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Ask A Vet: My Cat Won’t “Go” In Her Litter Box. Help!

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The question involving cats and inappropriate urination (“going” outside the litter box) comes up frequently and it appeared in the comments for Ask A Vet LIVE! stream. (You can watch the original video by clicking here.)

Inappropriate elimination can be an exasperating issue for obvious reasons. Even normal cat urine has a distinctive odor that is not something you want permeating your home. Many cats are surrendered to animal shelters because of this problem. If your cat is “going” in places other than the litter box, you must see your veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out medical causes before long term habits are established.

Some of the medical causes can include: Diabetes, urinary tract disease or orthopedic pain (among others) and you need your vet to help you figure these out.

Unless underlying medical issues are diagnosed and treated, all efforts to adjust your cat’s behavior will fail. And do not forget that an untreated medical problem can transform into a behavior problem that lingers long after the inciting cause if not addressed quickly.

People think that cats urinate outside their box as an act of spite, but this is very unlikely. Even if the action is behavioral, it is much more likely to be stress related than because of anger or meanness.  Because animals’ primary goal is always survival, they are not likely to put thought into retaliation. Punishment for their own actions (and I do not recommend this type of training) is hard for them to understand and it would be implausible for them to be coordinating a punishment based training plan for you.

Make sure that her litter box is cleaned often and filled with her favorite litter.  Experts suggest having a variety of boxes of different shapes and sizes and choices of litter in many places around the home until you can identify her favorite. Use mild unscented cleaners on the box itself and make sure you clean any area of accident very well to discourage revisiting that site.

Once you and your vet have explored and addressed any underlying medical issue, the urination issue may resolve with no further incidents.  If it doesn’t, there are things you can do to help your cat make elimination choices that you prefer. Remember, animals usually have a reason for their actions and it is often much more pure than human motives.

Do you love cats? Watch for PURR-fectly delilghtful posts on my Facebook page! (click here)

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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