3 reasons why you senior cat is peeing outside of the litter box

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A senior cat is peeing outside of the litter box is, unfortunately, a common complaint among cat owners. If you’ve noticed your older cat has started peeing around the house, this can be a frustrating experience. Your cat may have always used to their litter box as they were supposed to, but now all of a sudden they’re peeing wherever they want.

Instead of getting mad, try and figure out why your cat is doing this. Urination outside of the litter box is a cat’s way of communicating with you. They can’t voice their complaints to you, so instead they’re making a seen to send you a message.

This article includes a few common reasons why your senior cat is peeing outside of the litter box. Pay attention to your cat’s behavior, surroundings, and overall health, and hopefully, this will help lead you to the right answer.

Reasons why your senior cat is peeing outside the litter box

1. Medical issues

There are lots of medical issues that will cause your cat to pee around the house. The following are some of the more common issues. If you suspect your cat has any of these problems, please take them to a vet ASAP. The sooner you get them treated, the sooner you can get the cause treated so your cat will start acting normal again.

  • Diabetes

    Diabetes is one common cause of inappropriate urination in senior cats. One of the first symptoms of feline diabetes is drinking excessive water. Of course, when a cat drinks too much water, they’ll have to pee more often. This means they’ll either fill up their litter box quickly and will need to find a clean place to pee, or they won’t be able to hold it before they get to the litter box so they’ll find a place to go.

    If you’re concerned your cat might be diabetic, keep an eye on their water intake. A cat with polydipsia (the medical term for drinking too much water) will drink more than 45ml of water a day. There are water bowls with measurements on them so you can track their water intake. I recommend getting one of those and monitoring your cat.

    If you do notice your cat is drinking a lot of water, as well as flooding the litter box or peeing outside the litter box, take them to a vet as soon as you can. A cat can live a long, healthy life with a diabetes diagnosis if it’s caught and treated early.

  • Urinary Tract Infections

    Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can happen on their own, or they can be a sign fo a larger medical issue, like diabetes. With a UTI, bacteria in the urine cause the urinary tract to become inflamed. This causes pain and a feeling like a cat has an urgency to urinate. If you notice your cat is attempting to pee outside the litter box but nothing is coming out when they pee, they’re peeing tiny bits at a time rather than a full bladder’s worth, or you notice blood in the urine, take your cat to the vet.

    UTI’s are easy to treat with antibiotics but can be dangerous if they’re left too long. Your vet will likely want to do other tests to see if the UTI is the result of a deeper medical issue.

  • Bladder Stones

    Bladder stones occur in about 15% of older cats, and they can be the cause of urinating around the house. These stones form in the bladder and can cause pain, a feeling of frequency to urinate, and in extreme cases can block your cat from peeing entirely. If your cat is diagnosed with bladder stones, your vet will recommend a special diet to help dissolve current ones and prevent new ones. Larger bladder stones will need to be removed surgically.

  • Arthritis

    Just like in people, arthritis is common in older cats. In some cases just stepping into the litter box is too painful for their old joints, so instead of using the litter box, they’ll pee wherever’s comfortable, like on a towel on the bathroom floor.

    If you notice other signs of arthritis in your senior cat, take them to the vet for a definitive diagnosis. Once you’re sure that’s the problem, I recommend a senior cat litter box with low sides so it’s easy for kitty to get in and out.

  • Idiopathic Cystitis

    This long term just means inflammation of the bladder for unknown reasons. 75% of cats experience idiopathic cystitis at some point. Idiopathic cystitis is diagnosed through a urine test. In cats with this condition, there will be microscopic bits of blood in the urine, but no sign of bacteria, stones or other issues listed above.

    Treatment of idiopathic cystitis is a combination of diet change and lifestyle change. As stress or depression is a factor, your vet will likely recommend reassessing your home situation to find out why your cat is unhappy. For example, if you just got a puppy you might need to set aside a room as a “safe space” for your cat where the puppy isn’t allowed.


If your senior cat is peeing outside the litter box, make sure their litter box is staying clean

2. Litter box aversion

Sometimes your senior cat is peeing outside of the litter box because they don’t like something about the litter box. There are a few things that might be bothering your cat.

  • Litter box cleanliness

    Are you keeping up with your litter box? Cleanliness is very important to cats, and no cat wants to step into a dirty litter box. Some cats are more particular than others. My cat will not poop in the litter box if she has peed at the entrance of the box and there’s no way of getting in without stepping on pee. If I see pee at the entrance, I need to clean it immediately so she’ll continue to use the box.

    At a minimum, you’ll want to clean your box every day and refill with several inches of fresh litter.

  • Litter box location

    Take a look at where your litter box is. Is it close to your cat’s food or water? Is it close to a wall you share with a noisy neighbor? Is it hidden in one of those litter box covers that look like a potted plant? Try playing around with different placements.

  • Your cat doesn’t like their litter

    Just like you probably have a preference for the type of toilet paper you like to use, your cat has preferences for the type of litter she’ll use. After all, they stand in this litter, kick it around, get their face into it when they bury their waste – think about how annoying it would be to stand on uncomfortable litter while you were trying to use the bathroom!

