Ideally, your cat should not have to go without a litter box at all. But sometimes life happens – you may be left wondering how long can a cat go without a litter box.
There can also be times, when your cat refuses to use a litter box or cannot use a litter box, so best to understand cat behavior and know when to be concerned about their health.
As a rough guide, your cat will usually poop at least once a day and pee 2-4 times per day. If you’re worried about your cat’s health, read on to find out what is considered ‘okay’ and when you should be consulting a veterinary medicine professional.
What does ‘normal’ even mean? Observing an average cat’s litter box habits
Just as with humans, your cat’s litter box habits and its precious contents can reveal a lot about your pet’s health. Cats come in all shapes and sizes, so there are no hard and fast rules here, but let’s explore what is generally considered “normal”, so that you have a reference to fall back on.
It’s essential to know your cat’s daily pee and poop habits – this may be one of the first signs that something is wrong with your pet’s health. Keep an observant eye on the frequency, size, color, smell of the litter box contents. If you notice your cat’s litter box treasures are in any way ‘out of ordinary’ and this is persisting longer than 2 days, it may be time to see your veterinarian to rule out any potential problems.
If you’re leaving your cat alone with a cat sitter, make sure they know what to look out for, how they can contact you and how they can contact the vet in case of a medical issue.
How often do cats poop?
Broadly speaking, most cats will poop at least once a day. Sometimes they may poop more than once and sometimes they may skip a day or two.
What does normal cat poop look like?
Unless you’re a new cat parent, you will know what a healthy cat poop looks like – deep/chocolate brown, with medium-solid consistency (not rock hard and also not too soft). Quite obviously cat poop will have a poop smell, but it should not be anything extreme or so foul that it makes your eyes water.
How often do cats pee?
As a ballpark figure, a healthy cat usually urinates 2-4 times per day. It’s also completely fine if they go a little less or a little more. There are plenty of variables affecting the specific amount and frequency for your cat.
What is normal cat urine like?
The urine of a healthy cat is straw-yellow, perhaps golden and will not have a strong smell, perhaps just slightly acidic. It is certainly much easier to keep an eye on the feces and notice if there is anything going on. If you are using clumping cat litter, you will ‘on average’ find 2-3 clumps of urine per day, this would roughly be around half a cup of pee. If your cats litter is non-clumping litter, you may not be able to see much, but keep an eye out for wet spots when you are stirring the litter.
Is it normal for my cat?
We all like to ask ‘what is normal’, but the fact of life is that we are all different and all of this also applies to our cats. We cannot stress this enough for any cat owner – get to know what is ‘usual’ for your cat! Or multiple cats, if you’re a serious cat owner. Then you will understand the difference between normal changes to your cat’s litter box rituals and when to take your kitty in for a professional opinion. Let’s explore some factors that affect your cat’s toilet habits.
Kittens are born without being able to pee or poo on their own, they need the help of their mother cat. Kittens that have mastered the skill on their own (around 4 weeks of age) usually urinate after each feed and poop 1-4 times per day. This will depend on the amount of times the kitten feeds and how efficient your cat’s digestive system has become. Best not to use covered litter boxes or clumping kitty litter at the start, so make sure the type of litter tray and litter you buy is suitable for small kittens.
An adult cat usually poops once or twice per day. They have a mature digestive system, which is efficient in dealing with food and waste. Average cats tend to pee 2-4 times per day (affected by various factors, of course, such as diet, activity, hydration, season, etc)
Cats become ‘senior’ after 12 years of age. By then they can be drinking and peeing more often. This is called polyuria (excessive urination, followed by excessive drinking – polydipsia). Excessive pee output is above 50 ml per cat weight (kg) per day. Sometimes this can be a sign of urinary tract infection (it’s more common with older cats), diabetes or kidney problems. Best to consult your vet to make sure everything is okay.
An elderly cat may also find it more difficult to pee/poop in their litter box, so you may occasionally find waste in other areas of your home.
