The first time your cat urinates outside the box can be a frightening experience. The mess itself is really inconsequential compared to your concern over where it's going to go from here. Is he going to start roving farther and farther away from the box, wetting numerous household items that can't be cleaned, destroying an ever-growing list of your possessions?

All of that is quite possible, so you will need to act fast. Take a careful inventory of what has changed in your cat's life over the past few weeks or so. Did you change his food recently? Food digestion produces an assortment of microscopic waste products that are released into the urine for disposal. Changing the food alters the composition of the urine, which can result in crystal formation or even damage to the bladder wall. That's painful for your cat, causing him to drastically adjust his litter box behavior. Did you recently get a new box or change litter brands? Sometimes your regular litter company will change the product without bothering to consult the cats or their owners first. Did the new bucket of litter seem to have a different consistency or scent to it? Cats are creatures of routine, and they often do not accept even minor changes to their litter box without a struggle. If any of these scenarios has occurred recently, I always suggest that you make a quick U-turn. You may be able to eliminate the undesirable behavior by returning promptly to your cat's preferred litter, food, or type of box. Always be methodical with any diet change, being sure to allow several days for a complete transition.

Other changes in the household can also disrupt your cat's sense of well-being to the point that he starts to step out of the box. Has there been an addition or subtraction in the form of people or other pets? Has there been a traumatic upset in your household routines, such as major illness, a death in the family, the loss of a job? Have you moved? These events are not reversible, at least not on account of a pet's preferences, but pinpointing a source of stress may allow you to ease the transition. Examples might be isolating the new pet to a separate part of the house, obtaining a worn piece of clothing from an absent loved one, or intervening when a new baby wants to lunge and squeeze. Your cat will feel more “in control” if he can use a cat tree or jungle gym to rise above the situation, especially if it involves a goofy puppy or a grabby child. Perhaps your furry friend just needs extra cuddle time or play sessions to soothe him.

If you can not readily identify a cause for your cat's failure to use the litter box, you'll need to have him evaluated at the vet. But while you're waiting for the office to open, let's take a look at one more important issue in his life: cleanliness.

Dr. M.S. Regan