Outside the litter box

Cats are probably the ideal pets to have. They are low maintenance pets compared to dogs for example. All you need to give them is fresh food and water and a clean litter box and lots of TLC, how easy is that? The problem starts though when certain cats choose to play it tough and don’t use the litter box for 'No. 1' and sometimes even for 'No. 2'!
A cat's stubbornness and our minimal ability to train them, along with their finicky sensitive personality makes solving this problem quite tricky. Understanding what is usually behind this behaviour may help you solve this nuisance and enjoy your cat and your furniture more.
There are different types of cat aberrant urination, and different reasons that can cause that. First we should distinguish between a real urination or urine spraying.
Spraying of urine is most typical to adult intact male cats (not neutered), and the purpose of the spraying is to establish and mark their territory. This behaviour is part of a sexual vice. The cats are usually spraying their urine on vertical objects such as walls or furniture. Once the cat has adopted this habit, it is very hard to get rid off, hence many veterinarians are recommending to neuter cats before they reach sexual maturity.
As opposed to spraying, although disturbing, and is still considered a normal feline behaviour, a real urination outside of the litter box can be a symptom of a medical or emotional problem. In this case the cat will usually urinate on horizontal surfaces, basically anywhere in the house. It can be in your bed, on furniture, on the carpet, in the sink...anywhere that will make you notice it. In most of these cases this aberrant urination is a cry for help. The cat’s problem can be either medical or emotional stress, or a combination of those two.
The first step in tackling this problem is taking the cat to be checked by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will conduct a physical exam and will recommend medical tests to assess the cat’s medical state. Ruling out urinary tract infection and presence of crystals or stones in the urinary tract is very important because these tend to be common reasons for aberrant urination (this topic will be discussed on a separate article).
If the cat is healthy you should start thinking about the other most common reason of the phenomenon, which is stress.
Cats are very finicky, they are easily influenced by any change in the house. Try to think of any recent change in the cat’s life that might have triggered this behaviour. Here some ideas:
  • Changes in the litter box- change of the location of the box or the type of litter.
  • Infrequent cleaning of the litter box. Cats are clean creatures, if the litter box is not clean enough they will use a different place to use.
  • New baby in the house.
  • New cat in the house can be a major stress factor.
  • Presence of guests or any other strangers.
Sometimes the owners cannot recognize the reason for this behaviour.  If only cats could talk...
Eliminating this behaviour is a challenge. Here are few things you can try:
  • Make the litter box attractive- use the litter brand the cat is used to, clean the litter daily, and place the litter box in an easily accessible place.
  • Make the places that the cats tend to urinate in unattractive using items like aluminum foil, sticky paper, or sandpaper.
  • Clean the area very well to eliminate the urine odour. Cats tend to return and use the same places they have used before because of the urine odour.
  • Use aversive smells in the area - you can buy products that are made for this purpose.  Cats tend to be averted by citrus smell for an example.
  • As tempting as it might be, do not get mad at your cat when you find the urine. Do not yell at it, rub it in the urine, or aggressively place it in the litter box. This reaction might strengthen the problem by increasing the stress and create a traumatic association with the litter box.
  • If you catch your cat in the first few seconds of the urination you can try to promote a negative consequences to this action. Squirting with a toy water gun at the cat, or rattling a can with few coins in it might do the trick. It is really important that the cat will not see you doing those things. The noise/water squints should “come out of nowhere” so the cat will associate it with the urination and not with you.There are also anti anxiety medications that may help control urine marking in your cat.

The suggestions above should be attempted before considering medication.

If you feel that you have tried everything and the problem still persists, consult your veterinarian about drug therapy.

More Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles

About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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