The most notable difference between male and female cats, in the urine department specifically, is that male cats tend to “spray” more. This is not your normal kind of peeing – the will still use cats litter box. Spraying is generally known as territory marking, where they literally spray a small amount of pee, usually on a vertical surface. Male cats tend to be more territorial and mark it with spraying. Also, male cat urine tends to smell more due to the presence of some steroids.
Unspayed cats can also engage in “spraying behavior” to attract males during the heat, but are less likely to do so compared to male cats. Just like male cats, they can also spray due to other factors in their life – environmental or social stressors. As mentioned above, spraying behavior is separate from normal urination, which should still happen with the usual frequency in their litter tray.
Neutered and spayed cats
Neutered male cats and spayed females usually have clear, almost odorless urine. Depending on how fast the testosterone and traces of previous urine leave the cat’s body after neutering, male cat odor should reduce significantly within a week after having their neutering surgery.
If you notice a sudden development of strong cat pee odor, better get your cat checked for a urinary tract infection.
Level of activity
Whether your cat is a couch potato or an agile hunter activity level has an obvious effect on their digestion. Cats that are regularly active tend to have more frequent and regular bowel movements. Regardless of the level of activity, if your cat is pooping more than 3 times per day or has not pooped for 3 days, it may signal a health concern, so speak to your vet.
Diet and water intake
Cat food, as well as the amount of water they drink will influence their daily pooping and peeing. Cats who eat large amounts will poop more frequently or larger amounts. Cats that do not get enough water, especially if they are predominantly eating dry food, may experience constipation. If this is the case, consider mixing up the food routine and offer them a meal with higher water content. Introducing any new foods or dietary sensitivity to certain ingredients may change the frequency and consistency of bowel movements too. If you’re planning to change your cat food, consider doing it gradually so as to not upset their digestive system.
If your cat is prone to digestive upset – constipation or diarrhea, consider feeding them with high-fiber content food. Extra fiber will help with effective digestion by making the food mass move through the digestive tract more swiftly. It also helps to keep the digestive tract healthy. Cats who get an adequate amount of fiber tend to have a good stool quality and less problems with defecation. Consuming a good amount of fiber will also benefit cats with obesity and diabetes.
Does weather affect my cat’s litter tray usage?
Weather can indeed have an affect on cat’s digestion and pooping/peeing. During very hot days you may notice your cat being more lethargic and they may have a decreased appetite. If you’re worried about your cat’s heat tolerance – keep an eye on them to avoid a potential medical issue.
Cats may try to cool themselves down by more frequent grooming (potentially followed by more frequent regurgitation of hairballs). This may also lead to changes in their stool consistency. Some cats can get a bit constipated, while others may have a softer poop.
During heat seasons, you can help your cat by keeping them well groomed. Either brush out excess hair or get it trimmed. This will reduce the amount of hairballs that can potentially get stuck in their digestive tract and enable them to cool down easier. Read about natural hairball prevention.
Make sure your cat has access to a clean litter box, especially in the hot seasons.
Dirty litter box can escalate into a party of infectious disease – keep it clean and avoid a litter box problem.
Offer them plenty of water and wet food.
Make sure they can hang out in the shade and get some ventilation going.
By the time the day heat has dissipated, you should see your cat regaining some appetite and usual activity levels.
Cats with health concerns or excess weight can find it much harder to face hot weather conditions. This can potentially cause serious concern, so be well prepared with precautions.
Some cats are more anxious and sensitive than others. They can react to new people or multiple cats moving into the household, furniture being changed around, remodeling, guests, noise, you name it!
Your cat can show their unhappiness with the situation with different behavioral cues and changes in their peeing and pooping routine can be part of this display.
The bottom line in this situation is that your cat is afraid or stressed out. This may lead to inappropriate urination or defecation.
Keep an eye out for signs of stress and identify the cause.
Remember that cats do not do it out of spite, as a cat owner may falsely believe. This is a serious sign of anxiety, so scolding does not work. Better to give your cat the attention they need and try to gradually encourage them to become familiar and accept the new situation.
