Peeing outside of the box! It’s kind of like ‘thinking outside of the box’, but with less fun results. And it seems to be the theme for this month. So why do cats do this? Well, for a number of reasons.
One reason is for communication. They don’t speak English, and they are trying to tell us something, and it’s usually not good. They might be feeling unwell, but they don’t know a way to show you directly, so they might demonstrate by doing something unlike themselves. They also might be upset and are demonstrating their discontent via protest.
So from there we can narrow things down to physical and/or emotional.
Physically, they could be feeling discomfort in general, or specifically around urinating. They could have a urinary infection, a bladder or intestinal issue, cramping, or are arthritic. Sometimes they pee outside the box to let you know something is off, or they simply can’t make it into the box. Cat boxes are often raised off the floor and there is some climbing involved. What seems minimal to us, can be painful for them, especially as they get older. Sometimes when they get older, they don’t even realize they are going outside of the box, as their front end is in the box, but not their back end. This could be a lack of senses, like sight or mental capacity, or just a sense of “I’m in the box, this is good enough.”
Emotionally, cats are very sensitive creatures, and it doesn’t take much to upset them. Broadly speaking, cats are more attached to their surroundings and routine, and any kind of change can upset them. Moving to a new home, rearranging or getting new furniture, an unclean litter box, a critter outside taunting them through a window, or something in your life has changed. You could work new hours, or are at home or away from home more often, or maybe you’re dealing with stress. When things change in our life, especially if by choice, we think nothing of it, but for them it can be super stressful.
Years ago I was going through a very tough situation and dealing with some incredible stress. At the same time one of my cats starting peeing in my dog’s bed — which of course just added to my stress. I took my cat into the vet, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. He continued this, and one night I had to drive him to the emergency vet after our regular vet had closed. The emergency vet determined that his urethra was blocked, and wanted to do emergency surgery on him. I agreed, and the vet started to put him under. Once my cat was under anesthesia his bladder released and he peed all over their surgical table. Turns out he was feeding off my stress all that time, and it was affecting him physically. I had to put on a happy face and be mindful of my emotions when I was home. I acted like everything was wonderful, and sure enough, his bladder issue completely resolved. I learned a huge lesson during that time.
So with all these things in mind, go through all the scenarios and see if you can determine if any of them apply to your cat. Put yourself in their shoes, so to speak. If you rule out the emotional ones, consider taking your cat to the vet for a check-up, and be sure to let your vet know about the new habit. If you rule out the physical ones, see what might be different and possibly stressful for them, and then take a good look at your life and see what might be stressful for you, and therefore stressful for them.
Practical tips: Keep their litter area super clean, accessible (near by, easy to get into, maybe stairs have become difficult for them), and in a safe location (in a quiet place where they don’t feel cornered or threatened). If you recently changed litter, consider changing back to the old tried and true (at least in their eyes). Add a litter box, especially if you have more than one cat. If you have more than one cat, make sure the other(s) is not bothering them.
Good luck, and let me know if you’d like some help brainstorming!