Peeing Outside the Litter Box: When Your Cat Needs the Vet


A few weeks after Toby came to live with us, I noticed he was peeing on a rug by the back door. My initial thought was that I had let him out in the living area way too soon or perhaps he was still a little drugged up after his neuter, but then I noticed he was also using the litter box. I treated the rug and washed it, as well as the rest of the rugs in the living space in case he had peed on one of them as well. Two days later, I caught him peeing on the same rug. When I interrupted him, he moved over to another rug to pee. I put him in a carrier and off to the vet we went. Sure enough, he tested positive for a urinary tract infection (UTI).

While many other things can cause a cat to urinate outside of their box (dislike of litter, infrequent scooping, something spooking the cat while in the litter box), a urinary tract infection is nothing to kid around about. If left untreated, a UTI can spread to the kidneys, leading to a bacterial infection of the blood known as sepsis, or even cause a urethral blockage, which prevents urine from passing from the body at all. Both of these conditions can be fatal to your cat. So, how do you know when to take your cat to the vet?

Common Symptoms of a UTI

  • Urinating outside of the litter box, especially if there have been no problems with using the box before.
  • Frequent or painful urination. If your cat is peeing often and seems to be in pain or is only going a little at a time, she likely has a UTI.
  • Excessive grooming of the genitals. Cats are clean creatures, and a UTI can cause temporary incontinence, meaning little dribbles of pee will frequently soil their otherwise pristine fur. Your cat may also start to smell like urine.
  • Strong-smelling urine. A cat with a UTI will often have very strong-smelling urine (think: ammonia).
  • Increased thirst. Cats drink water, but if your cat is drinking like he’s been in a desert for the past 24 hours, it’s very likely he has a UTI.

If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, get him into the vet ASAP for a urinalysis. If he does have a UTI, it can be treated with antibiotics that you administer or a one-time shot that lasts for two weeks. You can also request pain medication to help ease the discomfort of urinating until the antibiotics have been able to do their job. Once the treatment is complete, it’s a good idea to take your cat back in for a follow-up urinalysis to make sure the infection is completely clear.

As my vet Clanton-Malphus-Hodges explained to me, urinary tract infections are actually a common ailment in cats, particularly males. They are also at higher risk than female cats to develop urethral blockages, so it’s all the more important to treat UTIs as soon as possible.

Male cats are at higher risk because of the design of their urethra, the “tube” that transfers urine out of the body. The easiest way to explain the difference in the male and female cat urethra is through straws. Female cats have a urethra the size of a regular straw; in comparison, male cats would have a urethra the size of a coffee stirrer. Knowing this, it’s all the more important to not ignore the warning signs of a UTI. A healthy urinary tract means a healthy, happy cat, and certainly some cleaner rugs!

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Read more on Catster about urinary health in cats:

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of one dog and one cat. I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.

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