It’s not uncommon for cats to involuntarily pee when they are frightened unexpectedly. Going through a scary unknown situation or period can lead to inappropriate urination. The amount of cat pee can range from a little puddle to a fully emptied bladder. This may be part of a fight-flight response, a way to disengage from a potential cat-fight. You may be dealing with a particularly anxious cat, so find a way to de-escalate the situation and get your cat to calm down. You may find it helpful to isolate them into a private setting and bring them something with a familiar scent on it (like a cat bed).
Your cat health and any medical condition can affect their litter box habits. Overweight cats tend to poop less and are more prone to constipation due to the stress on their digestive system. Your cat’s digestive system can also be impacted by hairballs, blockages, inflamed bowels, thyroid issues, parasites, etc.
Health disorders affecting your cat’s toileting
Your cat’s digestive tract and their toileting can be affected by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and disorders such as tumors, ulcers, inflammation, obstructions. Treatments for these depend on the cause and severity of the medical problem and you should always follow the recommendations of your veterinarian.
Cat has not peed? When to be concerned?
If your cat has stopped peeing – it can be a serious issue, which can quickly escalate into an emergency. Make sure dirty litter is not the cause. It’s better to know the signs of urethral obstruction and understand the severity, before too late. Clumping litter is really the best cat litter to know the urine output; with non-clumping variety you may miss small amounts of wet spots. Urine accumulating in the cats bladder will cause it to expand and toxins will start to concentrate in the kidneys. After 24 hours they can start to affect other body systems, where it may escalate into a fatal situation.
How to recognise urethral obstruction in your cat:
*this would be more common in a male cat, but females can suffer from it too
*risk factors include obesity, eating mostly dry food, stressful situation, recurring bladder inflammation, previous urethral obstruction and other medical issue
*your cat may be visiting the litter box frequently, but there is no pee in 12 hours
*your cat may be meowing loudly while straining to pee
*they may be in pain and/or hiding
*no appetite, often vomiting
*they may be drinking more
Beware that an unresolved urethral obstruction and bladder stones are a serious medical problem. This can lead to death, so act fast if you notice any of the above signs!
How long can I leave my cat without a litter box?
If, for some reason, you need to leave your cat without a litter box, be prepared for potential accidents.
If you’ve ran out of litter, your cat may be fine while you nip to the shops. Most likely they can wait a short while. But cats, being naturally clean, can get upset if they are stuck without a toilet.
If you’re traveling and spending extended periods with your cat on-the-go, try to plan regular toilet breaks into the schedule. Your cat may be too stressed to pee/poop, but you should give them the option, whenever possible.
Leaving your cat without clean litter for any other reason, just beware – if they need to go – they will. If there is no litter box, they may be able to hold it, but be prepared for some clean-up!
Your cat hasn’t been using the litter box
It is concerning to notice your cat is not peeing as much as usual. This can signal a serious problem with cat health. Your cat generally can go 24 to 48 hours without peeing. It’s always best to reach out to the vet as soon as you notice a weird change.
If your cat has had surgery
It can take a few days for your cat to return to their regular toileting habits. They should poop at least 3-4 days after surgery. The delay may be caused by certain medications, which can slow down the digestive functions. It is also possible that the cat may have eaten less/fasted prior to the surgery.
Cats should urinate after surgery and may even do so more frequently within the first 24-48 hours than usual. This will depend on the type of surgery and whether they received additional IV fluids. The urine may also be clearer.
How do I know something may be wrong with my cat?
Occasional diarrhea or constipation is usually not a sign for concern. But you should definitely keep an eye out for anything that seems more persistent.
Keep an eye out if there are other risk factors such as a medical condition, obesity, elderly cats or kittens. Even a mild diarrhea or constipation could potentially escalate into a more serious situation, so beware!
Cat pee that smells very pungent can be a sign of something serious. This could indicate various types of illness – infections and inflammation, but sometimes also hormonal problems, even tumors.
Beware that if you’re using scented litter, you may not notice the smell immediately. Scented litter, as well as clumping litter and silica litter may also be dangerous for your cat health – read about the dangers of cat litter.
It can be alarming to notice that your cat’s pee is dark – this can indicate blood in their urine. Now would be a good time to rush to the vet for tests and diagnosis.