Has your dog or cat been having random “accidents” (peeing or pooping) around the house? You should check in with your veterinarian as this behavior can be a sign of a health condition.
Zazie Todd, author of Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy and Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, told Newsweek: “Unfortunately sometimes people mistakenly assume their pet is doing it because they are naughty or out of spite.”
But it’s really important to see a veterinarian as “you can’t tell from looking at your pet” what the issue may be, she said.
Here, Todd and other pet experts explain why these accidents could be a sign of a serious health issue.
Reasons for Pet Accidents in the House
Urinary Tract Infection
Dr. Lindsay Butzer, a veterinarian and spokesperson for pet food supplement company Zesty Paws, told Newsweek that a cat peeing out of their litter box can be either a behavioral issue or an underlying health condition.
Your first port of call should be to visit your veterinarian for a physical exam and urine test to rule out a health condition. One of the more common medical explanations for accidents (especially in older cats) is a bacterial urinary tract infection, which can often be addressed with antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian, Butzer said.
Vicki Jo Harrison, president of The International Cat Association, said: “Inflammation of the urinary tract can make urinating painful and increase the frequency and urgency for a cat to urinate.”
Butzer said dogs with urinary tract infections may urinate in the house or appear to be uncomfortable or straining to urinate outside. When their pee is examined, there may be blood in it, which should alert owners to take the dog to the veterinarian.
Other reasons may include bladder stones, idiopathic cystitis (bladder inflammation) and feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), Butzer said.
If bladder stones are detected via an X-ray, the smaller ones can usually be dissolved with the help of a urinary care diet prescribed by your veterinarian. But for larger stones, a procedure called a cystotomy may be necessary to remove them, she said.
Kidney, Liver or Thyroid Issues
Butzer said cats urinating outside the litter box could also be a sign of metabolic disease (potentially diabetes, which causes cats to drink and urinate more) related to the kidneys, liver or thyroid. This can be detected via a blood test.
Diarrhea and Upset Stomach
Butzer said dogs commonly have bouts of diarrhea which shouldn’t be of much concern, especially if the dog is known to have a “garbage gut,” meaning they are prone to eat anything.
But when the diarrhea becomes more frequent and uncontrollable or it appears in different colors than normal, there may be an underlying medical issue. Dogs with diarrhea may not be able to hold their stool in and instead go in the house, she said.
Butzer explains dog diarrhea can be caused by:
- Pancreatitis from idiopathic (unknown or spontaneous) reasons or fatty meals.
- Stress colitis (inflammation of the large intestine).
- Intestinal parasites picked up from grass.
- Cancer, in the “worst-case scenario.”
Butzer said cats with upset stomachs or inflammatory bowel disease produce diarrhea in the litter box. Sometimes frustrated cats suffering from diarrhea release their bowels on couches, beds or in the closet.
Harrison said digestive tract issues can also make it painful for a cat to defecate, increasing the frequency or urgency for defecation and decreasing their control over it.
Harrison said age-related diseases that interfere with a cat’s mobility or cognitive functions can impact their ability to get to the litter box in time.
Once medical causes have been ruled out, there are several behavioral issues that may be at play:
- Stress: Butzer said the stress of being in a new house or having new pets introduced into the household can cause your cat to become upset and urinate outside the litter box.
- The litter box isn’t clean enough. Butzer said “it may be as simple as the box not being clean enough.” Cats like to keep their spaces tidy, and if their box isn’t cleared frequently, they may go elsewhere.
- They don’t like the litter. Cats may not agree with the grain size or scent of the litter, so trying different litters may solve the issue, Butzer advised.
- They don’t like the size or location of the litter box. Generally, cats prefer larger, uncovered litter boxes placed in quiet places away from their food and water, said Butzer.
- They don’t like the surface. Harrison said a cat may also avoid a litter box if there’s a particular surface (soft like carpet or clothing, or hard like a tile floor or bathtub) they don’t like.
- They feel safer outside the litter box. Todd said sometimes cats may even pee or poop somewhere like your bed, “which can feel rather personal but it’s simply because that’s where they feel safe.”
How Can I Help Pets Avoid Having Accidents?
Reduce Your Cat’s Stress Levels
Butzer said one way to potentially help reduce stress in cats is to add a calming supplement to their diet, such as one that contains ingredients like L-tryptophan (an essential amino acid used to make proteins) and chamomile extract “to support tense, stressed or hyperactive kitties.”
Butzer also recommends giving them a supplement to provide extra support for their immune system if you know your cat is stressed out.
Set Up a Nicer Litter Box
Todd said there are several ways to make sure your cat has a good litter box setup, including:
- Offering a large-sized litter tray.
- Making sure the litter isn’t strongly scented.
- Making sure you don’t use any cleaners with a strong scent.
- Placing the tray in quiet locations away from the cat’s other resources like food.
- For older cats, ensure the tray has an opening low to the ground to make it easy for them to step in, even if they have arthritis.
Keep Your Cat Hydrated
Harrison said: “To prevent urinary tract troubles, make sure your cat has plenty of water to always drink,” and consider giving them wet food once a day.
Stick to a Daily Dog Walk Routine
Butzer recommends establishing a daily walk schedule that your dog can rely on to help prevent them from having accidents in the house.
“No dog wants to have accidents in the house and they feel bad after they do, so if they know the next time they are going to be let out they may just hold it,” she said.
Add Probiotics to Your Dog’s Diet
Feeding your dog a probiotic daily can help prevent unwanted diarrhea episodes, Butzer said.
“Keeping your dog up to date on heartworm prevention will also prevent intestinal parasites and feeding your dog a daily probiotic can help regulate your dog’s gut and digestion,” she advised.
If your dog is prone to eating their stool (coprophagia), this could also be the cause of an upset stomach. Giving your dog an anti-coprophagia supplement may act as a deterrent, along with supporting gut health, immune function and periodontal (gum) health, Butzer said.
Do Dog Pee Pad Training
You can try training your dog to go on a pee pad by laying the sheets out in areas of the house where they’ll feel comfortable having accidents, Butzer said.
“At least this way the clean-up is less stressful on the pet parent and your dog has a designated area to go to if they are feeling sick,” she said.
Don’t Punish Pets for Accidents
Todd said: “Never punish your pet for having accidents in the house,” as it might teach them not to go in front of you, which can mean they may leave a mess somewhere out of sight in the future.
Dogs may become reluctant to pee or poop on walks in case you punish them, she said.
Your pet may also associate the punishment with you, in which case it will affect your relationship with them, Todd said.