tabby cat using self-cleaning litter box
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Why Is My Cat Going to the Litter Box Every Few Minutes?

Est. read time: 4 min.

Is your cat going to the litter box every few minutes? If your cat keeps going to the litter box but nothing happens, or you notice your cat peeing frequently in small amounts, it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian. Why? Because your cat going in and out of the litter box or having frequent unproductive trips to the litter box likely means there’s a medical issue.

Why is my cat going to the litter box every few minutes? 

First off, if you use a traditional litter box and don’t scoop every day, your cat may be making frequent “unsatisfactory” trips to the litter box because the box isn’t as clean as your cat would prefer. 

Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT, explains that a clean litter box is essential to good cat health. There are two rules of owning traditional litter boxes: Scoop daily, and have n+1 traditional litter boxes per cat (so if you have 2 cats, you need 2+1 litter boxes, or a total of 3).

Yet, say you keep a tidy litter box or own a self-cleaning litter box—if your cat keeps going to the litter box but nothing happens, there are a few medical issues that may be occuring. 

Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)

The majority of the time, your cat’s urinary symptoms are the result of feline idiopathic cystitis (sometimes called feline lower urinary tract disease or feline urologic syndrome), or a sterile inflammation of the bladder. Signs of FIC include, but are not limited to:

  • More than 3-4 trips to the litter box a day
  • Excessive grooming of the genital area
  • Squatting to urinate in front of you
  • Urinating in weird places, like on plastic bags, on your laundry, in the bathtub or sink
  • Discolored urine (e.g., blood-tinged)
  • Absence of large clumps in the litter box
  • Straining to urinate
  • Acting painful (e.g., meowing or crying out when using the litter box)
  • Abnormal-smelling urine

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

More rarely, your cat may be experiencing a UTI. UTIs are more often seen in older cats (greater than 10 years of age). With a UTI, you’re more likely to notice small amounts of foul-smelling, blood-tinged urine on the fur or in the cat carrier.

The symptoms of a cat UTI are very similar to FIC. Veterinarians can discern which infection your cat has by performing a medical work-up that includes a physical exam, a urine sample, and a urine culture.

Feline urethral obstruction (FUO)

The symptoms of feline urethral obstruction are also similar to FIC and UTIs—but an FUO can be a life-threatening emergency. With an FUO, the poisons from your cat’s kidneys build up in the bloodstream from the inability to urinate, resulting in temporary kidney failure, salt balance abnormalities, and, rarely, death.

Your vet will note that with an FUO, a large, distended, non-expressible bladder is present (as compared to a small, painful bladder with a UTI).

Constipation

If your cat keeps going to the litter box but nothing happens, you could be dealing with something other than a urinary issue. Instead, your cat could have chronic constipation. Constipation is more often seen in middle-aged to geriatric cats (around 8+ years of age). Untreated, cat constipation can result in abnormal enlargement of the colon (called megacolon), which can be chronically difficult—and costly—to manage.  

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

On the other hand, your cat going to the litter box every few minutes with diarrhea could be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease. IBD in cats is similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease in humans. Another prominent sign of IBD in cats is vomiting.

Learn more about what’s normal and what isn’t when it comes to cat poop.

Cat going in and out of the litter box? There’s an app for that

black cat using white Litter-Robot 4

If you’re reading this and you’re unsure about your cat’s litter box habits, then it’s time to change that! With a WiFi-enabled litter box like Litter-Robot 4, the Whisker app will notify you every time your kitty uses the litter box. If you notice a major spike in activity, you can act fast by taking your cat to the vet or the emergency clinic. 

Whisker app cleaning cycle screen

In addition to app notifications that provide recent insights into your cat’s health, Litter-Robot is self-cleaning—meaning you never have to scoop again. However, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your cat’s litter box habits, regardless of whether you’re the one cleaning the box.

Is your cat going to the litter box every few minutes? Now you know that if the answer is yes, you had better get to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

orange tabby cat lying in front of a beige Litter-Robot - why is my cat going to the litter box every few minutes?