Hines DVM PhD
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their litter box and urinating in inappropriate places is the
most annoying problem cat owners face. Perhaps 10% of neutered
male cats and 5% of neutered female cats have this troublesome
behavior and urination accidents and difficulties lead
the list of reasons owner bring their cats to veterinarians. (ref)
included in this group both the kitties that pick the wrong
areas of the house in which to eliminate as well as the cats
that spray-mark their house with “puffs” of urine
and I call them both “elimination issues”. But they
are two entirely different problems with different causes and
solutions. Cats that puff or spray only urine are territorial
markers. They usually continue to use their litter boxes too.
Cats that squat and deposit large amounts of urine or poop were
either never house trained, no longer find their litter box
satisfactory or have a medical issue.
- Why Does My Cat Do This When It Knows How Much It Irritates
cat does not know it irritates you, and it isn’t doing
it to annoy you. If you decide to look at this as a “who’s-in-charge”
or revenge issue, you are not going to solve the problem and
there will be at least two unhappy individuals in your home
- Kitty and you.
owners need to understand that it is natural for cats to use
their urine as a “calling card” to announce their
presence, assert themselves and stake out their territory. Scientists
think they do the same thing when they rub against us with cat-specific
(ref) When we teach our cats to urinate in one specific area, we are
going against these natural, inborn instincts of our cats.
wild European ancestors of our cats were lonely, solitary creatures
of the night. Each
had a territory of 1.5 – 8.5 square miles, which it jealously
guarded from competitors. (ref) It did this by leaving urine and feces
in strategic open places and against objects where passing cats
would be likely to notice and move on.
cat, leaving their mother, and wandering adults nervously left
marks and deposited their scats (poop) in conspicuous locations
along the trail too, to avoid antagonistic encounters with the
cat that owned the territory. (ref)
Wild cats only seeked
out companionship in February or March to mate. Then they again
went their separate ways. (ref)
are very powerful instincts that remain to this day in all cats
- yours included. They are the same instincts that continue
to motivate your cat to rub on your leg, use its favorite scratching
post, and pee where you don’t want it to when it feels
threatened, insecure, stressed out.
Is This Always The Reason Cats Pee In Places We Don’t
Want Them To?
there is a second reason. Cats that spray urine to stake out
territories rarely defecate in inappropriate places. When cats
urinate and poop outside of their litter box, they usually have
litter box issues or health issues. (although psychological issues might play a part as well (ref) )
I write here about medical issues first, the majority of cats
that refuse to always pee in their litter boxes do not have
these medical issues – the majority have territorial
issues. Veterinarians tend to dwell on medical rather than emotional
or psychological causes of behavior because that is the way
we are trained.
Urological Syndrome (aka FUS, FLUTD, etc.)
number one medical problem that causes cats to break their litter
box training is irritation of their lower urinary tract and
bladder. This condition, called Feline Urological Syndrome,
FUS or Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease is a quite common
disease in house cats.
FUS, crystals form in your cat’s urine, causing inflammation
and painful, frequent urination. Early in this disease, many
cats get the urge to urinate in exotic places such as a closet
or bathroom sink. FUS is easily diagnosed when your veterinarian
examines a urine sample from your cat.
There are three other common diseases of cats that also can
cause them to urinate in the wrong areas. These are all diseases
that cause your pet to drink more – and consequently,
to urinate more. They are hyperthyroidism,
kidney failure and diabetes.
All three are identifiable through a blood test.
