8 Reasons for Cat Incontinence and Out-of-Litter Box Messes Getting To the Cause of Kitty Bathroom Problems

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When a cat uses the bathroom outside of the litter box, there's often a cause behind this behavior that can be corrected. Whether it's a medical issue like incontinence or a lack of training, read about the solution here.

Cat incontinence is a medical issue, usually requiring medical treatment. A cat may go outside the litter box for other reasons too, including a lack of training or acting out because theyโ€™re unhappy about some change in their world. These issues are behavioral or psychological, and can be resolved through attention and training.

Inappropriate urination that needs to be resolved medically is defined as incontinence. In these cases, some underlying issue has developed to the point where loss of bladder control has become a symptom or indication of the condition. Learn about the different conditions that can lead to incontinence in cats, and how to treat it.


Feline Diabetes

    •  Symptoms: Your cat may rush to the litter box, but fail to make it there on time. Theyโ€™ll likely be drinking more water than usual.

    • Treatment of Incontinence: Treatment of the diabetes will resolve the incontinence.

Urinary Tract Infection

    • Symptoms: If your cat is straining to urinate, but little or no urine comes out, get them to a veterinarian quickly. A UTI is easily treated with antibiotics, but the infection can spread quickly into the bladder, which is harder to treat.

    • Treatment of Incontinence: Antibiotics will resolve the infection, which should in turn eliminate any incontinence issues.

Scarred Bladder

    • Symptoms: If a UTI (see above) has spread to the bladder, some scarring may occur. Scarring takes up room in the bladder, which means thereโ€™s less room for reserves of urine. The need to urinate may become urgent.

    • Treatment of Incontinence: In this case, prevention is the best treatment. Get UTIs treated as early as possible to prevent the spread of the infection, which will prevent scarring.

Kidney Stones

    • Symptoms: Strain during urination, frequent urination, blood in urine, paired with a tender abdomen.

    • Treatment of Incontinence: The two most common options for relief of kidney stones are surgery and diet change. Surgery is highly invasive and can be expensive, but it is typically quick and effective at relieving pain and discomfort. Changing the catโ€™s diet to dissolve the stones is less invasive, and less expensive. However, itโ€™s not always effective, and when it is, it can take several weeks to work.

Bacterial Bladder Infection

    • Symptoms: Otherwise known as cystitis, this condition is rare in cats who do not have diabetes or kidney disease. Itโ€™s also more common in cats over 10 years of age. Indications of this condition include straining to urinate, more frequent urination, excessive genital cleaning, a sudden stop in litter box use, and urine thatโ€™s smellier than usual.

    • Treatment of Incontinence: Cystitis can be successfully treated with over-the-counter or prescription supplements or pills. Cranberry extract is one such successful treatment, but discuss options with your veterinarian.

Old Age

    • Symptoms: If your geriatric cat has stopped using the litter box, and other underlying medical issues have been ruled out, they could be exhibiting signs of senility.

    • Treatment of Incontinence: Help them out a bit by adding more litter boxes to the environment. Theyโ€™ll have a shorter distance to travel, which could make it easier for them to go properly. If theyโ€™ve forgotten where the litter lives, remind them from time to time by taking them there.

What About Fecal Incontinence?

Fecal incontinence, rarer than urinary incontinence in cats, may take a few forms. A simple bout of diarrhea could be causing the accidents. Just wait to see if the issue resolves, and talk to your vet if it doesnโ€™t.

If youโ€™re finding droppings around the house, your cat could be dealing with something as serious as a tumor, or nerve damage to the spinal cord. Get them checked out to rule out a serious condition.

Most Elimination Issues Are Behavioral

Consider whether a change in your environment has caused your cat stress. Also, be sure to clean the litter box frequently. No one likes a dirty bathroom.

Litter Box Training for Your Cat 

New and prospective cat owners are often surprised to learn that they'll need to train their new pet to use the litter box. Since cats have digging instincts, many people assume that their pet will just figure it out on their own, or that kittens are shown the ropes by their mother in the weeks after birth. Alas neither of these are the case, and it's up to a cat's owner to teach their pet the proper way to use the litter box.

Luckily, training can be a fast and painless process if done correctly. Here we'll walk you through the steps that will get your cat walking to the litter box.

Training Instructions

  • The sooner you can begin the litter box training process, the easier it will be. The best way to get started is to get prepared. Purchase your cat's litter box and set it up in your home before the arrival of your new cat. Litter boxes should be placed in an area of the home that is free of clutter, loud noises, or other distractions. Learn more about choosing and setting up a litter box.
  • Place your cat or kitten in the litter box after meals, naps, play sessions, or any other time they appear ready to eliminate (sniffing and looking around are two good signs). After they go, offer lots of praise. Cats like praise, and if it's directly linked to the litter box your cat will form a positive association with its use.
  • Whenever you cannot directly supervise your cat during the training process, confine your cat to a cat-proofed room with the litter box.
  • Never reprimand your cat if they make a mistake. If you happen to catch your cat in the process of eliminating outside of the litter box, pick up the cat and place them in the litter box to finish. Never scold your cat as you do this โ€“ it will only create a negative association with the litter box. If you find an accident after the fact, clean it up with a non-ammonia cleaner (ammonia smells like urine, and if the location smells like urine your cat may think it's an acceptable place to urinate again). Never carry your cat to the accident spot for a reprimanding or rub your cat's face in the accident. Your cat will not connect the discipline with the accident and will only be confused.
  • One way to expedite the litter box training process is to leave a small amount of urine or feces in the litter box between cleanings. Your cat will recognize the smell and be reminded that the litter box is where such business takes place. Once your cat is using the litter box regularly, begin cleaning the box in its entirety, leaving behind no urine or feces.

Litter box training can be accomplished anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks โ€“ every cat is different. Follow the above instructions until your cat is using the litter box regularly.

If you have followed the above instructions and your cat is still not using the litter box, talk to your veterinarian. Your cat may have a medical problem that is preventing litter box use and you'll want to find out what next steps you can take.

More on Kitty Boxes and Training

How To Choose a Cat Litter Box and Kitty Litter
5 Ways To Take the Ewww out of Litter Boxes
Litter Box Training for Your Cat

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Urinary Tract Infection Urinary Incontinence Diabetes

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