House soiling is a common problem that we often encounter with our feline friends. Urinating in odd places can mean either a medical problem or a behavioural problem. Sometimes the difference is not clear cut. The first port of call is a visit to the vet so they can rule out any abnormal physiological conditions. This will then determine if we need to proceed with medical treatment, or if it is other issues that may be causing the problem.
Reasons for House Soiling and Solutions
1. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD): this condition 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 is extremely important to get your cat seen by a vet to determine if FLUTD is the cause. This condition is life threatening if left untreated.
If your cat is diagnosed with FLUTD it will require a hospital stay. We will normally place a catheter to try and clear the urinary tract of bladder stones. Medications and fluids are administered and the vet will prescribe a special diet for the rest of your cats’ life to prevent the disease from reoccurring.
2. Other Medical Conditions: including urinary tract diseases, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, kidney and liver disease may also be causing inappropriate house soiling. These conditions need to be treated by your veterinarian as soon as symptoms are present. Medications and other medical treatment will usually be prescribed.
3. Stress/Anxiety: cats use urination and defecation as a means of communication with other cats. It can be a territorial marking letting other cats know that they own the area. Psychological stress, such as the presence of other cats, prolonged absence of an owner, or other problems may create a need for a cat to reassert a territorial claim. Moving house, changes in routine or an additional member to the family may also cause anxiety for your cat.
- Signs that stress may be causing inappropriate house soiling are:
- spraying on an upright surface;
- urinating in the litter box sometimes and sometimes elsewhere;
- the cat is not desexed;
- there has been a change at home leading the cat to feel they must reassert their territorial boundaries;
- the area marked is near a door or window;
- the problem id not start until new furniture was added or the furniture was rearranged;
- the cat appears to be responding to a punishment for another behaviour;
- the cat has marked the owners bed or laundry;
- the area marked is the same each time.
Some solutions to feline behavioural house-soiling are:
1. Desexing your cat: Hormonal motivations to mark territory are potent and must be removed from the picture;
2. Reducing stressors:
- When moving: keep the cat in a quiet portion of the home when packing and during the actual moving day. When at the new residence, confine the cat in a quiet room at first, place food, water, litter and favourite sleeping material in the room. Spend time with the cat in the room and gradually let them become accustomed to the new environment;
- Place numerous litter boxes around the house and use different substrates e.g. newspaper, litter etc until you discover which one the cat prefers. Also try different depths of litter;
- Clean any soiled areas with enzyme cleaner designed for use on pet urine and stool (e.g. ‘Urine off’ and also Bio-zet detergent). Regular detergents and other cleaners will not break down the urine or faeces, and if the cat smells any urine or faeces on a carpet or floor, it may continue to use that spot to eliminate. To remove the smell, DO NOT RUB INTO THE CARPET. Simply blot the area with paper towel and then spray with the cleaner. Leave for the instructed amount of time and blot again. A final spray and blot of vinegar and water solution on the area will remove the smell. Use a blow dryer to dry the patch and then apply a fine spray of pure alcohol, this makes it unattractive to the cat;
- Use upside down carpet runners (the ones with the spikes on the bottom), heavy plastic, aluminum foil, double sided tape, motion detectors, pet repellants or scat mats to limit access to the area where the cat inappropriately eliminates.;
- If you catch your cat in the act of urinating or defecating outside the box, use a remote correction. This generally means startling the cat (e.g. using a water pistol or whistle) – make the cat think that it is random and not coming from you. Don’t punish the cat by rubbing their nose in it etc as this has no effect on training;
- It may be helpful to confine the cat to a small room with food, water, toys, bed and litter tray, so that once the cat will relearn to use the litter tray. Once this is accomplished, you can extend the area they are allowed to be in.
3. Feliway Spray or Diffuser: this product is pheromone releasing and can be used in the area of inappropriate soiling. Feline pheromones are naturally deposited when a cat facial marks things and they have a general calming effect which relieves anxiety;
As a last resort your vet may prescribe your cat medication to relieve anxiety.
4. Litter Box Aversion: sometimes a cat sees its litter box as being unacceptable to them. The box may be dirty, not adequately private, may smell funny or be uncomfortable. The following are clues to litter box aversion:
- urination does not involve spraying vertical surfaces;
- both urination and defecation occur outside the litterbox;
- two or more cats share a litter box (make sure you have a litter box for each cat PLUS an extra one);
- a new brand of litter is being used;
- the box is covered;
- the cat has had a negative experience in the box (i.e. disciplined);
- the litter box is in a heavily household traffic area;
- other animals are bothering the cat in the litter box.
Tips for getting a cat to use a litter tray:
- place the cat in there after meals and waking up;
- make sure it is thoroughly cleaned once a day;
- place it in a private area away from feeding sites;
- have a litter tray for each cat plus one extra;
- try different types of litter in each box until you find out which one the cat likes;
- use different depths of litter.