How Your Pet’s Stress Can Lead to Improper Elimination

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When your pet suddenly begins going to the bathroom indoors, it can be alarming, to say the least.

There are two main causes of improper elimination: pet health and stress. Just like people get stressed out, our pets can too. We’ll be looking at how you can figure out whether it’s stress causing improper elimination and why it happens in this article.

Start with Pet Health

As we said in the introduction, if your pet has been fine in general, it can be very worrying when that changes overnight.

Improper elimination can be related to a variety of medical issues. You’re best off investigating this as a potential cause first. You should schedule a consultation with your vet as soon as you’re aware of the problem.

There are a variety of possible medical causes for improper elimination. But some of the most common causes of more frequent urination include:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Bladder infections
  • Bladder stones and crystals
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes

Any medical issues which cause neurological deterioration or decrease mobility may also contribute to more frequent issues with elimination indoors. This could include conditions such as arthritis and dementia.

Both of the latter conditions are linked with aging so this should also be ruled out as a root cause of improper elimination by your vet.

All this said, if you’ve ruled out medical causes then the root cause is behavioral. In these instances, the most common cause is stress and anxiety-related. 

Stress in pets presents differently for cats and dogs, so we’ll examine them each in more depth.

Stress in Cats

For cats, improper elimination will look a little different depending on whether you have an indoor or an outdoor cat.

For cats who have access to the outdoors, improper elimination would involve starting to go to the bathroom indoors instead. While for indoor cats, improper elimination would involve them going to the bathroom places other than their litter box.

We make this distinction because litter boxes can actually be a cause of stress in cats. It’s a common issue too, with an estimated 10% of cats developing litter box elimination problems. 

Litter Box Stress

Almost all cats like using a clean, litter box. So a sudden avoidance is a clear indicator that the litter box is stressing out your cat. There are a few common causes of stress relating to litter boxes.

The first, and most common, stress factor is a dirty litter box. Cats will be stressed out having to stand in their own mess and will understandably avoid it. So start by making sure you’re cleaning out your cat’s litter box as often as you need to.

A good rule of thumb here is to spot clean the litter box every day by picking out clumps or waste. You should also be changing the entire litter box and washing it out every few days as a minimum.

Another common cause is size. Some cats are simply too big for their litter box and getting into a small cramped space stresses them out.

This is even more true if your cat’s litter box is hooded. So it may be worth investing in a new litter box that’s a better size or shape for your cat’s needs to see if it stresses them out less.

If you’re a multi-cat household, you need to provide enough litter boxes. Sharing litter boxes stresses cats out to the point they’ll often outright refuse. To avoid this, you should have a litter box for each cat and one extra.

Cats are oddballs, they can even be stressed out by particular types of litter or the litter being too deep. So you might want to try changing litter substances and only having around two inches of litter maximum. 

Other Stress Causes in Cats 

Cats are also affected by environmental factors, often more so than their owners give them credit for.

As we hinted at above, one of the most common environmental stress factors for cats is from living with other cats. While domesticated cats can create bonds with people and other pets, they are solitary animals by nature. So sharing a household with one, or many other pets, can be a huge cause of stress for many cats.

Similar to this, people can be a cause of stress for cats. A very busy household, loud guests, or a new baby can all create a stressed cat.

Even the layout of your house may stress your cat out. Moving furniture around or new furniture smells can all upset your cat.

For outdoor cats, the causes are more often external environmental factors than internal. Things like a new neighborhood cat, a cat in heat, or a new neighborhood dog can all stress your cat out. 

Stress in Dogs

For dogs, litter boxes obviously aren’t a stress factor, but many of the other environmental causes above that we mentioned could be. This includes busy households, loud guests, new arrivals, and multi-pet households all being common stress factors for dogs. 

Dogs are also affected by changes in routine. This should come as no surprise to pet owners whose four-legged friends seem to have an internal alarm clock when it comes to dinner and walks! But even minor changes in your routine that you don’t think would affect your dog can stress them out.

Moving is another huge cause of stress for dogs. This is often even more true for rescue dogs who may have abandonment issues or other insecurities.

Similar to this, separation anxiety is a huge stress factor for dogs. This occurs when your pet is left alone for too long a period of time. Dogs with separation anxiety often have issues with improper elimination.

Multi-pet households may also lead to a stressed dog marking. This is when a dog urinates on upright objects. It’s most often male dogs, but females may mark too. Marking is a common symptom of both stress and anxiety, often linked to environmental changes.

Learn More

Stress in pets has many causes, but improper elimination is one of the most common symptoms. Examining your environment and any life changes may help you get to the root of what’s stressing your pet. It might also help to learn more about how stress impacts pet health.