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 Feline House Soiling

Inappropriate elimination (house soiling) is the most common behavioral problem that affects households with cats. This includes urination and defecation outside of the litterbox. Inappropriate urination is more common than inappropriate bowel movements and, if severe, can lead to re-homing, abandonment, relinquishing to a shelter, turning the offending cat outdoors, or even euthanasia.

Urinating outside the litterbox can be caused by a medical problem or a behavioral problem, and sometimes the problems can overlap and be difficult to distinguish. If your cat is exhibiting the symptom of inappropriate urination, please schedule an appointment to start the process of determining the cause and developing an appropriate treatment plan.

During an appointment, your cat will have a thorough physical exam, and we will recommend urine testing and possibly blood testing to rule out a medical cause. Common medical causes of inappropriate urination include: bladder or kidney infections, kidney insufficiency or failure, bladder stones, urine crystals, idiopathic cystitis, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, and degenerative joint disease or arthritis, among others. If a medical problem is identified, a specific treatment plan will be developed to improve your cat’s health and curb inappropriate urination. If a medical problem is not identified, it is likely that the inappropriate urination symptom is caused by a behavioral problem or a litter box aversion.

In preparation for your appointment, please keep an eye on the following behaviors/questions so you can give the doctor as much information as possible:
Frequency. Is your cat needing to go to the bathroom more than usual? You may notice frequent trips to the litterbox, or more clumps of litter to scoop. Increased vs. normal frequency are great clues for the doctor's diagnosis!
Amount. Cats who have medical urinary issues often produce very small amounts on frequent trips to the litter box, or will start and stop urination multiple times on the same trip to the box. Alternatively, some medical problems result in higher than normal amounts of urine production. Typically, behavioral problems will cause a cat to urinate normal volumes of urine. Knowing this information can help our doctors narrow down a cause for the behavior.
Quality. How does the urine look? We don't often think about it, but there are many ways to describe urine appearance! Is the urine light or dark, clear or cloudy? What color is it (yellow, orange, amber, pink, red, rust, etc)? Is there visible blood? Is the blood throughout the urine, or just in one place? Although these are not the most pleasant things to think about or look at, they really help the doctor in their diagnosis!
Routine. Have you had house guests or visitors? Did you recently have a new person move into your environment? Did you just start a new job that requires you waking up earlier, staying up later, or being out of the house more? Did you move into a new home, rearrange your furniture, or get new furniture? Is there a new neighborhood cat visible from your windows? Did you add a pet to your household? These are all common reasons for animals to start behaviorally inappropriately eliminating. Cats often urinate in usual places to claim their territory, or as a response to psychological stress. Anything that could be interpreted as a change in routine or anything confusing to your pet can result in psychological stress.

What to do

So, your cat has urinated outside the litter box. What can you do about it? The following are steps to take to minimize the problem, regardless of whether the problem started as a medical or a behavioral problem.
Neutering or spaying your intact cat is the first step in addressing this problem.
Cleaning: the surface where the cat urinated (or defecated) should be cleansed thoroughly using a urine-specific odor eliminator. Thoroughly read and follow the product’s labeled instructions for the best effect. A sufficient amount of the product must be applied to saturate to the same depth that the urine saturated to (this often includes carpet pads and sometimes subflooring).
Pheromones: pheromones are chemical signals released by an animal to influence the physiology or behavior of other members of the same species. Researchers have produced synthetic versions of feline calming pheromones that are well-utilized for feline house soiling and other behavioral problems. Feliway consists of feline facial pheromones (deposited when cats rub their cheeks/face on things), and have a general calming effect that helps neutralize the urge to urine mark. Feliway is available as a room diffuser to place in a “problem” area, or as a spray to apply directly to marked surfaces. The NurtureCalm 24/7 collar is another pheromone product with good success on a wide variety of feline behavioral problems, including inappropriate elimination. The collar contains a pheromone that mimics the one cats are exposed to from their mother while nursing, and creates feelings of well-being and security. NurtureCalm collars are convenient, because the cats are constantly exposed to the pheromone for a full 30 days – wherever the cat is, the pheromone is.
Litter box etiquette: a common cause of feline behavioral house soiling is litter box aversion. The box is simply not acceptable to them for one reason or another. It may be that the box is too dirty, may not be adequately private, may smell funny, may contain a new or unacceptable litter substrate, or may be uncomfortable. Some cats are sensitive to sharing a litter box with other cats, prefer uncovered and large size litter boxes, and can prefer a box in a quiet and low-traffic area that is restricted from children and dogs. If your cat has suffered a negative experience in the litter box (captured from the box to receive medication, harassed by a child or dog, felt pain during urination or defecation from a medical problem, or was scared by a noise), it is possible that litter box aversion developed as a result.
Cats with litter box aversion frequently require re-training to the box. As a first step, a new box should be added in a separate location from the original box.
If two or more cats share a litter box, add more boxes. The current “rule” is one box per cat plus one extra (ie, if you have 2 cats, you should have 3 litter boxes).
Cats prefer low-dust, non-scented, clay-based clumping litter. If that is what you have, add a box with a new litter substrate and see what your cat prefers.
Scoop the litter box daily or even twice daily! Clumping litter should be completely changed at least once monthly and non-clumping litter should be changed twice weekly. The box should be washed with soapy water or water alone with no strong-smelling disinfectants that might deter your cat. If there is a problem scooping the litter daily, consider a self-cleaning box.
If you have a covered litter box, provide another box that is uncovered. Cats prefer good lighting for elimination and may be deterred by the concentrated odors in an enclosed space.
Try adding a larger litter box! An ideal litter box length should be at least one and a half times the length of the cat (not including tail). This is especially important for elderly cats or cats suffering from arthritis. Consider utilizing an under-bed storage bin as a litter box, as it is large and low-profile, which makes it easy for the cat to step in to and maneuver around inside.
If none of these tips seem to work, the cat should be confined in a small area with a litter box. As the cat proves he or she will use the litter box, gradually allow him or her more area. First, use a large carrier or dog crate, then a small room such as a bathroom or playpen, next a larger room is added until the cat has earned his or her usual access.
If your cat has a confirmed behavioral problem of inappropriate elimination, you have followed these tips, and are still not successful in restoring your cat’s use of the litter box, please schedule a follow-up appointment. Your cat may be a candidate for anti-anxiety medications that can be helpful if the source of psychological stress cannot be identified or cannot be changed or eliminated.
While inappropriate elimination is the most common behavioral problem that we work with here at Alpine, we know dogs and cats can suffer from a wide variety of other behavioral problems. Chewing, scratching, barking, play aggression or biting, fears and phobias, aggression…we deal with it all! See also our puppy and dog training classes to aid in the treatment of behavioral problems of dogs.
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Phone: (509) 332-6575
Fax: (509) 334-4561
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Alpine Animal Hospital
4853 SR 270
Pullman, WA 99163
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