In some cats, particularly recent arrivals and trash-marauding
felines, transient diarrhea forces them to soil the house. Other
cats develop inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory
bowl syndrome or leukotic
intestinal wall infiltrates that have the same result.
cats sometimes develop arthritis, neurological, and other debilitating
diseases that also cause them to break their litter box training.
common than urinary accidents are stool accidents. The majority
of cats with this problem do not have organic disease. They
are just not as tidy as the average cat. But it is still wise
to rule out problems of the lower intestine that might cause
increased urgency to defecate. These problems include chronic
constipation or diarrhea, parasites, food allergies, neurological
disease, arthritis and eating sticks, grass and other non-food
material. Your cat’s mental acuity declines as it ages
– just ours does. So expect more accidents in elderly
cats born without a tail
will have difficulty controlling their bladder and bowel function. (ref)
you can see why a complete health-screening exam is important
when dealing with a stubborn kitty-housetraining problem. There
is no sense altering the cat’s environment if there is
a correctable problem within the cat itself.
estimate (with no hard data) that in 1
out of 4 problem cats living in single-cat households, your
veterinarian will find a medical explanation for your pet’s
litter box issue. This is particularly true when your living
situation - and the cat’s - have been stable and the problem
hormones play a big role in typical cat behavior. That is why
un-neutered male and female cats are much more likely to urine
mark their homes. The problem is worst in tomcats. But un-neutered
females (queens) do it too – especially when they are
cycling through heat periods (estrus). The problem usually ceases
soon after they have been surgically neutered.
owners unexpectedly find out that their cat is secretly a tomcat
that has not been surgically neutered. As these toms mature,
they almost all begin to urine-mark and develop the greasy acned
tail and wide jowls that give them away. If that is a possibility,
have your vet check it out. Claudine may be Claude.
male cats are born cryptorchid
with their testicle(s) un descended from their abdomens. If
a retained testicle is left in the cat, it will begin to spray
like an ordinary tomcat. If it has the suspicious jowls and
tail of a tomcat, it needs a testosterone level check. Spayed
female cats that continue to go through overly affectionate
periods when they spray urine also need a hormone analysis to
detect ovarian fragments that may have been missed during the
My Cat Received A Clean Bill Of Health - What Should I Do Now?
is what I suggest that you try to solve the problem:
Things To How They Where Before The Problem Occurred
Try to think about any things that have changed from
before your cat was having this problem. Do this as
soon as possible – the longer you delay, the harder
bad habits are to correct. If nothing comes to mind,
ask friends what things they recall.
you have more than one cat, confine them to different
areas of the house so you can decide which cat has the
cats stop using their litter boxes because they now find
the box undesirable. Others do so because unpleasant experiences
occur in the area of the box (such as commotion, noise
or a second hostile cat). Cats with this issue often begin
by eliminating next to the box rather than in it. Cats
that are content with their litter box spend relaxed time
in it sniffing and pawing about. They don’t make
quick bathroom runs and a fast exit.
you been cleaning your cat’s litter box less frequently?
Dirty litter boxes are the number one cause cat’s
stop using them. Be sure you are cleaning your cat’s
litter box frequently enough. Check litter box odor and
un cleanliness at least once a day – more frequently
if you have multiple cats.
“see” the World through their ears and nose.
Their sense of smell is 20 times better
than yours. (ref) No matter how much you scrub out the litter
box, your cat will continue to recognize it as a signpost
that needs to be marked to advertise the fact that the
territory belongs to it. The smell of a fresh litter box
is a powerful attractant to cats and a stimulant to eliminate
there and for most cats; this single marking/elimination
area is sufficient. The smell of a poorly cleaned litter
box is often enough to cause a cat to choose a new spot.
of their sensitivity to odors, some cats avoid the smell
of chemicals and detergent we often use to clean the litter
box. Some of these same strong chemical aromas are added
to cat litter to conceal cat urine odor. After you wash
the box, be sure to rinse it several times in running
water to remove residual chemicals odors. Some cats do
not like to use litter boxes that have a lid. These lids
intensify odors within the box. If you use a closed litter
box, you need to clean it more frequently.
you still experience problems, try relocating the litter
box to another location where it sits on a mopable, ceramic
or vinyl surface. Find a location without a lot of through-traffic
and disturbances – but one that is not too far from
where your cat(s) hang out. If you have a problem cat,
having multiple litter boxes may help. This also lets
you experiment with various box shapes and sizes as well
as types and depth of litter in the box. If you have multiple
cats, have at least one box more than your number of cats.
