Inappropriate urination can take many forms and have several causes. Sometimes a cat seems to suddenly “forget” her litterbox training, urinating everywhere except where she’s supposed to. Your cat might start to urinate in hidden areas of the house, or choose to urinate on furniture, rugs or clothing. Sometimes, a specific spot is used over and over again; at other times, new places are chosen, from hidden areas to the middle of the room. You might find one large pool of urine or there may be many tiny spots of urine all over the house. Inappropriate elimination is the most common behavior problem in cats.(1)
Possible Causes of Inappropriate Urination
There are several reasons a cat will abruptly stop using its litterbox. Many issues are medical in nature and require veterinary attention. Others are solely of a behavioral nature and require a different approach. Before attempting to treat a cat for a possible behavior issue, it is important to make sure that there is not a medical issue that must first be addressed. Your veterinarian can perform blood tests and a urinalysis on your cat to find out if there are any medical conditions that may be causing the unwanted behavior.
Inappropriate urination has put an end to many a cat’s life
This is not because it is a deadly condition in and of itself, but because many cat owners are unable, unwilling or simply lack the knowledge to treat the behavior’s causes of this behavior. Many cats with inappropriate urinating behaviors are euthanized at the owner’s request, or are turned into shelters to ultimately face the same unfortunate fate. If you are facing this dilemma please use the following tips and speak with a veterinary professional for help to avoid having to resort to these drastic measures. Once any possible medical issues are ruled out, it’s time to consider behavior issues as a cause. Try to see the world from your cat’s point of view. Many behavior issues can be resolved by understanding the reasons for this behavior and addressing them accordingly.
Cats are clean creatures by nature. They also have a much more developed sense of smell than people do. If you can smell a faint urine odor, imagine what it smells like to a cat. It is possible to prevent inappropriate urination simply be maintaining a clean litterbox.
Some cats are very easily stressed, which can cause a change in behavior. A change in the household, such as a new cat or dog, a new baby or any other change in the family dynamic, can cause the cat to urinate in inappropriate places. This is not “for spite” as many pet owners suspect. One of the ways a stressed cat reacts is to stop going into areas that are perceived as dangerous. If a cat is unwilling to go into the area where its litterbox is, it will find another place to urinate. “Rubbing her nose in it” is not a good way to teach the cat that this place is not where she should urinate. As with dogs, trying to correct a behavior well after it has taken place will only serve to confuse the cat, and worse, might exacerbate the problem.
Spraying is probably the most well-known form of inappropriate urination. When cats spray, they hold their tails straight up, back up to the furniture or wall and quiver their tails while distributing a relatively small amount of urine for the purpose of scent marking its territory. The intact male is the most common perpetrator of this act. A neutered male will spray and, rarely, even a female will give it a try. Any cat who believes his or her territory is being invaded by an unwelcome visitor will engage in this activity.
Factors outside of the house can also trigger a cat to spray. Cats seen through a window can be perceived by your cat as a threat to his territory. It may take some detective work on your part in order to find the cause. Discontinuing access to the view is one way to remove the perceived threat and solve the problem. It is also possible to avoid this cause of inappropriate urination by having your cat neutered before he becomes sexually mature, which occurs at about six months of age.
Solving the Issue
Start by thoroughly cleaning soiled areas around the home to remove all traces of urine. There are several products on the market to help you locate the source of urine and eliminate the smell from almost any surface. The most effective products use enzymes to eliminate the urine and odor. Using strong smelling deodorizers is no substitute for removing odors. Because of a cat’s sensitive sense of smell, these deodorizers may be considered offensive. In any case, the urine odor will still be apparent to the cat, and most likely to you as well. In the event of spraying, a feline pheromone spray can be applied to the area after it is cleaned to “trick” the cat into believing that the scent mark is still present – without the offending odor.
Scoop solids daily, and thoroughly clean the box and replace with new litter at least weekly. Harsh chemicals should never be used on a cat litterbox for the purpose of routine cleaning. Mild soap and water is best, but if a more powerful disinfection is desired, diluted bleach can be used. A freshly made solution of 1 part bleach to 30 parts water works well for most disinfecting purposes. Remember to rinse completely and dry thoroughly before refilling the box.
Consider what goes into the litterbox. Cats may prefer one type of litter over another so strongly that refuse to use anything except their favorite. If a brand or type of litter is changed, this can be enough to cause the issue. Litter choices are endless. In addition to “non-clumping” and “clumping” clay litters, both of which are widely available, there are litters made from recycled newspapers, pine, corn and wheat, as well as “crystals” (made from silica). Some contain baking soda or carbon to absorb offending odors, while others are scented—the latter may be offensive to cats. There are also brands that contain an attractant to encourage cats to use their litterbox. Sometimes this option will do the trick when all others have failed. Once you find a litter that appeals to your cat, it is best use it continuously.
The Box Itself
The size and configuration of a litterbox can be an important factor, too. When choosing a litterbox, consider the size of your cat. The box should be large enough for the cat to comfortable walk into and turn around inside. Small kittens may find the sides of the litterbox too tall to easily climb over, making a box with shorter sides necessary until the kitten grows enough to use a larger box. Talking about size, many items sold as litterboxes are, in fact, too small for the average-sized adult cat. In addition, while a covered litterbox may sound like a good idea, a cat may not feel comfortable squeezing herself into this cramped space. If you are unable to find a litterbox that is large enough at the local pet store, think outside the “litter” box. Peruse the “storage container” section of the local discount store or home improvement center. Look for a large, sturdy box that can be easily cleaned. Those made for under-the-bed storage or any other large, low-sided box, work well.
If there are multiple cats in the same household, the rule of thumb is one litterbox for each cat, plus one extra litterbox. So, two cats should have access to three litterboxes, situated in various areas of the house. Each cat might or might not choose to use the same litterbox over and over again, but has the option of urinating elsewhere if another cat is blocking access to one of the boxes. The location of each litterbox is also important. Place boxes away from high-traffic areas. Cats require privacy just like we do. If your home has more than one level, it is best to have at least one litterbox on each level.
Remember to reward your cat for using the litterbox. Reinforce good behavior with calm praise, a gently pet or a favorite treat.
Cats are quite sensitive to their surroundings. Like people, they react to noise, activity, and changes in their environment, and have the same need to feel safe and secure. Cleaning, feeding and play times should occur at the same time each day. Cats are comforted by predictable routines.
Using a feline pheromone spray or diffuser could help avoid behavior issues before they start. Start usage a few days to a week before a possibly stressful situation, such as a move, new pet, impending guests or before you depart for a vacation. Never use the spray on the cat and also be careful not to use the spray while the cat is in the room. These artificial pheromones mimic those released from the cat’s cheeks and paw pads that are used to scent mark territory.
Solving the issue of inappropriate urination could require some dedication on your part. Inappropriate urination issues with your cat can be solved through a team effort between you, your veterinary office and these helpful tips.
Sources: 1. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine - http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/brochures/Housesoiling.html -
"Feline Behavior Problems: House Soiling"