There is a beautiful cat owner who is a client at our clinic. One day she brought in her cat. She had a problem of the cat not using the litterbox. Instead, it had been weeing in her clean laundry. It had been happening for a couple of months. She’d finish all her washing, fold it, put it in the basket—then the cat would crawl in and pee on it.
There are two different sets of reasons why your cat might not want to use its litterbox. The first ones are emotional reasons. The second set of possibilities are physical reasons. Working out what your cat is thinking is tricky at the best of times. Vets often can’t work it out without testing. And we wouldn’t ever say the reason is definitely emotional, without ruling out the physical causes too.
But if you have a cat leaving unwanted deposits outside the litter tray, here are some possible explanations.
Emotional reasons for cats not using their litterbox
The first possible reason is that the cat has a dirty litter box. Cats in the wild would never go to the toilet in the same place twice. So having even a small amount of wee or poo can completely put them off.
The next one would be they don’t like the litter tray itself. It could be too small. If you’ve got one of the covered trays, they may feel trapped and refuse to use the tray. Or the tray might not be private enough.
The problem may be the litter or substrate itself. Some cats only like very soft litter under their delicate paddy paws. Often they don’t like scented litter, because it’s actually offensive to them. So if you’ve changed your brand of litter lately, that may be a reason.
Finally, if you have more than one cat, stress and tension may be behind their poor toilet habits. If a perceived rival has used the litter tray, and there is a trace smells of that cat, it might not want to go back in there. Or it could be that the other cat is hanging around in the region of the litter tray, and it’s worried it’s going to get attacked while it’s going to the toilet. So it just holds on, or goes somewhere else, where it feels safer. Like behind your sofa. Or on your bed.
Clues to emotional reasons
Sometimes the patterns give you an idea of what the emotional problem is. So if it is soiling somewhere private, it might be that the cat’s feeling stressed and under pressure, and that its litter box is in a place that’s too public.
If it is soiling around doorways, there may be another cat hanging around outside. Your cat’s trying to mark the territory, trying to put off intruders.
And the other one is on places where you’ve been. That, again, is trying to reinforce a feeling of security—especially fresh washing; it might have had all the scents of the cat removed. So the cat feels it needs to put them back down again, because it wants to reinforce its position in the family.
Physical reasons for your cat not using the litterbox
There are a number of physical conditions a cat can develop which result in its bladder filling up. We do two tests—diabetes and kidney disease. Both of these can result in the cat needing to go to the toilet urgently, but just not getting there in time.
Pain is another explanation. The cat may have arthritic hips or joints if it is getting older. Some brands of litter tray have quite high sides to stop the cat flicking litter around. Elderly cats can’t actually climb into your litter tray without pain. If that’s the case, you might have to change your litter tray.
Another common explanation is that the cat has FLUTD [feline lower urinary tract disease], or has idiopathic cystitis. That’s when they have an inflamed bladder, and they feel the need to go to the toilet all the time.
How a vet can help
The longer the problem of your cat not using the litterbox goes on, the harder it is to find the trigger, and break the cycle. The solution may involve drawing a plan of your house, and working out where stress points might be.
The other thing you can do is to use pheromone sprays or plug-ins. The spray or plug-in is the pheromone that’s released from their cheeks when they’re rubbing on you and feeling relaxed and happy. The idea of that is to make the cat feel more secure in the environment.
It’s possible your cat might need medication.
But in general, it’s not something you can work out at home. We would do a clinical examination to check for arthritis, and blood and urine test to check for all these diseases. We’ll do that even if we think it’s an emotional cause—we have to rule out other factors as well.