Picking Out the Sneaky Eliminator

While there is obviously no question who is not using the box if you only have one cat, when you have two or more, finding the culprit could take a bit of sleuthing. You may have a fairly good idea of who the malefactor is, and a trip to the vet to rule out a medical problem is the first step - if you only have two cats, take both, otherwise stick with the most likely candidate to begin with.

Pinpointing the Culprit

Finding out which cat is urinating and defecating other than in the box is not an insurmountable task, and here are some hints that will help you find the culprit.

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  • A nanny cam, set up near the scene of the crime (remember the criminal often returns to the spot) can show you who exactly is not using the box.
  • Small cameras that attach to a cat's collar can also help. These won't show the actual deed, but will show the area where the cat has been eliminating.
  • The cats can be sequentially isolated from the rest of the clowder, which will show the box-avoider by a process of elimination.
  • Your vet can give you a harmless dye that will show up in your cat's urine when using a black light lamp.
  • If pooping is the problem, you can put some small pieces of red or yellow crayon in the suspect's food, but only when given the go-ahead by your vet.

Overcoming the Problem

The problem can simply be that there aren't enough boxes for the number of cats; each cat should have his or her own box, and there should be an extra as well. If a dominant cat is causing the problem, place the target's litter box at some distance from that of the top cat - usually moving it gradually is the best approach.

A cat that has been declawed will often experience heightened sensitivity in the paws. Your choice of litter might simply have been too harsh, and often a softer litter will solve the inappropriate elimination.

Changing the type of litter box could also have a positive effect. Some cats don't like enclosed boxes, and some are afraid of motorized boxes. Litter box liners can also bother cats, so if all else fails, get rid of the liner. And, always make sure that the box is clean; no cat likes to use a box filled with feces and urine-soaked litter.

Schedule a Trip to the Vet's When Elimination Problems Arise

Nobody likes finding a puddle of cat urine soaking into the rug or in the middle of the bed. However, if your cat suddenly starts misbehaving as regards the litter box, the problem may well be a medical condition. Atypical behavior and inappropriate elimination is a red flag for a visit to your vet, especially if you have made no changes to the litter box.

Urinary Problems Can Be Serious

Cat Spraying No More Urinating wherever the cat feels like it, rather than in the litter box, often means something has gone amiss in the cat's urinary system. Only your veterinarian will be able to diagnose and treat these conditions properly. Your cat may be running to use the litter box every few minutes or will simply let loose wherever he or she is - this indicates that the cat simply is unable to hold it. The amount of urine may be quite small, or it could contain blood or appear cloudy. Urinary problems are often painful, too, and your cat may mew when attempting to go to the bathroom.

  • A simple bladder infection can be treated quite easily with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications.
  • Your cat can also suffer from feline interstitial cystitis. This is something of a catch-all ailment involving an inflamed and irritated bladder and urethra. Crystals might be present in the urine. Antibiotics appear to have little effect on FIC, although dietary changes may help.
  • Feline incontinence can also be caused by bladder stones. Some of these can grow to a significant size, nearly filling the bladder. Stones generally have to be removed surgically.
  • Crystals can form in the cat's urinary tract as a result of diet. These can sometimes evolve into bladder stones or can even form a plug which prevents the cat from urinating at all. Plugs will have to be dealt with immediately by surgery.
  • Serious health problems, such as tumors can also cause your cat to urinate frequently and inappropriately.
Urinary problems are much more common in male cats than they are in females, and still more prevalent in males cats who have not been neutered. While there is no way to guarantee that your cat will never experience these difficulties, there are a few things that can help to prevent them:

  • Make sure your cat drinks as much water as possible.
  • Diets that are more acidic will help prevent the formation of crystals and stones.
  • Canned food is recommended to keep the urinary tract normal.
  • Feed many small meals during the day, rather than one or two big ones.

Ask Your Vet about a Medical Approach

One of the most important aspects of inappropriate elimination, whether it involves urine or feces, is to get to the root of the problem as quickly as possible. Never punish your cat when you find an 'accident', the cat will have no idea why you are hurting it and it will just make your cat more stressed and more likely to repeat the act. Consulting with your veterinarian is the first thing you should do - there could be much more to the problem than you might imagine.

Physical Issues

There are a number of urinary conditions that can cause your cat to suddenly begin urinating outside of the box:

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  • Bladder infections are fairly common in cats and the irritation from the infection will cause your cat to force out small, but frequent, puddles of urine. Antibiotics are the answer.
  • Bladder stones form from an alkaline diet, and these irritate the lining of the bladder, making it more likely that an infection will follow. Some stones can almost fill the bladder. These stones will have to be removed surgically, as will plugs in the urethra.
  • Interstitial cystitis is a rather mysterious disease that combines both physical and mental factors. Stress seems to cause an inflammation of the nerves that are attached to the bladder, which then leads to a weakening of the protective mucus lining. Interstitial cystitis is treated mainly by varying the cat's diet, giving pain medications and altering the environment. This results in lowering the cat's stress levels.

If your cat is defecating outside the box, this may well be a sign that the gastrointestinal system is affected:

  • Constipated cats will strain and struggle to poop, and often desperation forces them to do so wherever they are. A change of diet can often help.
  • A number of things can cause your cat to have diarrhea, such as illness or infection. In this case, the cat may simply be unable to reach the box. You vet will have to diagnose the cause of the diarrhea and take appropriate steps to control it.

Treating the Psychological Aspect of Inappropriate Elimination

The sensitive nature of cats can put them under stress, and this can result in your cat's inappropriate elimination. Some success has been achieved in reversing inappropriate elimination using medications such as the tranquillizer valium, and neurotransmitter blockers such as amitriptyline and buspar. Medications used to treat human depression, like clomipramine also have been effective.

Many Cats Can Mean Elimination Problems

Cats are certainly not social in the same way that dogs are, but their behavior patterns have certainly been changed over their long association with humans. Strictly solitary in a natural setting, cats now enjoy not only the company of people, but often that of other cats. It's not unusual to see a pile of cats sleeping happily together. However, you should always keep in mind that cats do need a bit of space and privacy as well. Households with multiple cats often suffer from litter box problems where one or more of the felines soils inappropriately.

Pinpointing the Culprit

Once one of the cats starts avoiding the litter box, it's important to try to find out which one it is. The problem often arises because one cat is dominant over the others and will attempt, often successfully, to keep the other cat, or cats, from using the litter box. Fights can actually follow as the dominant cat 'repels boarders'. In most cases, the cat who is lower on the social spectrum will be the one who is the inappropriate eliminator. Refrain from punishing the guilty party, neither the dominant cat nor the one who is urinating on the rug; just find a solution as quickly as possible.

What to Do

It's not too difficult to overcome litter box avoidance in a multi-cat home, especially if you approach the problem through the eyes of your cats.

  • The most obvious solution is to provide several litter boxes for the cats, placed at a distance from each other. Cats enjoy some privacy when using the box and a dominant cat will have more trouble enforcing his or her position if the boxes are separated.
  • Dirty litter boxes invite cats to avoid them. Keeping the boxes clean will encourage the cats to use them.
  • Observe your cats and see the spots each cat enjoys most - this will be the best place to put a litter box.
  • Do not situate litter boxes near where the cats eat and drink; this is especially important when you are adding new boxes.
  • Use an enzyme cleaner to remove all traces of urine and feces from places where accidents have occurred. Cats will be attracted to the smell and consider the area to be a latrine.

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Always keep in mind, too, that after discovering who is not using the litter box to have the culprit examined by your vet just to make sure that no medical problem is present.