Some cats prefer their litter box in a well-lit area while
others prefer the dark. Washer/drier rooms are convenient
for most owners – but your cat may not appreciate
the machine’s noise or the odor of the chemical
perfumes added to laundry detergents and softeners. Some
cats prefer their box in a corner nook or cranny. Once
your cat becomes accustomed to eliminating in the wrong
area, residual odor will attracted it to the same area
again. If you can, make that area inaccessible to your
cat. If you cannot do that, scrub it well with an enzymatic
cleaner and then cover that area with a large object.
A thin sheet of fabric with mousetraps placed under it
also works well.
cats dislike litter boxes with high sides. Other, older
cats, fat cats and small kittens, find it difficult to
get into them. Try various containers until you find one
your cat seems to like. They need not be designed for
cats. Be sure the box is large enough for large cats.
The box should have a length and width the same as the
cat’s length with its tail extended.
Replace the litter box when it no longer has its shiny
surface and retains odor - but don’t throw it away
until you know your cat is content with the new one. Given
their choice, most cats prefer an uncovered litter box.
Uncovered, rather than enclosed litter boxes, require
more cleanup, but they may be your best option. Covered
litter boxes also trap more odor the cat may find objectionable.
your cat has difficulty getting about, cut one side of
the litterbox lower.
practice, I have noticed that owners of longhaired and
purebred Persian-type cats have more litter box problems
than owners of common domestic short hair cats. Try trimming
the hair between the paws of longhaired cats as well as
the hair around their anus. Be very careful when you do
this so as not to accidentally snip the pet.
Litter Composition Issues
have individual preferences in types and brands of cat
litter. They often do best when you use an unscented,
non-clumping mineral litter or one composed of biodegradable
cellulose material. You can also experiment using towels,
diapers or potting soils. Cats like deep layers of litter
(3-4 inches). Don’t be skimpy when you fill the
litter manufacturers know you hate to clean the litter
box. So they make exaggerated claims as to how long their
litter lasts. Do not believe them. Change the litter much
more frequently than they suggest. When they add perfuming
agents and chemicals to the litter, they do so based on
owner preference – not cat preference.
cats defend their territory more fiercely than others.
Territorial issues cause some cats to spray urine around
their home. It can be another cat that your cat sees through
the window or screened porch, furniture or objects that
have the scent of another cat, or a move to another home
it is a rival cat on your property, try closing your windows
and blinds. Lawn sprinklers work well to chase off cats
that wander onto your property and most cats avoid wet
or dampened grass and soil. ScareCrow®, motion-activated lawn sprinklers are
really great for this problem - just be prepared to get
squirted when you forget they are there.
cat repellents, sold in stores, do not work. Have-a-heart
traps are sometimes the only effective way to deal with
stray, nuisance cats.
General Stress Issues
that are anxious or stressed for any reason are more likely
to develop litter box problems.
to a new apartment or home is a major stress for cats.
They are comforted by familiar scents and settings and
a sudden move to a new one can be very traumatic for your
cat. The old familiar scents are suddenly gone and are
replaced by unfamiliar scents and possibly those of prior
pet residents. The same issues can occur when you buy
new or used furniture, carpets, etc.
stressors are things you might not normally consider –
like the flame retardant PBDEs
in carpets and pet foods or perfumes and fragrances that
you find pleasant.
way to neutralize stress in your cat’s life is to
provide it with pleasant distractions. Try adding more
scratching posts, catnip filled toys, and sunning areas.
Fishbowls, ping-pong balls ,squeaky toys, dripping water,
jars of bugs and time in an outdoor cage or enclosure
are all things that cats enjoy. Sprout gardens are great
to entertain cats – just be sure to use edible seeds
from the supermarket and not treated seed from a garden
or lawn supply.
food and treats in challenging ways keep cats occupied
and stress low. Puzzle feeders keep cats challenged and
lessens boredom. You can read about them here.
