Help with older cat going to the bathroom everywhere

This forum is for cat lovers seeking everyday advice and suggestions on health-related issues. Remember, however, that advice on a public forum simply can't be a substitute for proper medical attention. Only your vet can say assuredly what is best for your cat.


Purred: Tue May 4, '10 5:01pm PST 
Our cat Cosmo has been a good cat since we adopted him 9 yrs. ago. He is now 12 yrs. old and he has developed a habit, this past year, of going to the bathroom on a couch in our family room and on our bed. He never did that before. Have tried sprays, foil, tape, scolding him when I catch him going on the couch but nothing seems to stop him doing it. Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas why he would start to do this now. We have not had any really changes in our lives to warrant his behavior. My husband is getting quite upset with him because he will not stop doing it.


Backflips are my- specialty!
Purred: Tue May 4, '10 5:12pm PST 
Cosmo do you have any different health issues going on lately? Basically an abrupt change of not using the litter box like that is a cat's way of telling their mom and dad that something is wrong or different and they should bring him in for a check up at the vet. Either that or maybe he's decided he doesn't like the litter anymore or the box. You can try getting a bigger box and putting it somewhere more accessible. As kitties get older they get more fussy about it. You can also try adding another litter box or two around the house to see if that helps. You could have a urinary tract infection, a diarrhea bug that needs antibiotics or something else. You should definitely bring him in but also add some additional boxes. Finnegan was getting too big for the covered box and he started pooping in the bathtub because he didn't like being closed in anymore. Mommy took the cover off and now he's fine. Sometimes it's as simple as changing a small thing. Or maybe you need to change his diet, he's a senior now.


Rescue cats- rule!
Purred: Wed May 5, '10 12:06pm PST 
Best of luck Cosmo!!
Please keep us updated.
It might be worthwhile to take a trip to get a vet checkup. Not to over-worry you, but urination issues can be tied to lots of later-life health problems, my Selby wasn't able to make it to the litterbox when she was having kidney problems toward the end of her life here with us. I think maybe the best you can do is monitor, and hopefully get Cosmo a checkup.
good luck.

Merlin - An Angel- Forever

Purred: Wed May 5, '10 1:56pm PST 
Read this for common reasons why cats go outside the litter box: http://catinfo.org/litterbox.htm

The first thing you should do is take Cosmo to the vet for a check up and full blood work. If everything comes back normal, then consider behavioral issues. Sometimes the litter box is just too dirty or in a bad high traffic spot or the cat decides he/she doesn't like the litter type or litter box style shrug


I'm cute and I- know how to use- that :)
Purred: Wed May 5, '10 2:13pm PST 
Merlin's right.

Problem behavior that manifests all of a sudden always requires a vet visit first. This is because if your cat has a health problem that causes the inappropriate elimination, no amount of behavioral retraining will stop it, because the pooping is a message "mom, mom, I'm not feeling well. See, I can't even control my pooping!"


headed for the- light.
Purred: Wed May 5, '10 2:23pm PST 
If it's only when he pees, suspect urinary tract trouble; only when he poos, suspect constipation or impacted anal glands, If it's both, still get him examined, but more than likely he has either gotten scared while using the box, or something about it has become uncomfortable. Cutting a lower spot may help him to get in, and getting the biggest box you can is always good; even a big storage bin gut low enough for him to see out, plus a lower 'door' is good. If you don't have more than one box, get a couple more. Make sure you are using unscented litter, and an uncovered box. If other pets can bug him while he's trying to go, try to find some way to stop it.
As I've gotten older, I also 'forget' now and then, but it's usually due to my costipation trouble acting up; if I go out of the box, or on the bed, Meowma watches to see that i'm pooping every day; if not she calls her sister, who is, luckily, a nurse, and they administer an infant sized enema; they put me in the cat jail room with 2 litter boxes for about an hour afterward, of course. That only has to happen rarely, and my vet does approve since we know what the problem is, and I do take meds for it but sometimes my colon slows down anyway.

I hate to tell you, but punishment or deterrents aren't likely to make him go back to the box--he's associating it with something painful, or scary, so he will just find another spot.
It might even be that a different box, with different litter will help. But you will have to find out what's bothering him, or he will still keep messing up.