    If you think this is a possibility, try litters made out of different materials, litters of varying clay sizes, “dust-free” litters, fragrance-free litters, etc. It took me a while to realize my cat didn’t like any sort of fragrance in her litter. Once I pinpointed that, I solved her litter box issues.

  • Do you have enough litter boxes?

    If you have multiple cats, at the very least you need the same number of litter boxes as cats. Many experts even agree that you need an extra litter box, so if you have 3 cats you need 4 boxes. This is because cats are territorial and often won’t want to use a box another cat has “claimed”. If your older cat is feeling threatened by a younger cat, and the younger cat pees in the litter box before she does, she probably will avoid that box. So if you have other cats, try getting another box.

  • Your cat doesn’t like the box itself

    As mentioned in the section on arthritis, sometimes the box isn’t right for your cat. Some cats feel uncomfortable using litter boxes with covers, a litter box that’s not large enough, or litter boxes with high-sides. I once had a corner litter box, and my cat at the time hated it because his tail touched the wall when he used it. When in doubt, try getting your cat a new box and seeing how they react.

3. Behavioral issues

Moving onto what might be the most complex and difficult to pin-down cause a senior cat is peeing outside the litter box – behavior. Sometimes your cat is going through something emotionally and will act out by peeing on things. Unless the cause is obvious after reading this section, it should be what you consider last after you’ve ruled out medical issues and litter box/litter issues.

Peeing vs. Marking

You should also understand the difference between urination and marking. Marking is when a cat is attempting to claim something by spraying a small amount of pee on it. This is done in territorial conflict. For example, if you move into a new apartment and the previous owner had a cat who peed in one corner, it’s not uncommon for your cat to insist on peeing in that corner whether you have a litter box there or not.

Marking is different from peeing in the amount of urine that is produced, and how the cat pees. Rather than crouching down to pee like a cat typically does, when marking your cat will back up so their butt is against the surface they want to mark, then a spray of urine will be produced. By doing this, your cat is telling other animals “this is my space, don’t mess with it.” Marking is normally done on vertical surfaces like walls, table legs, or the sides of the couch. Peeing, on the other hand, is done toward the ground.

Marking is most common:

    1. From unneutered males
    2. In multi-cat households
    3. When your cat sees or smells another cat in their space. For example, lots of people notice marking if a stray cat comes into the yard and your cat sees it.

The cure for marking is both obvious and complicated – remove whatever is causing them to mark. If it’s possible to neuter your cat, do so. If your cat can’t be neutered for a medical reason, you’ll just need to clean sprays as soon as possible to prevent them from spraying the same place over and over. It’s biological for an intact male to spray, so it’s just going to need to become part of your life.

If you have multiple cats, you’ll need to work to give each cat their own space. This is possible even in a small space by providing cat trees, tables for the cats to jump on, and hiding places on the floor like boxes. If your cat stops feeling threatened by the other cat, they’ll stop spraying.

If an outdoor cat is an issue, you’ll have to either remove your cat from any space where they can see the other cat, or deal with the other cat. If it’s a neighbor’s cat, perhaps talk to the neighbor about the situation and see if you can figure out a way to keep their cat out of your yard. There are also cruelty-free ways to repel cats from entering your yard, like Critter Ridder spray.

If it’s a feral or stray cat, contact your local trap-neuter-release (TNR) program. If you can’t find one, call animal control or a local animal shelter to see if they know of any resources. These groups can trap and fix stray cats, and potentially relocate them somewhere else if needed.

Stress

If it’s clear your cat isn’t being territorial but is peeing outside the litter box, then stress is a likely culprit. The causes of stress can be similar to the causes of marking. Here are a few common reasons why your cat might be stressed:

  • A new family member (a baby, significant other, or another pet for example)
  • Loss of a family member (death, divorce, an older child moving out)
  • A change in your work hours – especially if you’re working more
  • Moving from one home to another
  • Loud noises – for example, road construction going on outside your house
  • A traumatic association with the litter box – for example being attacked by another animal while using the litter box

If you have one of those events that have recently happened, it can very well be the reason why your senior cat is peeing outside of the litter box. Cats crave routine and normalcy, especially as they get older. Major changes to the household can cause a variety of medical issues, including litter box aversion. If you suspect your cat is stressed, your goal should be to make your cat’s life as routine as possible. Make sure you’re feeding them at the same time every day, you’re setting aside scheduled playtime alone with the cat, and make sure the cat has a safe space in your home to escape.

Using old fashioned detective work to determine the cause of the accident

If you’re just unsure what is happening, it’s time to start journaling. Write down when the first time you noticed pee outside the litter box, and try to figure out the circumstances. Every time your cat goes outside the box, make a note of it and any circumstances around it.

Cat behavioralist Jackson Galaxy recommends actually making an X out of tape on the ground on every spot where your cat pees, so then you can notice any patterns more easily. For example, after a week you might notice that your cat is peeing around your bed. When you think about what your bed means to them, it might click that since your new boyfriend started spending the night you haven’t been cuddling with your cat as much before bed, and your cat is sending a clear signal about how they feel about this new arrangement.

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