Feline Potty Problems

In spite of the cats reputation for cleanliness, inappropriate elimination (house soiling) is the most common behavior problem of cats. The number one reason given for relinquishment and euthanasia of cats in animal shelters is this frustrating behavior problem. There are numerous issues that may contribute to a cat having “potty” issues. Because of the variability in causes, any kitty with recurrent inappropriate elimination (IE) should be examined by a veterinarian to determine if the cause is behavioral or medical. Laboratory tests will need to be performed in many cases to help make this distinction. A few common causes are discussed below:

Medical Conditions

There are numerous medical conditions that can lead to IE, and should be initially ruled out to make sure that treatment is not required. Some conditions that may be associated with IE include: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colitis, kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and cystitis. Some medical conditions cause pain during litter box use, or may make it difficult to access the litter box. A few such conditions are anal sac disease, loss of vision, arthritis, FLUTD, and some forms of colitis. Diagnosing and treating these medical conditions will often alleviate or resolve IE.


In cats of all ages, stress may be a factor contributing to inappropriate elimination. Identifying and reducing these stressors, and attempting to decrease their impact on the household may benefit your cat (and you, too!). A safe and easy to use product called ‘Feliway’ was designed to help reduce anxiety in cats, and often decreases episodes of inappropriately urinating. Although published research studies are mixed with regards to effectiveness, many pet owners report significant improvements.

Litter Box Preference

Many cats will develop a dislike for the litter box itself or the substrate (material used in the litter box to absorb excrement). This is especially true of litters with perfume or antiseptics, as the odors may be unappealing to the cat. Some cats have preference to litter box location as well. If a box is located too close to their food or water, or an area that they don’t feel they have enough privacy, they may avoid entering the box. In addition to offering various substrates, it’s also worth placing several extra boxes around the house to see if a new box location improves affinity towards the litter box. Animal behaviorists recommend providing at least one more litter box than the number of cats present in the household. Some litter pans should be shallow, others deep. In general, cats do not like covered litter boxes as much as uncovered boxes.

General Tips


Thoroughly Clean

Clean all soiled areas thoroughly with a cleaner designed with enzymes to break down the urine or feces. This is very important, because if the cat is able to smell any urine or feces on a carpet or floor, it is much more likely that the cat will continue to eliminate in that spot. Unfortunately, in many cases, a complete replacement of the carpet and padding may needed.

Keep Litter Boxes Clean

Try to clean the litter boxes as frequently as possible. This should be done at least once daily. The litter box should be emptied and washed weekly. Rinse the box well after washing it to remove any chemical smell from the cleaner.

Feeding Placement

Feed the cat in the areas where he is inappropriately eliminating. Most cats prefer not potty in the area they are being fed.

Do NOT Punish

Do NOT punish the cat. Although your instinct may be to punish the bad behavior, punishment for IE will likely increase the stress on the cat and worsen the problem.

Restrict Area Access

Depending on the situation, it may be help to keep the cat in a small, quiet room with food, water, toys, bed, and litter box. After a few weeks of using the litter box appropriately, gradually give more access to larger areas of the house.

Talk to Your Veterinarian

If all else fails and medical conditions are ruled out, ask your veterinarian if medications to reduce inappropriate elimination are warranted.

Complimentary first exam (a $60 value) for new clients.

We offer same-day appointments for new and existing clients to accommodate your urgent pet care needs!

Book Now!