Feline House-soiling can be a complex problem to solve, but there are ways to prevent, manage, and resolve feline house-soiling behaviors. Your cat does not urinate or defecate outside the box to spite you, but because specific physical, social, or medical needs are not being met. This behavior is a cry for help and is part of being a loving caretaker that we respond in a kind and responsible manner.
Four Basic Causes of House-Soiling (many cats experiences effects from multiple categories):
1) Environmental and Social Factors: Cats by nature are very clean and need adequate unsoiled locations to eliminate. This is especially true in a multiple cat household. Cats may avoid a box that is:
- A) Dirty. Boxes that are not scooped daily to twice daily or are insufficient in number for the animals in the household create a “Port ‘O Potty” experience for cats. Even though many cats will use a Pot ‘O Potty as a last resort, it is usually only a matter of time before they decide it is unacceptable. It is always easier to prevent a house-soiling problem than to fix one after the behavior has occurred.
- B) Busy. A litter box located in a public, busy, trafficked area or near cat or dog doors or flaps can be a reason for lack of use.
- C) Multiple users. The presence of another cat that may be more dominant near the litter box may cause a less confident cat to seek out other places for elimination.
- D) Negative Memories. If a cat had a negative experience near or in the box, it may be unattractive for that reason. Experiences that startle a cat include small children, loud family members, dogs or puppies, dirty litter boxes, loud noises like an appliance, and more.
2) Marking Behavior: This is a normal part of feline behavior that ranges from rubbing and scratching to urine spraying and depositing feces.
- A) Intact animals. Spaying and neutering is critical to reduce this behavior.
- B) Triggers. New or unrecognized objects or smells are targets like backpacks and shoes.
- C) Changes. Anxiety can trigger this behavior such as a change in the cat’s environment, especially the core area where the cat eats, sleeps and plays.
- D) Threats. A perceived threat such as new pets, children, visitors, remodeling/construction can trigger this behavior. If marking occurs at windows or doors, it suggests that the perceived threat is outdoors.
3) Medical Causes and Problems: Working with a veterinarian especially one with interest in feline medicine is critical to rule out medical causes for house-soiling.
- A) Health. Arthritis and pain, infections, inflammation or cystitis, renal disease, diabetes, and other medical issues are commonly found as causes of house-soiling.
- B) Testing. Blood work, urinalysis, urine culture, imaging, and fecal tests are commonly required to assess health as well as a comprehensive and thoughtful exam that includes many questions about the household and a thorough musculoskeletal exam assessing for pain (commonly overlooked in cats).
4) Feline Idiopathic Cystitis: Although cystitis is a medical cause, it is so commonly the cause of house-soiling behavior, it warrants particular mention. Cats with inflammation in their bladder experience increased frequency of urination, pain and difficulty with urination, and sometimes blood in their urine. This inflammatory condition can wax and wane and is triggered by stress, diet changes, and many of the factors noted in the above categories.
Designing the Optimal Litter Box:
Number: Have one more box than number of cats in the household and place them in a variety of stress-free, easily accessible locations. Remember that cats that do not interact with ease should have access to their own litter boxes.
Location: Location is critical and can change depending on the age of cat, number of animals in the house, and the changing dynamic of the household over time.
- A) Food and Water. Separate food and water from restroom. No one likes to eat in the bathroom!
- B) Quiet Please. Avoid noisy trafficked areas. Avoid tight spaces where a cat can feel trapped by other animals or unpredictable people in the household. Using the litter box must be a peaceful experience.
- C) Multiple Levels. Offer boxes on each level of the home especially for older cats.
- D) New Box. If soiling is occurring, add another box near the area where soiling is occurring.
Size: The bigger, the better.
- A) No lids. Lids trap ammonia smell and discourage scooping.
- B) Big. The more surface area, the better for cleanliness and use.
- C) Types. Consider long, plastic sweater boxes or concrete mixing boxes. Even shallow cookie sheets or low plastic bins can be used.
- D) Protect walls. If wall protection is needed, use lids or piddle pads on the walls.
- E) Easy entry. For older cats, cut notches in deep boxes or use low boxes. If you insist on using a cover, make sure the cat learns to use any “door” gradually. Cats do not inherently understand that a flap is a doorway and they are supposed to use it to enter. Better yet, don’t use covers.
Litter: There are many types to try ranging from clay, crushed walnut, pellet, piddle pads, and more.
- A) Evaluate. Offer many boxes with different choices and multiple depths of litter.
- B) Avoid. Most cats dislike dusty or aromatic litters or deodorizers or liners.
- C) Preference. Most cats prefer soft, unscented litters.
- D) Creative. Piddle pad, empty cookie sheets, soil – explore what your cat likes to use.
- E) Plants. Remove large house plants as some cats will urinate in the saucer or soil.
Box Management: No one likes a Port ‘O Potty.
- A) Scoop. Minimally, all boxes once daily. More often is ideal.
- B) Clean. Wash the boxes with hot water and soap every 1-4 weeks. No chemical cleaners please.
Environmental Management to Prevent or Remedy House-Soiling:
- A) Location. Locate soiled areas using a UV or black light.
- B) Clean. Clean with Anti-Icky Poo or Nature’s Miracle cleaners. No ammonia cleaning products. Remove and dispose of soiled rugs or carpets. Paint concrete with odor absorbent paint before proceeding with final design.
- C) Stress Reduction.
- Reduce stress with Multiple Cat Household Feliway diffuser in rooms frequented by kitties. Change vials monthly.
- Read about how to meet your cat’s environmental needs at www.catvets.com/catowners/brochures.
iii. Other stress-reducing approaches are available through your veterinarian.
Never punish a cat for house-soiling. There is always a reason and it takes time, love and commitment to solve the mystery. Talk to us about how to solve this mystery and ensure your cat is happy and healthy.