Why does my cat urinate next to the box?
Most of the questions that a cat behavior therapist gets is about uncleanness and spraying. Not surprising because it is the most common behavioral problem in cats and also a problem that the owner experiences a lot of nuisance from.
Questions about stopping uncleanliness are often difficult to answer, because there can be so many different reasons why a cat is unclean or spraying and because marking certain places with urine and/or feces is actually part of normal cat behavior.
Normal cat behavior
So spraying and marking with urine and feces is normal cat behavior With this scent, they can pass messages to other cats about:
- Who marked.
- When is marked?
- The emotional/hormonal status of the person who marked.
- Where the boundaries of the territory lie.
Cats do not only mark with urine and feces, but also by scratching objects and by giving cups to objects. There are scent glands on the sides of the head and under the legs, with which they deposit so-called pheromones in places where they scratch/rub.
By uncleanliness, I mean sitting in the normal urinating position urinating (or defecating) on a horizontal surface, with a normal amount of urination.
The cat will then look for an alternative urination site because the cat does not want/dare to use the litter box or place where the litter box is located or because the cat finds another urination site more attractive to urinate on. Once a cat has urinated in a different place a number of times and he liked this, it could then lead to learned behavior.
Causes of uncleanliness can include:
Aversion to (the grit in) the litter box, for example:
- Pain when urinating and/or defecating on the litter box, for example, due to urinary tract problems.
- The cat doesn’t like the grit used.
- The litter box is not clean enough.
- The cat prefers not to have a hood on the litter box or rather.
Aversion to the location of the litter box, for example:
- Food bowls and drinking bowls that are next to the litter box.
- Smell from other cats in the litter box.
- Victims of other cats’ behavior.
- Fear of other things near the litter box.
Preference for a place other than the location of the litter box, by:
- Further away from other cats.
- Further away from noise.
- Further away from activity.
- Further away from other things that make the cat anxious.
- Preference for a surface other than the used cat litter:
Cats can develop a preference for a certain surface. If this is the case, it usually concerns soft surfaces, such as towels, pillows, etc. These types of preferences can develop cats spontaneously, but there is often a connection with an aversion to the litter box or litter box location as the first reason for this choice. Then the preference for urinating/defecating in a place other than the litter box develops if this place suits the cat better.
Incorrectly learned behavior as a kitten / young cat, as a result of which the cat has already developed a preference for a different surface at a young age, occurs regularly, such as:
Kittens cannot reach the litter box in time and find soft pillows in their path.
Cats and kittens, who can’t find the litter box when they are new to the house.
Cats and kittens, who do not dare to use the litter box when they are not new to the house, because they have to pass a dog or cat already present in the house.
Contrary to popular belief, not only hangovers spray. Uncastrated males spray the most on average, but also of the castrated males still spray about 10% and of the females about 5%. Castration is, therefore, no guarantee against spraying.
Spraying is recognizable by the attitude of the cat. The cat stands upright, urinates a small amount of urine straight back and often vibrates with its tail during spraying. A cat can mark by spraying, but in addition, a cat can also mark sitting while in the normal urination position. This marking can be done with both urine and feces and is done for the same reasons as spraying.
House spraying (and marking) is behavior that cats exhibit especially when they are unsure of their territory.
Causes of uncertainty about the territory include:
- Problems between cats in the house.
- Problems with cats outdoors.
- Too many cats in the house (spraying is more common in multi-cat households, the more cats in the house, the more likely it is to spray).
- Strange smells brought into your home.
- Fear of abandonment.
- Change of family composition.
- Different rhythm of life of the owner.
- The way the owner handles the cat.
NB If the cat consciously sprays in the sight of the owner, who often also looks at the owner in the meantime, there is almost always frustrated with the cat, which is related to the behavior of the owner towards the cat.
Treatment of uncleanliness
Exclude a medical cause, so first urinalysis and possible additional examination by the vet.
If there is no medical cause, try to figure out another possible cause of uncleanliness. Does it have to do with a preference for a different location or an aversion to the litter box or the current location of the litter box? Or is it perhaps not unclean at all, but spraying/marking?
- Place enough litter boxes around the house (equal to the number of cats +1).
- Use large enough litter boxes (1 ½ times the length of the cat!).
- Make the litter box as attractive as possible by using a grit that the cat likes and keeping it very clean.
- If there are several cats, provide enough personal space for each cat.
- Clean the soiled areas with a detergent suitable for removing urine/stool odors, such as a soaking detergent.
- Make the contaminated places odorless after cleaning, by rinsing them with plenty of clean water.
- If necessary, use a special spray that changes the structure of the odor molecules on the pee/poo site, so that they lose their odor (make sure that the spray itself does not contain any other fragrances!). See also the two videos below this article.
- Make the contaminated places inaccessible for a while and (if possible) put a litter box on or near this place.
- If the cat marks, try to find out what is the reason for this and try to eliminate/influence this reason.
If you think stress/feeling unsafe from the cat is a factor, you can purchase a pheromone vaporizer for support, but don’t forget to address the cause as well.
What not to do
- Apply strong odors to the pee/poo site or clean with strong-smelling agents. The cat will take this as a marker that has been placed over his and cannot do otherwise if he puts his own scent back in that place as soon as possible.
- Place the cat on the litter box and hold it there. This gives the cat an aversion to the litter box.
- Punish the cat. In practice, the punishment always comes too late and is not understood by the cat. The punishment makes the cat feel unsafe or frustrated, resulting in more problem behavior!
- Giving the cat medications, such as tranquilizers, hormone injections, or antidepressants without addressing and treating the source of the problem behavior at the same time. The chance of success with the use of medication alone, without changes to the living environment of the cat, is small. In the meantime, you are spending a lot of money and as time goes by the problem becomes more and more difficult to fix.
Uncleanliness and spraying in the house can be remedied if it is possible to identify the cause and treat/eliminate it. In addition to addressing the cause, it is important that the cat unlearns the wrongly learned behavior.
Your cat will never pee or poo in the house to harass you. He always has a good reason for showing this behavior.
If your cat is unclean, a medical cause has been ruled out by the vet, and you are unable to resolve the problem yourself, call in a cat behavior therapist to help you. He can then look for the cause together with you and help you train the cat to urinate and defecate exclusively in the litter box.