The reasons for cats to urinate outside the litter box can be divided into four categories.
This includes any disease that:
• Increases the urge to urinate (e.g., bladder infection).
• Increases urine output (e.g., kidney disease or diabetes).
• Causes behavioral changes (e.g., hyperthyroidism or senility).
• Creates a condition that makes it more difficult for the cat to get to the litter box (e.g., arthritis).
2) Litter box aversion.
Cats can be averse to a litter box due to:
a) past experience – cats may refuse to use their box if they had a negative experience in the box in the past. For example:
• Past painful urination.
• A sudden noise while in the box.
b) current conditions – cats may refuse to use their box if there is something about the box that they don’t like. For example:
• The box is dirty (some cats won’t use a box with any urine or stool in it).
• The box is covered.
• The box is uncovered (it is uncommon for a cat to prefer a covered box).
• The box is in an inconvenient location.
• The box is in too “public” an area.
• The litter is scented (or if the box is near something scented).
• They don’t like the type of litter (they usually prefer sand or clumping litter).
• The area around the box is unfavorable (e.g., infested with fleas).
3) Environmental stress.
When cats are stressed, they may start urinating in inappropriate places. Although this may seem like a conscious decision on their part – especially when they urinate on a bed or clothing – it isn’t. It is simply a response to stress (sometimes the location of the house soiling can suggest the source of the stress). Any stressful condition can cause a cat to urinate out of their box. These include:
• A new animal or person in the household.
• A person or animal no longer in the household.
• A new home.
• Crowded conditions.
• A person in the house who is under stress.
• Animals or loud noises outside.
• Wanting to go outside and not being permitted.
• Etc., etc., etc.
4) Marking behavior.
This is usually manifested as “spraying” – urinating on vertical surfaces. Often cats spray onto warm surfaces (eg., stoves). This helps to spread the odor of the urine. Spraying is most common in intact males but can occur in females and neutered cats. It can be triggered by some of the same stressful events that are listed above.
House soiling is often due to a combination of conditions – sometimes involving reasons from two or more of the above categories.
The best way to treat house soiling is to treat the cause. Diagnosis and treatment may include:
1) A complete history, physical exam and urinalysis and then treating disease.
2) Manipulating litter boxes.
• The general rule is one box per cat plus one box. In a household with three cats, if one cat isn’t using the box, I recommend a total of at least four boxes.
• Cleaning the boxes at least daily. Initially I recommend cleaning the box as soon as it is used – once the problem is under control, this regime can be lessened.
• Using at least one uncovered box.
• Experimenting with different types of litter, including at least one unscented and including Cat Attract.
• Experimenting with different locations.
3) Decreasing stress.
• Giving more attention to the cat.
• Increase “living space” – shelves, boxes, “kitty condos”.
• Covering windows (e.g., to prevent the cat from seeing another animal outside).
• Trapping and neutering stray cats outside.
• Using Feliway® - an artificial feline pheromone spray.
4) Decreasing the urge to mark.
• Neutering intact males.
• Using Feliway®
• Eliminate odors.
5) Other things.
• Placing a litter box in the area being “soiled”. (Eventually, this can be gradually moved.)
• Placing food in the area being “soiled”. (Eventually, this can be gradually moved.)
• Drugs – including catnip and prescription drugs (Elavil, Valium, buspirone, progesterone, etc.).