Litter box behavior

Inappropriate feline elimination is a leading complaint of cat families. A cat with elimination problems should always have a thorough physical examination. See your veterinarian to review:

  • Frequency and pattern of elimination or marking

  • Locations of marking

  • Elimination behaviors

  • Litter box history

  • Corrections and cat’s response

  • Social environment

  • Litter box cleaning

  • Diet and medical history

Cat litter box!

Never punish your kitty for not using the litter box. Instead, use a startling technique (like clapping or sharply saying the cat’s name) if you spot kitty eliminating outside the box.

If your cat is going outside the litter box, this is probably due to one or more of these reasons:


Your cat could have a medically-based condition such as:

  • Urinary tract infections or urine crystals, which make
    urinating very painful

  • Kidney disease, which causes more frequent urination

  • Arthritis or musculoskeletal pain, making it difficult for your cat
    to get into the litter box


Urine marking is normal communication for cats but is unacceptable in our homes. Often, social problems between multiple cats causes territorial marking as the result of anxiety or stress. Strays or outdoor cats can also cause your indoor cats to mark. Marking can usually be reduced or eliminated by:

  • Getting your cat spayed/neutered which drastically reduces marking.

  • Reducing feline stress and conflict in the environment.

  • Blocking window views if your cat is aroused by cats outside the home.

  • Separating cats that don’t get along or adding a bell to one cat’s collar so the other cat can avoid interactions.

  • Adding multiple feeding areas, litter boxes and sleeping perches at different vertical heights.

  • Playing with and/or grooming each cat daily.

  • Cleaning urine marked spots with an enzymatic cleaner (like Nature’s Miracle).

  • Providing one litter box per cat plus one additional, and by scooping boxes daily and dumping boxes weekly.

  • Encouraging facial marking and scratch marking by placing scratching posts and/or pads around the home.

  • Encouraging facial marking with a spray like Feliway; cats will not urine mark areas they have facially marked.

  • Talking to your veterinarian about possible medication to calm your cat; always get a physical examination, blood work and urinalysis first.

Toileting Problems

Toileting problems are triggered by medical causes, litter box aversions or anxiety. A cat with a toileting problem usually deposits urine and/or feces on horizontal surfaces. If the litter box is dirty, cats will choose a cleaner spot to eliminate. If you suspect litter box aversion, keep the litter box scrupulously clean. Aversion may also include the location or style of the box and type of litter. Anxiety can also cause inappropriate elimination. Cats that have been ambushed by another pet when using the box may be nervous about placing themselves in that situation. A cat that is uncomfortable with a new boyfriend or infant in the home may be too anxious to walk past new family members to access the box.

If you suspect litter box aversion, consider:

  • Placing two litter boxes next to each other to find out if your kitty prefers scoopable sand-like litter or clay litter. (Most cats prefer unscented, scoopable litter.)

  • Testing litter boxes with and without hoods. (Most cats prefer uncovered, unlined litter boxes.)

  • Placing litter boxes in the areas in which your cat has inappropriately eliminated; they can be gradually (1 inch per day) moved to a more appropriate location.

  • Scooping out litter boxes at least once daily, preferably twice daily; completely change clay litters weekly and scoopable litters every other week.

  • Getting the right SIZE litter box; i.e., a 16-lb. cat will need a jumbo-sized litter box!

  • Giving your cat privacy; never disturb kitty or attempt to give medication while he or she is using the litter box!