cat peeing outside the box
October 17, 2004 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Why would my 6 year old cat suddenly stop using the box? (more)

I have two cats, brother and sister, both fixed. They're just over six years old and have been free of any major physical ailments so far. They've been pefectly fine all these years but on Thursday night, the smaller female cat suddenly started going to the bathroom outside of the box for the first time in her life (beyond kitten age). I'll admit the box was kind of dirty at the time so I thought she suddenly became picky, so I changed out the litter. The next night, two more pissings on the walls near the box. Saturday morning, I watched her circle the litter-catching rug in front of the box and start to go to pee, but I startled her and pushed her into the box.

Later that day I went out and bought a new litter box with hood, just as supersized as the last one, with another fill of clean litter. I eventually watched her use it successfully, though she seems really fearful while doing it. I figured the problem was solved, but today woke up to notice she peed along the wall, next to the box opening for the third time.

Anyone have any ideas why the sudden change? Should I take her to a vet? Is she retalliating from something? Why would things be kosher for six years, then suddenly go all wrong?
posted by mathowie to Pets & Animals (19 answers total)
Take her to the vet! Often cats will go outside the box when they are hurting due to something like a urinary tract infection, as that is the only way they know how to show you they are in pain.
posted by sugarfish at 2:15 PM on October 17, 2004

Urinary tract infection? It doesn't sound like there's anything that would warrant a behavior issue, but it's weird that she's going in the same place. I'd say a quick vet visit is in order. If you rule out a UTI, one of my coworkers swears by this litter, which I think has catnip as an additive or something.

Also, cleaning her "accidents" with an enzyme cleaner like this to stop her from associating those spots with her own personal bathroom might help.
posted by kittyb at 2:17 PM on October 17, 2004

what sugarfish said. when our cat started having "accidents" it turned out it was because she had some stomach virus thing and needed antibiotics for two weeks.

other than that, has there been a change in her eating habits or what you've been feeding her? has her demeanor changed? if you were able to hold her in your arms before, does she still let you with ease now? if not, there's definitely something wrong with her digestive or urinary tract.

when/if you take her to the vet, ask about what you should feed her in the meantime. often dry food is a nono when these things happen.
posted by ifjuly at 2:21 PM on October 17, 2004

Infection of the urinary tract, bladder, kidneys, or Bartholin's glands are all possible. Anger. Allergy to a new brand of litter (or a new formulation of the same brand of litter).

And what kittyb said about making sure you have eliminated all trace of pee-smell from every location that is not the litter box.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:23 PM on October 17, 2004

I had asked a similar question here.

It turned out our cat had a urinary tract infection (although he's still occasionally pissing elsewhere while we're treating him...)
posted by jpburns at 3:00 PM on October 17, 2004

Sorry. That was another cat pee link. Geez! The things we cat owners put up with...

Here was my question.
posted by jpburns at 3:05 PM on October 17, 2004

Yep, likely a urinary tract infection and/or she's getting crystals in her urine (either could easily also explain why she looks fearful, it hurts!). Time for a vet visit. Since she's female, you're lucky - even if she's developing Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, in females it's usually not as severe (males have narrower urinary tracts, which means they can block up more easily), and normally it can be controlled with diet or diet and medication alone (males often need surgery).

As I've said before: any change in eating or bathroom habits always warrants a trip to the vet. Hope she's okay!
posted by biscotti at 3:35 PM on October 17, 2004

Best answer: Aside from what everyone has said about a possible UTI, I have a few options to offer after you take her to the vet. Do you use the fine-sand clumping litter, or the gravely kind? Because if the cat's issue is behavioral, then she might have developed an aversion to the feeling of the litter on her paws. The litter might be too tough, or she might have a cut on the bottom of her paws that is irritated by the litter. You could also try adding one more litter box to the room so that she has more options. You could also try leaving off the top of the box because maybe she has pain in her joints, and it's difficult for her to bend through the opening of the box?
posted by naxosaxur at 8:26 PM on October 17, 2004

Another loud "take your cat to the vet" from me, too. When this happened to our Simon, he had a urinary tract infection. Left untreated, this is Bad.
posted by jdroth at 8:46 PM on October 17, 2004

Response by poster: Ok, off to the vet after my morning meetings tomorrow, promise.

She's using chunky desicant litter, the white crystal stuff, but it's almost the consistency of gravel. If I hear UTI isn't a problem, I'll try a new litter.
posted by mathowie at 11:28 PM on October 17, 2004

If you do try a new litter, switch gradually (mix some new in with the old and gradually increase the proportions over a week or so). Some cats can get very accustomed to their litter and you may find your other cat will stop using it if you change it overnight. Odds are that it's something other than the cat litter, though, since it came on so suddenly.
posted by biscotti at 7:02 AM on October 18, 2004

Response by poster: So I went to the vet today, but her temp and urine checked out fine, and the doctor thinks it is probably behavioral, as she does seem a bit more spooked than usual (she's a fraidy cat already).