Princess Forever
Purred: Wed May 5, '10 2:44pm PST 
It is time to go to the vet to check everything out. As mine became senior cats, I would go every six months because you catch things faster then. They get the full Wellness treatment- blood tests and urine. My older cat has early, early kidney disease. She had been going to the bathroom to do her peeing. She had an urinary infection and then the kidney disease was found. She will live longer now and is on renal food. She now uses the litterbox without a problem....so please go to the vet....


RESPECT The- Star!
Purred: Wed May 5, '10 4:21pm PST 
I agree with the others and they gave you some great advice. big grin

At 12 yrs old, he is a senior cat, and there needs change. I had a link for you, on senior cat care, one of which, was behavioral changes in a senior cat, the first symptom they listed, was not using the cat box, and it all pointed to medical issues. But it won't let me copy the link, mol, so I just copied the whole article. Hope this works. big grin

Home / Cat / Senior Cat Care / Behavior Changes in Senior Cats :
Senior Cats: Common Behavior Changes
Veterinary Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Holly Nash, DVM, MS

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As cats become older, they may be more apt to change their behavior or develop certain behavioral problems. With the correct diagnosis and treatment, many of these behavioral problems can be resolved. It may take some patience on your part, but your longtime feline friend is worth it!
Inappropriate elimination

Inappropriate elimination (urinating or defecating outside of the litter box, and/or spraying) is the most common behavior problem of older cats. There are numerous causes for this behavior, many of them medical, so a cat who has inappropriate elimination should be examined by a veterinarian. Laboratory tests will need to be performed in most cases.

Medical conditions, which result in an increased frequency of urination or defecation may be the underlying cause for this behavior problem. These conditions include: colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, kidney or liver disease, and feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). Medical conditions, which cause pain urinating or defecating, or make it difficult for the cat to get in and out of the litter box, may also result in inappropriate elimination. Such conditions include arthritis, FLUTD, anal sac disease, loss of vision, and some forms of colitis. Treatment of these medical conditions may help to resolve this behavioral problem. In addition, using litter boxes with lower sides, placing the litter box in the area in which the cat spends the most time, and increasing the number of litter boxes may be helpful.

Stress can be a major cause of inappropriate elimination in cats of all ages. Older cats may not be able to handle stressors as well as younger cats. Stressors such as moving, changes in routine, or changes in the makeup of the family can result in inappropriate elimination. Reducing these stressors or decreasing their impact on the household will benefit your cat (and probably you, too). For instance, when moving, attempt to keep the cat in a quiet portion of the home when packing and during the actual moving day. At the new residence, confine your cat to a quiet room at first (probably a bedroom), placing her food, water, litter box, and favorite sleeping material (bed, sweatshirt, etc.) in the room. Spend time with her in that room and feed her and clean the litter box at the usual time. Gradually let her become accustomed to the rest of the house.

There is a product called 'Feliway,' which was designed to help reduce anxiety in cats, and thus decrease spraying or urinating inappropriately. Feliway contains pheromones from the cat's face. Pheromones are chemicals, which are used to communicate with other members of the same species. You may notice your cat rubs her face and chin on vertical surfaces. She is leaving a scent there, which contains these pheromones. The pheromones from the face have a calming effect on other cats. When Feliway is sprayed onto multiple vertical surfaces which your cat may spray, the cat receives this calming effect and in many cases spraying will be reduced.

Cats of all ages may develop an aversion to the litter box or substrate (material inside of the litter box). Trying different types of litter including clumping litter, sand, newspaper, and no litter are things that could be helpful.

Other tips on controlling inappropriate elimination and spraying include using enzyme cleaners to clean areas, which have been soiled with urine or feces, feeding the cat in the area in which she is inappropriately eliminating, and using upside down carpet runners (the ones with the spikes on the bottom), double-sided tape, motion detectors, pet repellents, or scat mats to limit her access to the area where she inappropriately eliminates.


Cats may become aggressive toward people or toward other animals in the household. Again, this aggression may be the result of a medical problem such as one causing pain (arthritis), vision or hearing loss, which results in the cat being easily startled, or diseases having direct effects on the nervous system. As with inappropriate elimination, stresses such as moving can cause irritability and subsequent aggression in some cats. A combination of counter-conditioning (teaching the cat a different response when exposed to a certain stimuli), desensitization (gradually reintroducing the cat to the stimuli), medical therapy, and Feliway may help change the cat's behavior. Consult your veterinarian and an animal behaviorist if your older cat is becoming aggressive.


