26 facts about ‘inappropriate elimination’

Here are 26 facts about the classic domestic cat behavioural problem, namely ‘inappropriate elimination’. It is a problem which has been widely discussed and in-depth. I believe that a succinct presentation on the topic may help some people get to the bottom of it quickly. I hope this page helps. If you have any questions then please ask them in a comment. The information on this page comes from a variety of sources including veterinarians and scientists and myself in reading and writing about cats over fifteen years plus personal experience.

The most common cat behavior problem is depositing urine and/or poop outside of the litter box for one reason or another
The most common cat behavior problem is depositing urine and/or poop outside of the litter box for one reason or another. Picture: Pixabay.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats
  1. Inappropriate elimination is the most commonly reported domestic cat behavioural problem;
  2. Please remember that “inappropriate elimination” refers to a human point of view about domestic cat behaviour. From the cat’s point of view eliminating outside of the litter box is appropriate for whatever reason they have. It’s a question of finding and understanding the reason;
  3. Reports vary, but between 40% and 70% of cat behaviour problems referred to behaviourists and veterinarians have some type of elimination problem;
  4. Most of the problems concern urinating outside the litter box;
  5. Some concerned defecating outside the litter box but this is rarer;
  6. In broad terms there are 3 causes: medical, anxiety resulting in the need to mark territory by urination, aversion to the litter box;
  7. If the condition is medical and the medical problem has resolved it may continue as a behavioural problem;
  8. The most common medical cause of litter-box problems is feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) which is a multifaceted disorder but which is commonly concerned with cystitis in the context of inappropriate elimination. Cystitis can cause haematuria which is blood in the urine;
  9. Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital found that 15% of domestic cats referred to them for feline lower urinary tract disease also had litter box problems;
  10. 37% of cats referred to them with litter box problems were diagnosed with feline lower urinary tract disease;
  11. When cats are referred to a veterinarian for inappropriate elimination, they should receive a complete health check including urinalysis, and palpation of the kidneys and bladder;
  12. Palpation may reveal the presence of crystals in the bladder or lower urinary tract which is useful as cats suffering from this disease often have crystals in the urine;
  13. Other potential medical causes for inappropriate elimination include diseases that cause polyuria (excessive urine production) such as diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism;
  14. Other diseases that may be implicated are gastrointestinal disease encompassing food allergies, malabsorption or maldigestion, disorders of the anatomy which may interfere with normal elimination or diseases concerned with age such as arthritis or senility;
  15. Urine marking is not urine elimination in the conventional sense because the purpose of it is to mark territory and when it occurs inside the home under normal circumstances it is normally due to stress for a variety of reasons;
  16. Urine marking (spraying urine when backing up to an object and spraying urine horizontally) should not be treated as inappropriate elimination with the objective of eliminating waste;
  17. However, spraying urine comprises approximately 40% of house-soiling complaints by cat caregivers. Intact male cats are more likely to do it while neutering will help eliminate it. Females also can also spray. The caregiver should first analyse what they are doing to reduce stress in the environment to get to the bottom of this problem;
  18. Litter box aversion is concerned with either the type of litter material used which the cat doesn’t like or a disliking of the position of the litter box in the home;
  19. Moving the litter box to a quieter more private location may stop the problem;
  20. The litter box may be too small and sometimes cats don’t like covered litter boxes. Jackson Galaxy does not like covered litter boxes. I like them;
  21. The cleanliness of the litter box may be a factor in avoiding it but it should not be over clean so as to remove the scent of the cat using it;
  22. There should be at least one litter box per cat in the home and the cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy recommends one extra. The point being made is that there should be enough litterboxes and they certainly should not share one;
  23. Cats with litter box aversion may not dig and cover their waste or they may straddle the edge of litter box to avoid touching the litter. They may defecate outside the litter box and shake their feet vigorously after stepping out;
  24. Sometimes litter-box aversion is due to a medical condition such as declawing a cat which makes the toes sore which becomes a problem when walking on litter material;
  25. It is advisable to not use scented litter because this masks the natural scent of the cat and the waste. These scents are important to a cat as cats like to use the same place. If allowed to go outside to the toilet they will use the same place very often;
  26. Sometimes cats will urinate or defecate in a certain place in the home but outside the litter box. They return to it. The answer here is to thoroughly clean that area with enzyme cleaner to eliminate it as an area in the minds of cat where they go to the toilet.

RELATED: Home Remedy for Cat with Cystitis

RELATED: 14 links between stress in domestic cats and health implications

Cat leaving a covered litter tray
Cat leaving a covered litter tray. Photo: iStockphoto. Note: covered litter trays are more likely to have clay dust trapped in the air inside.

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2 thoughts on “26 facts about ‘inappropriate elimination’”

  1. Caroline M Gifford

    This may not be the location best suited, but what info do you have on expression of the anal glands?
    King Arthur has been scooting across the rug again.

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