Do you ever wonder whether being a cat parent is easier for others?
You see people posting cute videos of their kitties on social media every week. Some even travel with their cats to Instagram-worthy destinations.
And it seems like life with their cat is without frustration, without stress, without the mess.
But here’s the truth.
We only see pleasurable glimpses of other people’s cats.
We see the purrs and cuddles but we don’t see their struggle to train the cat.
We don’t observe the anguish of their cat peeing outside the litter box. We don’t see the trials of scrubbing and deodorizing and deterring until the cat starts using the litter box again and peace is restored in their home.
If your cat is peeing outside the litter box, you’re not alone.
You’re not the only one who finds pet parenthood a challenge, who struggles to get your cat to use the litter box.
When I adopted cats, I didn’t plan to start writing about cat urine
Living with cats since childhood was a way to have fun and feel joy.
But when I adopted my two anxiety-prone kittens, relaxing at home was difficult.
Coming home after work was a source of never-ending dread, and often, it’d take hours of cleaning, throwing away furniture, and banishing the cats to the bathroom, before I’d finally sit down to unwind—usually late in the evening, when it was almost bedtime.
I wondered, why won’t my cats use the litter box?
I used to think cats pretty much took care of themselves. (My other cats played by the rules.)
But I’ve since learned that a self-sufficient, self-trained house cat is absurd. Research suggests that cats aren’t fully domesticated as compared to dogs—9,000 years versus 30,000 or so. That cats merely tolerate humans but don’t rely on us to survive.
It’s true that cats are fiercely independent and unleash their inner hunter at will, but they do also need care, training, and understanding.
Learning to understand your cat makes it easier and more peaceful to
serve live with them.
Why is my cat peeing outside the litter box?
Cats pee outside the litter box because using it feels too daunting, too disagreeable, or too painful.
They feel resistance to getting inside the litter box and allow themselves to go somewhere more comfortable, such as on your bed, on the sofa, or mere inches away from the freshly cleaned litter box.
How do you determine the root cause of your cat’s inappropriate elimination?
There are 3 ways to unlock the mystery:
- Rule out medical causes
- Don’t overthink it
- Feel your cat’s feelings
Let me explain.
Schedule An Exam With Your Vet
To solve my cat’s litter box avoidance was a challenge for me.
Was I a bad pet owner? Could my cat actually be demented? Is anyone other than me having problems like this?
The key to making it easier was a process of elimination, like reviewing the diet and noting changes to eating patterns, getting a thorough medical exam, and an objective opinion.
I told myself I only needed to know that my cat wasn’t peeing outside the litter box due to pain, then I could take the next step. Medical problems such as urinary tract infections, cystitis, kidney disease, or even diabetes, can make it hard for your cat to use the litter box. It can also cause the cat to associate the litter box with their pain. Once the underlying medical problems are treated, you can (re) train your cat to use the litter box.
Well, if the vet rules out medical issues it doesn’t solve your immediate problem, and the trick is to keep going, to accept that information is powerful, and continue to whittle down the data until the answer reveals itself with clarity.
If you want to stop your cat from peeing outside the litter box, I suggest falling in love with data analysis—a step-by-step process to find answers to your questions. When you focus on the facts and the patterns rather than dwell on inconclusive results, you’ll find relief knowing you can fix this—even when it’s hard.
And that feeling of relief will become your North Star.
Don’t Beat A Dead Horse
Googling why your cat won’t use the litter box can alleviate some stress.
But there’s also a trap…
When presented with an overload of medical information we start to feel anxious.
In such a situation, it’s easy to assume the worst. Before you know it, an hour or two has passed and you’ve convinced yourself your cat is on his deathbed.
How can we remain calm?
First, go back to step one and schedule the exam with your vet. It’s true there are real reasons to be concerned about your cat’s health. And having a trained professional take a look can offer peace of mind.
Secondly, remember Occam’s Razor. Sometimes the simplest answer solves the problem:
- Do you have the right number of litter boxes?
- Are they the right size?
- Are they in a private location, clean, and always accessible?
- Does your cat like his litter?
Jackson Galaxy is a cat behaviorist who helps people catify their homes, and he writes that there is a proper etiquette to litter box setup that can affect whether or not your cat considers the litter box part of their territory. Understanding this can help us make simple adjustments to stop bad urination habits.
Resisting natural cat instinct is hard; it’s much easier to foster desirable behavior by adapting to their point of view. So, instead of trying to convince a cat to do something against their nature, I find ways to meet them where they’re at.
For instance, I had one litter box in a bathroom just off a busy hallway. It was always clean, yet rarely used. So, one day I closed the door just a smidge to act as a privacy screen. Sure enough, the cats added the litter box into their regular rotation.
When you gain an understanding of your cat’s behavior and what’s stopping them in their tracks, you can find simple solutions to eliminate problems.
That’s how living with a cat becomes more joyful.
Eliminate stress from the environment
Cats used to have a reputation as being aloof so we didn’t worry about them being left alone throughout the day.
But research now shows that cats form deep attachments to their caregivers much like infants, and they are highly sensitive to their surroundings because they are territorial.
A cat’s sense of security and well-being is deeply connected to their people and their space.
I learned to pay more attention to my cats. I observed their daily habits and scent-marking rituals, and I noticed when something got in their way.
I learned they notice every change, no matter how subtle, and how some changes trigger a stress response, such as peeing outside the litter box. Loud noises, sudden movement, animals outside, bullying, children, moving, changes in my routine, stinky things, neighbors dropping things upstairs, divorce, boredom. I understood that learning which events caused the litter box blues wouldn’t be quick, but with curiosity and commitment, I could figure it out.
Tracking my cat’s behavior over time helped me correlate events, and led to “aha!” moments.
And it’s something you can do too starting today.
For the next week, keep track of what’s going on with your cat. Keep notes on your smartphone, jot them down on a piece of paper, or download my cat behavior tracking sheet. At the end of the week review the data:
- Are there any trends in your cat’s behavior?
- Is there anything you identified that you can remedy right away?
- Is there additional data you need to track for a more complete picture?
Repeat the process as needed to figure out the reason why your cat is peeing outside the litter box.
Breaking bad litter box habits may feel like an impossible task.
But it’s possible.
As Ernest Hemingway wrote, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
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