I don’t know about you, but I love a good mystery and I love to solve a mystery. I guess that’s why I like animal behavior so much because I see behavioral issues as something to investigate and solve. So let’s see if we can help you to solve the mystery of why your cat is messing outside the litter box. By the way, note that this behavior may be spraying elsewhere in the house or pooping near, but not in the litter box, or pooping over the edge of the litter box, etc.
1. First Step is the Veterinarian!
The first step, as always with any pet behavior, especially if it is a recent change in behavior, is to take your pet to the veterinarian in order to be sure the behavior is not due to a medical issue.
A cat not using the litter box could be caused by a variety of medical issues, but common ones include:
· Decreased vision/blindness
· Degenerative joint disease (various forms of arthritis)
· Kidney disease
· Muscle atrophy or joint thickening
· Spondylosis deformans, a spinal condition that more commonly occurs in senior pets
· Urinary tract infections
· Lower urinary tract disease
· Thyroid issues
If it is a medical issue, of course you will work with your veterinarian to address it, but sometimes behavioral issues can remain so perhaps the following will also help.
If you have eliminated medical issues, look at other causes by answering a few questions:
2. Is this a new behavior?
Can you trace it back to a time when it started?
Examples of this situation would be a change in family dynamics, new furniture or moving furniture, a new cat in the house, a house guest who “invaded” the cat’s territory, a new puppy (shame on you!), loud voices, or simply that you have changed cat food brand or type of litter.
· Put things back or find a way to bring calm and consistency to the situation and then Snuggle with your cat and let him/her know it will be alright.
· Perhaps your cat is feeling left out and/or bored. Spend some time with your cat and bond anew. Play with your cat using laser light, string & catnip toys, etc.
· Your cat might be constipated from a change in food and struggling to poop. Try adding moist can food to his/her diet. I keep dry food out, but in the morning feed moist can food. Cats need more liquid in their diet than dogs do. Also, canned food smells stronger so if they are a senior cat, this will entice them more to eat.
3. Is your cat a senior cat?
Senior cats may develop poor eyesight or sense of smell or they may develop arthritis. These symptoms of aging may cause them to have difficulty using the litterbox. Perhaps the cat is exhibiting other behaviors telling you what is going on with them, but you are just now realizing it due to the pee or poop behavior. Is your cat walking slowly and stiffly? Does your cat seem disoriented at times? Is your cat turning up his/her nose to some foods?
Recommendations: Again, I recommend that you have your veterinarian check them first, but here are some suggestions to help with behavior:
· Keep the litterbox and furniture in the house in the same area and don’t move things around
· If your cat has arthritis, he/she may be having trouble getting in and out of the litter box. You may want to try a wider, but lower litter box.
· You might want to limit the space where your cat can roam. It may make them more comfortable too if loud noises and people are stressful for them.
· If there are toys and other objects around on the floor, keep them picked up and out of the cat’s way.
· If you have multiple cats, it may help to set up a second litter box, especially if you are going to limit the space for the one with behavioral issues.
4. Have you changed anything related to the litter box?
A new litter box? New litter? New location for the litter box? If yes, odds are your cat doesn’t like whatever you changed and they are letting you know that.
· If you’re not sure if something changed, let’s do a check of the basics, kind of like making sure you computer is plugged in…..Is the litter box big enough? Is it placed in an easy access location? If the litter is non clumping, get clumping litter, your cat will thank you for it by pooping in the box. If it’s scented, maybe they changed the scent; try unscented and vice versa.Put it back the way it was and apologize to your cat…Meow!
· Is the litter being cleaned often enough? I once had a cat who didn’t poop in a litter box if there was already something in it! If your cat messed on the litter box, did you actually remove the litter and clean the box before adding litter back to it? Yes, some cats are just that fussy!
· Do not place the litter box near the cat’s food. No animal likes to eat where they poop/pee.
5. Try one change at a time!
My final overall recommendation is to listen to your cat. He/she is trying to tell you something. Observe and assess, then make just one change or correction at a time to see if it works. Give it at least a few days, but preferably 1-2 weeks to see a change, or you may not figure out the real cause of the behavior in order to prevent it from happening again.