I’m often asked to communicate with pets who are doing things their owners don’t like. Cats peeing outside of the litter box is probably the most common problem owners complain about. “My kitty is peeing on the carpet because she’s mad at me for not giving her more treats.” Or, “my cat is peeing on the couch on purpose. He knows he’s supposed to go in the litter box… he does this to get me upset.”
I wish the reasons for why our kitties pee outside of their litter boxes were this easy to explain. The long and short of it is that our cats are not capable of this sort of sophisticated thought process. While the timing of their inappropriate peeing may be connected to something negative that has happened to them, kitties don’t craft a way to get back at us. They don’t say to themselves, “I know what I’ll do… I’ll pee on mama’s pillow. That’ll show her for pushing me off of her lap.”
When I talk to a kitty who has been peeing outside of her litter box, I’ll ask her why she’s doing this. There can be any number of answers. Sometimes a kitty “hurts” when peeing… maybe a bladder infection or crystals in her urine. Of course, she can’t name the exact reason for the “hurts.” She just knows that sometimes, because of this feeling, she can’t make it to her box in time.
Occasionally cats will tell me they don’t like the smell in their box. Maybe it hasn’t been cleaned for a while, or the smell of the litter itself drives them away. There might be another cat who uses the litter box – a cat that has been bullying or terrorizing the rest of the kitty family. Peeing outside of the litter box is the only answer for a kitty who feels threatened by the bully. The litter box is not a safe place.
There are certainly kitties who will tell me they are “mad at their mamas.” “Mama loves Fluffy more than she loves me.” These sorts of feelings can cause an unsettling in a cat’s life. And while they may feel “mad at their mamas,” the reason they might pee outside of their litter boxes is not about getting back at mama, it’s about this unsettling feeling… something doesn’t feel right. Cats do not like to feel unsettled. They like their worlds orderly and to always make sense to them. When it doesn’t, for what ever reason, they react negatively. Peeing on the floor can be one of the ways cats show their displeasure.
There is no easy fix for cats peeing outside the box.
Sometimes my talking with a cat who is peeing on the carpet instead of using her litter will do nothing except help to identify the reason she is doing this. But, there have been times when a conversation with “Fluffy” has helped to get her to use the litter box again, especially when an owner makes an effort to correct the problem that started “Fluffy” peeing on the floor in the first place.
Cats are creatures of habit. They are clean, tidy little animals; and they want to use their litter boxes to pee and poop in. When they do use our homes as their bathrooms, there is a reason. It could be a medical problem, it could be a litter box that never gets cleaned, it could be another cat who bullies them and they are too afraid to use the litter… and so on. And even though our cats may be upset with us, they do not pee on the floor to “get back at us”. When our cats squat in front of us and pee, they are not saying “I’m mad at you so I’m going to pee on your bed to get back at you.” What she might be saying is “I’m upset and I don’t know what to do about it. You’re my mama and I want you to know I don’t feel right. Make things better.”
So, contrary to what we might have been taught all these years, our pets do not intentionally get into trouble in order to “show us up”. They do not sit in their beds all day while we’re at work and think of ways to get back at us for leaving them alone for 12 hours. Only the human animal does that.