If I Own Lots Of Cats?
more cats you keep at one time, the more likely it is that some
of your cats will feel the need to urine spray. It happens because
of social, inter-cat issues and rivalries. Cats communicate
these issues between themselves in subtle ways that are often
unapparent to their owners.
are some things you can do to try to minimize this natural behavior:
you bring in a new cat, keep it confined to a cage in a
separate area for a week. Your other cats will know it is
have more litter boxes than cats. Keep the litter boxes
in separate areas out of visual sight of one another.
The same thing goes for food and water dishes –
have several of them in separate areas. Provide resting
and sunning platforms or kitty habitats in separate areas
as well – cats need their private space.
this fails, consider separating problem cats to their
own areas of the house. Sometimes they can be reintroduced
again gradually, but sometimes they need to be kept apart
other option is to try some of the medications and products
veterinarians dispense to relieve stress and anxiety.
cats do not like to do their “business” and eat
in the same area. Some cat owners have found that placing food
and water dishes in a problem area solves the problem.
traps under fabric deter most cats from entering forbidden areas.
Gates, noisy motor-driven appliances like fans and radios will
accomplish the same thing.
never works. You can scat the cat away or squirt it with a mist
bottle if you discover it in the act but you are very unlikely
to solve the problem that way.
There Medications That Might Help?
but none are as effective as changing the conditions that caused
your cat to develop this problem in the first place. In that
respect, they are all like mascara and make-up. In almost all
instances, the problem will reappear when you stop administering
first one to try is Feliway® . This product is sold as a
cat feel-good pheromone but it’s active ingredient
is said to actually be valerian herb (However, a 2017 study did not find Feliway-type products very helpful in combating stress in cat shelter situations [ref]). Valerian contains ompounds similar
to catnip. (ref)
Your other choices are all true pharmaceutical medications with
known actions and side effects. None of them are FDA-approved
for this use in cats. All of them have helped end problem behavior
in certain individual cats but not in others and all have problematic
side effects. Once the medications are no longer give, the problem
usually returns if environmental changes have not been made.
that effect behavior, can also affect your cat’s ability
to learn. So it is best not to give them when you are attempting
behavior and environmental changes to solve the problem. Use
them only when no other options remain available. They all take
considerable time to show their effects. You will need patience.
If the cat improves on these medications without serious side
effects, it should stay on them for 4-6 months.
and the following drug, Fluoxetine, are human medications
developed for anxiety problems. Of the medications available
for litter box problems in cats, clomipramine and fluoxetine
seem to cause the fewest side effects. A 2005 study
compared their use in cats with urine-spraying problems.
They appeared to be equally effective, when the medications
were discontinued, the problems resurfaced. When they
were given again, the problem went away. (ref)
Drug Co. recently began marketing their chewable fluoxetine
specifically for pets (at the time of writing, cats not included on label - talk to your vet). Fluoxetine appears to be as effective
as clomipramine in curbing cat anxiety. Most cats tolerate
it well. A few cats on this medication will develop excessive
lethargy and sleepiness; a few others restlessness and
is an older human anti-depressant. It is still used in
pets because it is inexpensive. It takes a long time before
you can expect positive results. Side effects are dry
skin and mouth. In some cats, it has caused a variety
of side effects that include toxic heart, lung and neurological
Some cats seem to respond best to buspirone. Buspirone is
an anti-anxiety drug as well as a sedative. It is not as
likely to drug your cat into a stupor as is diazepam.
workhorse human tranquilizer causes a general ratcheting
down of alertness and anxiety in cats similar to its effect
on people. But unlike in people, in cats it does not seem
to loose as much of its effectiveness with long-term use.
Its chief side effect is that most cats become less responsive
to everything while on the medication. It is also an appetite
stimulant that may make your pet gain unwanted weight.
it is suspected of occasionally causing liver failure
in cats, it is safest to have liver tests run on your
pet before administering diazepam.