Cat Behavior E-mail

Urine Behavior Problems

For a basic refresher on proper litterbox care and house training, see KITTENS - LEARNING TO USE THE LITTERBOX. If your litterbox is clean and properly maintained, and your mature cat is litterbox trained but suddenly starts urinating outside the box, there are a number of possible reasons beyond those covered in the litterbox article. These include possible medical reasons like urinary tract infections, or problems with litter preferences, multi-cat territorial issues or stress. Regardless of what the real issue is, you can help your cat back to the litterbox by working to understand what’s causing the problem. Punishment is never the answer, and will probably just make the situation worse.

Your first step when confronted with a cat that pees outside the litterbox is a vet trip to rule out a urinary tract infection - this is the most common cause of a previously trained cat failing to use the litterbox. The burning and discomfort can be so intense that the cat can't make it to the box in time - or else if the condition has been going on untreated for awhile, kitty has likely learned to associate the litterbox with pain and will want to avoid it for that reason. Antibiotics should take care of the problem; make sure to thoroughly clean the areas where the cat has peed, as the scent will likely make even a healthy cat want to pee over and over in the same spot.

If kitty is given a clean bill of health by your vet, the next step is to determine whether your cat is spraying or urinating outside the box. If you’re finding puddles of urine (or poop) on the floor, then your cat is purposely choosing not to use the litterbox when he eliminates. Assuming the box is kept clean and dry, the most common reasons why cats stop using the litterbox are an aversion to the box itself (does the box itself smell clean? Does it have a privacy tent on top that kitty may not like?), to the type of litter used (kitty may prefer a softer surface – like a pile of dirty clothes, for instance – but the litter you’re using has big sharp pebbly grains), or to its location (is there something loud or startling nearby, like a washing machine?). Watch kitty’s behavior around the box, then look at the types of places he chooses as alternate elimination sites, to see if any of these seem to be the cause.

If you’ve determined that neither health problems nor litterbox type/location preferences are the cause of kitty’s urination issues, then it’s time to look at the home environment. Are the any new stressors? A new baby or a new pet? A new job that preoccupies you and takes up your time? Lots of upheaval in kitty’s routine, such as a home remodel, or a long series of parties or overnight guest visits? Spend extra time and effort reassuring kitty that this is still his home, and he’s still your special guy.

Is there a new tomcat in the neighborhood who’s threatening your kitty’s territory? If some other cat is spraying around the perimeter of your house, it could potentially cause either a territorial spraying response or a stress-related peeing response in your own cat. Chase off the other cat when you see it hanging around your yard, and maybe close the drapes at those times that your cat is likely to see it out there. And again, give kitty plenty of love and reassurance. All of these stressors boil down, in one way or another, to kitty fearing a loss of territory or status in your household. Make sure he knows that you love him no matter what, and that you’re on his side.

Or: Have you moved recently to a house previously occupied by other dogs and/or cats? If that’s the case, your cat may either be trying to re-mark the territory with his own urine - after all, staking out territory is his number one job - or else perhaps one of those previous animals peed inside the house, making it an irresistible invitation to keep peeing on that same spot.

Or: If there are multiple cats in your household, maybe a more dominant cat (or even one of your kids) is bothering this one at litterbox time, making it an unattractive proposition to go there. You might try adding another litterbox in a different location so each cat can relieve himself in peace. (and don’t forget to teach your kids to leave kitty alone while he’s doing his business.)

Natural, stress-reducing products such as Feliway or Rescue Remedy, are available without a prescription. Feliway is a synthetic copy of cats' naturally occurring facial pheromones that calms them and discourages both male and female cats from stress urination and spraying. Cats tend not to mark locations where they’ve already rubbed their own calming facial pheromones, so the application of Feliway creates a sense of calm and reduces the urge to remark the territory. Rescue Remedy is an all-natural homeopathic Bach flower remedy that can be given directly to your pet in occasional stress situations to calm kitty (or yourself, for that matter). Either of these products will help restore kitty’s sense of well-being, making it less likely that continued stress urination will continue after the cause of the problem has been addressed.

Regardless of the cause, each time your cat pees outside the box, he leaves a potent chemical reminder to himself and others that this is a good spot to keep peeing. It’s critically important to clean the area quickly and thoroughly as soon as it’s discovered.

Dispose of all soiled fabric or throw rugs if that’s feasible; if not, wash thoroughly and clean the area with a 50% vinegar solution or the modern cleaning products that are specially formulated to neutralize pet urine odors, or preferably use all of the above. Don’t use any product containing ammonia, as this will smell like pee to the cat, encouraging the continuation of the problem. Steam clean wall-to-wall carpeting only after modern (dry) cleaning products have been applied.