Keeping it in the tray - Feline toilet tips

A lot of pet owners who come to us at Mt Eliza Village Vet with their feline friends can feel embarrassed to talk about toileting accidents. This is because a lot of people assume their cat is the only one with the bad habits and that not much can be done about it! Neither of these assumptions are true, in fact most cats toilet in the wrong place from time to time and for most cats this problem can be completely resolved.

Cats will usually toilet outside the tray for 1, 2 or all 3 of the following reasons.

  1. Help I am sick, I have a problem with my bladder and need a vet check!
  2. I don’t like my tray, my litter or where may tray is! And I certainly don’t want to share it with my brother or sister. I’ll go under the bed instead thanks!
  3. My very important and private territory is being threatened in some way or something about my living situation is making me anxious! I think I will spray all over a vertical surface like a doorway or a wall to remind everyone to give me my space!

Usually to fix each of these problems, we need to know exactly which one of these reasons are causing the problem. A veterinary consultation can usually identify this. The most important part of this visit is a full veterinary examination for any medical problems that may be contributing especially if the toilet problems have come on suddenly, your cat is unwell or the urine or faeces being passed are abnormal. Once this has been addressed we usually have a discussion with you about the layout of your home, the kind of litter tray and litter you are using, how many cats you have and how they get along with each other!

So as you can tell, the problem can be multilayered and complicated. The support of one of our vets who all have experience in feline behaviour is important. However here are a few simple things that you can try at home first – so long as you are not concerned that your cat is sick or distressed by the situation.


  • Having a super clean litter tray and increasing how often you clean it - ideally daily - seems very simple but not surprisingly, with our busy lives, can be a little neglected! If you can give your cat fresh litter daily or as a minimum ensure waste is scooped out daily, this will make the tray much more inviting. Sometimes a small amount of litter which is completely disposed of daily and replaced works a lot better than a deep litter system.
  • Now that the tray is clean – it needs to be BIG! Oddly enough, most litter trays on the market are much smaller than cats would like! They are designed more to please us humans by appearing small and neat but often – no one has asked the cat how big they would like it! Most cats if asked nicely would explain that most trays are too small, so they are either un-inviting which means that cats must walk through their own previous mess to toilet or spill over the edge easily! Large modified storage containers with a small door way cut out (upside down with no lid) suit most cats a lot better!
  • Substrate! Some cats are very specific about what kind of litter they go to the loo on! Some will only go on sand litters, others paper based and so on. Sometimes trying a new litter or going back to a previously successful litter can be all that is required. Beware of clay clumping litters in your bathroom or laundry – this clay will block your drains if it gets into them!
  • Follow the n + 1 rule! That is 1 tray per cat in the house – plus one! And yes, you guessed right, each of them must be big and clean!
  • Finally, ensure your cat feels safe when going to the loo! Most of the time, while privacy is important, an escape route is the deal breaker! Especially in a multi cat house hold. As you can imagine, it would be hard for us to go to the toilet if we were worried about our big brother coming in half way through and deciding to start and argument or worse give us a swipe across the nose! If a tray has a lid or is in a very small space – sometimes cats get really worried about any ongoing tensions with their siblings coming to fruition right in the middle of their business! On the other hand – other cats prioritise privacy more, this is something you will have to decide with a few runs of trial and error!

For any more questions or for an appointment to sort out this complex and frustrating problem, please contact us at Mt Eliza Village Vet on 5955 2440. We can not only provide advice but also pathology testing, diagnostic imaging (ultrasound and digital x-ray) and medication all from our family run clinic to assist in any kind of feline health or behaviour problem you may encounter.

Please don’t be shy, this is a not a problem you or your cat has to live with!