I'm setting up a second litterbox with different litter, in a different location to see if that stems the problems. The doc also said it was important to remove any trace urine smells of where she has gone before, which that Nature's whatever is taking care of as we speak.

I have another cat, but he seems fine and I don't think he's the one that is doing this, but I might take him in later this week for a checkup to be sure.

Oh, the craziest part was at the end of a long skittish cat behavior talk, he mentioned if her anxiety is really bad, he puts cats routinely on prozac. He says it works, but cats on prozac! Just seems crazy to me.
posted by mathowie at 11:11 PM on October 18, 2004

My friends in college had a band called the Prozak Kittens, because their cat was on the stuff. It was mildly brain-damaged but that pill kept it from drooling and running into walls. The cat, not the band.
posted by sciurus at 3:39 AM on October 19, 2004

Try removing the hood on the litterbox and see whether that helps, or go back to the old litterbox.

What most hoods tend to do on litterboxes is concentrate the smells of the box inside the box. That might sound good for you, the human, but cats don't generally like this, anymore than you might like, say, the portapotties at Burning Man.

Common sense: Large, open litterboxes with good, absorbent litter produce fewer odors than other litterboxes, because they allow odors to disperse easier. Odors that annoy you can be covered with some kind of room air freshener or potpourri. Or you can just clean out their box more often, or do regular partial cleanings with a good clumping litter.

The best catbox I've ever had wasn't a catbox at all. It is a long, deep Christmas ornaments plastic storage box from Walmart whch cost about $5. It's much longer than most boxes, a little deeper than most boxes, and fits nicely to the side of the washing machine. Littermaids are good too, though they are of limited value if you have more than two cats, and can require unexpected cleaning of and fiddling with the mechanism at times.
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:26 AM on October 19, 2004

I have to disagree with the littermaids thing. Some cats are frightened by the mechanism, and as a result pick another place to do their business. Like your rug. If the cat's nervous to begin with, you probably don't want to use a litter box that has large (to a cat) grinding machinery attached to it
posted by unreason at 5:35 AM on October 19, 2004

I understand how silly it sounds when you first come across it, but Prozac has saved more than one pet's life. Pets can have mental issues just like people do, and they can be just as hard to live with.

Glad your kitty's okay. Make sure that the litterbox is in a different room from the food, and ideally it should be somewhere secluded. I agree about taking the lid off, and also you might want to get a bigger litterbox, which will hold enough litter to allow the cat to perch on the side without tipping over (some cats won't use a litterbox if they have to stand in the litter while they relieve themselves).
posted by biscotti at 7:59 AM on October 19, 2004

You DEFINITELY have to clean the areas on the wall where the cat has peed. Use a strong cleaner, but be sure to wash it down afterwards to make sure the scent of the cleaner isn't overpowering.

Our cat peed on the cement floor of the basement after being accidentally locked out of the laundry room (and litter box). We washed it down with just water and soap, and he did it again the next day (even with access to the litter box, which he pooped in). Fearful that this was going to become a habit, we hit it with some heavy cleaner (that orange-stuff) and then washed it with water again to remove the orange smell.

He walks over there occassionally, but hasn't repeated the performance yet.
posted by grum@work at 11:57 AM on October 19, 2004

Please check your cat for diabetes. I had a cat that like yours peed outside the box. It was obvious he was telling me he didn't feel well, and we went to several vets for years. One of the 'cures' he was one was kitty-prozac. While he was on it he didn't do much else but lie around and look dozy (this was a very loving cat who'd hug me and keep me company all the time off prozac). So I took him off prozac. The wetting in the wrong spots continued. He got worse. Vets again, and again, and again. He was tseted for all sorts of things and on all kinds of medication for most of his life. None of the vets ever checked for diabetes.

When he was nine years old, a vet finally checked. By this time it was "too late" to do anything, the vet suggested he be put down.

This still makes me very sad, and I'd hate to see that happen to your cat too.
posted by dabitch at 12:49 PM on October 19, 2004

It was the 'fraidy cat' thing that set me off there, mine was a little skittish as well, loving and adorable but just a tad shy of new people, loud noises. Your cat seems very similar to mine in that respect, even in that you have two cats as well - mine lived with his cat-brother and me all his life. It just breaks my heart that I tried so hard to find what his problem was and found out too late.
posted by dabitch at 1:10 PM on October 19, 2004

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