Laura Cassiday is a certified cat behavior consultant (CCBC) and owner of Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training. Laura is certified through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She is also a Fear Free certified animal trainer. Laura recently published her first book, The Complete Guide to Adopting a Cat (affiliate link*.) She works with cat guardians remotely from all over the world, as well as in-person in her local area of Baltimore, Maryland. For more information, visit Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training.
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Darlene asked: “I do have a sort of problem with Ms. Mida who is going too be 12 yrs old her Birthday is 03/11/ 23. What she does she always manage too pee outside the pan and it is a jumbo cat box I have a towel then a mat on the floor I put the litter pan on top of it and I also clean out the pan 3 or 4 times a day. Then she growls at my 6 yr old cat for no reason at times he starts the problem. When Ms. Mida moved in I had another cat who didn’t mind her she liked him but he passed away 10/21/15 Ms. Mida did moved in with me a friend that had her didn’t know how too treat her so I took her.”
Rule out a medical issue
Litter box issues can be tough. There are four main reasons that cats won’t use their litter box. The first, and most common reason, is a medical issue. Cats are unique animals in that they are both predators and prey. Because they are prey animals, they are extremely good at hiding pain. Sick or injured animals are eaten first, so cats are very careful not to be perceived that way. Most people know to get their cat checked out by the vet at the first sign of litter box issues. But urinary tract infections aren’t the only reason cats will stop using the box. Ms. Mida is a senior lady at 12 years old, and likely does have some degree of pain. Did you know that 90% of cats over the age of 10 are affected by arthritis to some degree? I’ve even heard of cats peeing outside of the litter box due to an infected tooth! A full, comprehensive exam is the only way to tell for sure. So that’s the first thing I would recommend.
The litter box
The second reason cats go outside of the box and the next most common reason is that they simply don’t like something about the litter box. Typically, these cats will pick the same spot, usually right in front of or near the litter box, and start going there instead. For Ms. Mida, I would look into a very low-sided box that’s easy to step in and out of. Senior cats often have a tough time climbing into a box, even if it’s just a step up. I like to think of an elderly person using a cane or needing someone’s support to help step up onto a curb outside. Just that little bit of elevation is hard on old joints! You can also experiment with softer litter, different depths of litter, an uncovered box rather than a covered one, and so on.
Territorial behavior in multicat households
You also mentioned that Ms. Mida growls at your other cat. Territorial behavior between cats can also cause litter box issues. You may see peeing or spraying outside of the box in multi-cat households where tension is high. Space constrictions as well as the need to share important resources like food, water, resting places, and of course, litter boxes, can cause conflict. The more submissive cat is typically the one that urinates outside of the box in an attempt to feel more secure in their territory. You didn’t mention how many boxes your cats have access to, but the rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus one extra. This is to reduce competition over the need to share important items.
Stress and conflict
The last reason is stress. Stressed cats will typically target the owner’s things, like laundry, the bed, or the couch. These items are big “scent soakers” and the cat urinates on them in an attempt to mix his scent with yours and feel comfortable and safe. Ms. Mida’s behavior doesn’t fit into this category, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t stress in her life. Pain is stressful, conflict with other cats is stressful, and if you think about it, urinating outside of the litter box is stressful. Cats naturally want to pee in a sand-like substrate where they can dig and cover their elimination, so to feel like they can’t do this for some reason means that they’re not feeling great – whether it be physically or mentally.
I hope this helps you understand Ms. Mida’s behavior and hopefully you can make some positive changes to get her back in the box soon!