A cat peeing outside the litter box is hugely frustrating for any owner. When this happens it is essential to get the cat checked by a vet. This is because it’s all too easy to chalk this up to “A behavioral problem”, but in truth this is unsafe. There are several medical conditions that make the cat feel they can’t hold on or else they associate the litter box with pain and avoid it. 

Cause and Effect: Litter Box Aversion

Have you ever had cystitis? It’s painful.

In a cat’s mind, if something hurts you avoid it. This is one of the basic rules of survival. Unfortunately, if the cat experiences pain when peeing in the litter box, they can associate the box with the discomfort rather than the act of urinating.

This cause and effect may result in a strong dislike of their designated toilet area, causing the cat to pee outside the box. This is called litter box aversion. When a litter-trained kitty suddenly changes their stripes and is a cat that avoids the litter box, then you need to take notice.

You do the right thing and take the cat to the vet. But what is the vet looking for? Let’s consider some of the medical reasons for a cat to pee in the wrong place.

#1:  Arthritis or Sore Joints

How many senior people do you know who have difficulty touching their toes or climbing stairs?

Similarly, elderly cats often have stiff joints which make using a litter tray the kitty equivalent of an assault course. First, there’s the hassle of going downstairs or seeking out the room in which the litter is. This can seem like a hike of unpleasant proportions when your legs hurt.

Then there’s climbing through a narrow door or stepping over a high side. This can be uncomfortable when you aren’t as flexible as you once were. Plus, stiff hips make it tricky to scoop down, meaning it’s easy to shoot outside the box even when you’re standing in it.

For older cats especially, the vet will want to check out discomfort in the joints. Happily, there are safe and effective medications that can ease the pain and put a spring back in kitty’s step.

#2 The Very Full Bladder

What goes in, must come out. If a cat is thirsty and drinking a lot, then their bladder will quickly get full. If the tray is in a convenient place when the cat feels the urge to relieve themselves, then all ends well.

However, if the tray is a hike away or it’s already full of wet litter, then kitty may vote with her paws and go somewhere more convenient…like the carpet or your bed. (Incidentally, beds smell strongly of their owner, which the cat associates with comfort. Cat pee then amplifies those comforting smells which help the cat – but not you – feel better.)

Common reasons for cats to be excessively thirsty include:

  • Diabetes mellitus (Sugar diabetes): Typical signs include increased thirst, peeing more than normal, eating well, but lacking energy and some weight loss.
  • Kidney disease: The job of the kidney is to filter toxins from the body and recycle water. When the kidney isn’t working well, less water is reclaimed and more passes out as cat pee. Signs of kidney disease are vague but include thirst and excessive urination.
  • Hyperthyroidism: Over active thyroid glands is a common problem in older cats. Thyroid hormone is a diuretic (increases water loss from the kidney) so the cat must drink more to replace that lost fluid. Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include a ravenous appetite, hyperactivity, and weight loss.

#3 Bladder Discomfort

Anything that causes bladder inflammation, can give the cat a sense they urgently need to urinate. This means they may squat there and then, wherever that happens to be.

Causes of bladder inflammation (and therefore a need to pee) include:

  • Crystals in the Urine: The cat’s body is one big chemistry set. When minerals (i.e. food) are added to that chemistry set, the result can be crystals that form in the urine. These crystals are sharp and spiky, which is like have sandpaper being chaffed against the delicate bladder lining. Ouch!
  • Bladder Stones: Take things a step further and those crystals can mesh together and form a solid mineral deposit, called a bladder stone. This is like putting a sneaker in a tumble-dryer, where it bangs and rattles against the bladder lining. Again, ouch!
  • Urine Infections: A urinary infection can cause inflammation and a sense of urgency.

#4 Bladder Blockage

Male cats have a narrow, twisty urethra (the tube through which they pee.) This can easier get plugged by crystals, a blood clot, bladder stone, or even a muscular spasm in the urethral wall. This is like putting a cork in a bottle, and means the cat is unable to empty their bladder.

There’s nothing quite like being unable to physically pee to make a cat constantly squat, wherever they are.  So please, owners of male cats should always play it safe and get their fur-friend checked urgently if the litter box is dry and yet the cat keeps straining outside (or indeed inside) the litter box.

#5 Bladder Tumors

Happily, bladder tumors are relatively unusual in cats. But when they do happen, they often grow near the bladder’s exit. This narrows the flow point and means the cat has to push harder to pee. Again, this causes discomfort and inflammation, making the cat more likely to pee outside the box.

Home Help for Problem Cat Pee

When a cat pees outside the box, it is essential to get them checked by a vet. Yes, the issue may be behavioral, but it is not safe to assume this. Always get the medical reasons ruled out first by a veterinary professional.

To help move things along, try to take a urine sample along to the vet visit. Although of course this is easier said than done….