Despite the cat’s reputation for fastidious cleanliness, house-soiling is the number one behavior problem of our feline friends. Many cats are turned outside, given away, or even “put to sleep” for this behavior problem and it behooves the veterinary profession to address it.
Urinating in odd places can mean either a behavior problem or a medical problem and sometimes the difference is not clear cut. Cats often urinate in unusual places to get their owner’s attention when they are feeling unwell. Further, cats often urinate in unusual places in an effort to reassert their claim to territory, this need often arising from psychological stress and psychological stress can easily lead to a disease state. Some cats have purely behavioral motivations without illness. Some cats simply have “litter box aversion.”
SHOULD THE APPROACH BE MEDICAL?
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (formerly referred to as “Feline Urologic Syndrome”) involves straining to urinate, genital licking/discomfort, bloody urine, and often urinating in unusual places. There are many causes for this syndrome, including psychological stress. It may be hard to determine if a cat urinating outside the litter box has this syndrome and it is important to observe for the signs listed in addition to inappropriate urination. Cats with this syndrome often (but not always) receive a medically oriented approach addressing inflammation in the bladder. Your veterinarian should evaluate your cat before you conclude that the problem is “behavioral” and you embark on a long term behavioral approach.
URINE MARKING/TERRITORIAL ANXIETY
Cats use urination and defecation as a means of communication with other cats. By leaving their “mark,” they are telling other cats “I was here on this date, and this time.” Other cats may then know this land has been claimed (or has not been recently claimed) and may act accordingly. Psychological stress, such as the presence of other cats, prolonged absence of the owner (who is usually viewed as a parent by the pet cat), or other problems may create a need for a cat to reassert a territorial claim. Signs that this kind of stress is causing the problem might include some or all of the following:
Spraying on an upright surface.
Urinating in the litter box sometimes and sometimes urinating elsewhere (as opposed to never using the box at all).
Defecating in the cat box but urinating outside the box.
The cat (either male or female) is not neutered.
There has been a change at home leading the cat to feel he/she must reassert his/her territorial boundaries. (Examples: a new pet has been added, a new roommate has been added, a recent move to a new home, remodeling, the owner recently returned from a vacation, other neighborhood cats are visible or smellable in the yard.)
The area marked is near a door or window.
The problem did not start until new furniture was added or the furniture was rearranged.
The cat appears to be responding to a punishment for another behavior.
The area marked involves the owner’s bed or laundry.
The area marked is the same each time.
If any of these scenarios seem to fit, anti-anxiety medications may be tremendously helpful if these source of stress cannot be identified or cannot be altered.
One of the main things to address with this problem is to make the cat feel more secure in the environment in which he now feels threatened. With this in mind, try creating high places in which the cat can climb or jump. Put blankets and a little food in these areas. Place paper sacks or cardboard boxes in these areas for him to hide. Make sure there are several of these out of reach places so the cat will have several choices of areas to feel secure while still enjoying your company. Place some of his food in the areas in which he sprays or puddles.
Try to find stimulating toys (perhaps mechanical) or hanging/swinging objects which will entice your cat to attack and play with them. Look for a toy, or something you create, which you can stuff with cat food and he will be required to work at reaching it. Interact with Paddy on a regular daily basis with the special stuffed toy and chase and catch toys such as a tennis ball or a feather attached to a string. Use the stuffed toy to teach Paddy that there are appropriate was of relieving tension by rough play with the toy. Encourage him in predatory behaviour with the toy. Put all the toys away when you are finished with the scheduled play. Catnip and catnip toys should only be for the play time. Put them in plastic bags to keep them fresh.
Of equal importance is cleaning up the areas which he has sprayed. This must be done thoroughly with a non-biological cleaner odour eliminator. If your cat sprays, do not say anything to him, just clean the area again and place some of his food in that area. When possible, anything that he has sprayed in the past that cannot be removed should be made off bounds. Perhaps you could temporarily cover it with plastic sheeting (shower curtain) or place partially sprung mouse traps upside down and underneath the rug or whatever. Something which would make a scary noise if he stepped on it. Plastic bubble wrap is another substrate that most cats do not like and can be used in this context.
On the other hand, make his litter boxes a place of solace and security. Use newspaper (as we discussed) as a substrate since he likes that so well. Always leave a tiny bit of his urine in his box so he knows it is his. Make sure he is never disturbed while toileting and leave a box in your bedroom since that is one of his preferred areas of urination. You might experiment with a covered box and see if he likes the security of the cover. Just place a litter box in an appropriate sized cardboard box which is on it’s side with the litter box inside. No need to get an expensive covered box. Give him both the covered and open choices in his chosen place in your bedroom and see which one he prefers to use. As you become more confident of his using one area and type of box, begin to remove the other boxes that he is not using.
What To Do
- See your vet and have the cat checked for illness
- Change to an unscented litter, clean the box more frequently or add an additional litterbox
- Clean the surfaces urinated on with one of the following:
- Natures Miracle or Outright or another odor remover
- White Vinegar (diluted)
- Scope Mouthwash
- Very dilute chlorine bleach
- Club Soda (this is an excellent odor remover for diarrheal accidents too)
Find the source of the anxiety and help your cat adjust; Give your cat extra attention, introduce new people or situations slowly, if your cat urinates when left alone, use a cat sitter, or get another cat to keep your pet company
Place small dishes of food over the places where the cat has urinated
Note: If the cat has lost its litterbox training, or was never trained to a box, you will need to isolate it in a room where its mistakes can be easily cleaned. Remember that cats do not like to urinate where they eat, so placing small dishes of food around the room, leaving the only available toilet as the box should work. If this is an outdoor cat, start with dirt in the box, which it will know to use, and gradually add litter, decreasing the amount of dirt until the cat is using only litter. After the cat is fed, place it in the box, use it’s paws to scratch the litter. Praise the cat for using the box successfully. It may take several weeks of persistent work, but you can re-train your cat to the box. Consult your vet for additional advice.