As with the other behavioral problems discussed above, loss of hearing or vision, stress, pain, and neurologic disease can contribute to fear or anxiety in a cat. Treatment includes determining, if possible, the cause of the fear and reducing it, providing appropriate therapy for any medical condition, and prescribing various antianxiety medications.

Change in activity patterns

For their entire life, some cats tend to be active during the night, keeping us awake, and then they go into sound sleep as soon as we get up. Some older cats will develop this altered sleep-awake cycle, as well. Pain, the need to urinate or defecate more often, the loss of vision or hearing, changes in appetite, and neurologic conditions can contribute to this behavior. Playing or grooming your cat prior to bedtime may help her to sleep. Experiment with changing feeding times to see if that makes a difference. You may not be able to change the cycle, so in those cases, you may want to keep the cat out of the bedrooms.

If in addition to staying awake at night, the cat vocalizes as well, you may need to use something aversive to stop the vocalizing. 'Remote correction,' such as throwing a pop can containing a few coins or pebbles toward the cat (not at the cat!), may startle her and stop her from vocalizing. She should not associate you with the correction or she may increase her vocalization just to get your attention. In some instances, medications may be used in an attempt to change the sleep-awake cycle.


Many of the behavioral changes we see in older cats can be due to medical conditions. If your cat's behavior is changing, have your cat examined by a veterinarian. Your older cat is more easily stressed, so attempt to reduce stress by making any necessary changes in routine gradual, and decreasing the exposure of your cat to stressors. With patience, understanding, and treatments recommended by your veterinarian, you can help make your cat's older years a quality time for you and her.

References and Further Reading
American Association of Feline Practitioners. Academy of Feline Medicine Panel Report on Feline Senior Care. 1998.

Becker, M. Caring for older pets and their families. Firstline. August/September 1998: 28-30.

Crowell-Davis, SL. Cognitive dysfunction in senior pets. Compendium 2008 (Feb):106-110.

Epstein, M; Kuehn, NF; Landsberg, G; et al. AAHA Senior care guidelines for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 2005; 41(2):81-91.

Harper, EJ. Changing perspectives on ageing and energy requirements: Ageing and energy intakes in humans, dogs and cats. Waltham International Symposium on Pet Nutrition and Health in the 21st Century. Orlando, FL; May 25-29, 1997.

Hoskins, JD. Geriatrics and Gerontology of the Dog and Cat, Second Edition. W.B Saunders Co, Philadelphia, PA; 2004.

Hoskins, JD; McCurnin, DM. Implementing a successful geriatric medicine program. Supplement to Veterinary Medicine; 1997.

Landsberg, G; Araujo. Behavior problems in Geriatric Pets. Fortney, WD (ed). Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice. W.B Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 2005 (May): 675-698.

Landsberg, G; Ruehl, W. Geriatric Behavior Problems. In Hoskins, JD (ed.) The Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice: Geriatrics. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1997: 1537-1559.

Overall, KL. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. Mosby-Year Book, Inc. St. Louis, MO; 1997.

Thompson, S (moderator). Roundtable on pediatric, adult, senior, and geriatric wellness at every stage of life. Veterinary Forum; 1999 (January);60-67.

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Purred: Fri May 7, '10 8:43pm PST 
I might have a solution for you!! Firstly I will say that you have to rule out all medical possibilities for why your cat has started this behavior. My old cat was in renal failure, but he was really starting to avoid the box in his old age (he lived to be 21). What I did that worked like a charm was to get a low entry litter box, and I used Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Litter or you can buy Dr. Elseys Litter, and buy the cat attractant to sprinkle in it too. You can buy this at PetSmart. I also put puppy training pads around the outside of the box (I always doubled them up though), and bingo problem solved. You can buy 101 Dalmations puppy pad for a pretty reasonable price and they work well. Senior cats really like puppy pads as when they get older their joints get sore and they don't like to climb into high cat boxes. I hope this helps!!!