Here's Why Your Cat Has Accidents Outside of the Litter Box, According to Vets

Ah, cats and their litter boxes, a never-ending saga. Maybe you have a furry friend that weirdly enjoys lounging in there for hours on end. Or perhaps your cat loves to play in their litter box and make a huge mess with the litter when no one is watching. Or maybe you are like me and have a cat that will do anything in the litter box from time to time — except poop or pee.

Cats having bathroom accidents in the home is something that many pet owners may experience at some point in their lives, but why exactly does it happen? And, most importantly, how can we stop it from becoming a thing? POPSUGAR spoke to two vets to learn more about why exactly our pets may be urinating or defecating in places they should not be.

Why Is My Cat Pooping or Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

Shadi J. Ireifej, DVM, DACVS, and chief of medicine at VetTriage, explained that the medical reasons why your cat may be urinating outside of their litter box can be broadly separated into three categories. These categories include diseases that involve the genitourinary system (UTIs, urine crystals, or urinary bladder stones), endocrine system (diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism), or renal system (kidney infection or kidney failure). "There are many other categories, such as neoplasia (cancer), neurologic disease, and cardiac (heart) disease that can cause a cat to urinate outside of the litter box, as well," Dr. Ireifej said. He warned that there may be diseases not often associated with urinating outside of the litter box that could also be causing this behavior. Because of this, it is important to bring your cat to the vet right away for diagnostic testing.

Secondly, Dr. Ireifej shared that the reasons why your cat may be defecating outside of their litter box can be categorized into two groups: primary versus secondary gastrointestinal disease. "Primary gastrointestinal disease includes those conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract," explained Dr. Ireifej. For example, this could include inflammatory bowel disease, gastroenteritis, colitis, worms, and neoplasia. "Secondary conditions include those outside of the gastrointestinal tract and may include neurologic conditions and orthopedic conditions," he explained.

Ann Hohenhaus, DACVIM, staff doctor at NYC's Animal Medical Center, pointed out that UTIs, pain while defecating, and interstitial cystitis, specifically, may cause your cat to associate pain with their litter box. "If untreated, they may stop using the box and use the corner of your dining room rug instead," Dr. Hohenhaus said. Furthermore she said that if your cat urinates in the litter box, but does not defecate in it, then they may have painful defecation. On the other hand, if you notice that they defecate in the litter box, but will not urinate there as well, this means they may have painful urination.

Could There Be Other Reasons Why My Cat Won't Poop or Pee in the Litter Box?

If you got your cat checked out at the vet and their tests come back clear, your furry friend may be having bathroom accidents due to behavioral issues. "Behavioral conditions that cause urinating and defecating outside of the litter box may be characterized as either psychogenic (internal) versus environmental (external)," said Dr. Ireifej. "The former is difficult to pin down, and requires exclusion of both medical conditions as well as external factors".

Some external examples that Dr. Ireifej cited include a change in your cat's litter box (like swapping litter brands), introducing a new pet into the home, or having a baby. He suggested that cat owners consult a vet behaviorist to help uncover exactly why this may be happening, as it may be tricky and some cats are more sensitive than others.

How Can Pet Owners Help Prevent Litter Box Accidents?

Thankfully there are ways owners can help their cats from having any future accidents around the house. For instance, Dr. Ireifej explained that treatment should focus on the underlying cause — with medical conditions being treated based on the specific disease that may be causing litter box accidents. It is also important to keep your pet in good health as it could help prevent future diseases from developing.

If these accidents seem to be tied to a behavioral issue, Dr. Hohenhaus suggested cleaning the litter box daily, sticking with one type of litter, and making sure sure you have one extra litter box than the number of cats in your household to help prevent future accidents. And as always, book a visit with your cat's vet to get a better idea of what is going on.