil to forbidden areas. Cats do not like the way it crinkles beneath their paws.
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