One of the most common reasons cats lose their homes is because they urinate and defecate outside their litter box. This condition is called feline inappropriate elimination or FIE. A cat’s litter box problem may be related to an underlying medical condition or an aversion to their litter box. It is important to determine the cause of a cat’s issues. Once the reason a cat is experiencing difficulty is determined, a solution can be found.

Several medical conditions could interfere with a cat’s normal urination and defecation behavior. Inflammation of the urinary tract causes painful urination. Both the frequency and urgency to urinate increase as a result of urinary tract disease.

Thyroid conditions, liver and kidney disease, and diabetes can cause changes in a cat’s elimination habits. Colitis, constipation, and anal sac disease are medical problems that can cause inappropriate defecation. Age related diseases which cause brain function to decline could also be a factor. Mobility and sensory issues affecting joints, muscles, and nerves can make it difficult for cats to use their litter box.

Cats can also develop an aversion to their litter box. This may be due to the box itself, the litter inside, or its location. Perhaps factors related to all three are creating the problem.

The cleanliness of a litter box as well as its size, shape, style, and location may all be factors contributing to inappropriate elimination. It is important to consider these factors from a cat’s perspective. A small litter box may discourage digging. A litter box placed too high may not be easily accessed. A litter box placed in a closet may cause your cat to feel cornered or trapped. If an older cat has to climb to reach a litter box, perhaps pain prevents them from being able to do so. Covered boxes cause odors to become entrapped which can bother some cats.

Other outside factors may cause inappropriate elimination. A new pet or the loss of another household pet may create disruption in normal elimination habits. Changes such as illness, divorce, moving, the birth of a new baby, or any situation which increases stress levels within the home can contribute to a cat’s inappropriate elimination difficulties.

If your cat is experiencing FIE, call your veterinarian to schedule an exam. Diagnostics including urinalysis, blood tests, x-rays, and a urine culture may be recommended to rule out any underlying medical condition causing the issue. If no medical condition exists, then your veterinarian will explore other possible causes with you. It is important to address the problem quickly. Allowed to persist, the behavior is more likely to become a habit. FIE is a common condition. Though it is frustrating, there is help available. Early intervention to determine the underlying cause is key. Doing so will benefit both you and your cat. Finding a solution will reestablish peace within your family and home.