If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, we certainly understand your frustration. Luckily, this is a treatable condition in most cases. A medical exam, as well as a few simple changes can help to re-establish proper litter box use.
The first step is to take your cat to your veterinarian to get a physical exam, a urine analysis and, in some cases, blood work. This is to rule out any illness or injury that may be causing the behavior. Once a medical reason for the lapse in litter box use has been ruled out, behavioral reasons can be considered.
There are two main behavioral reasons for failure to eliminate in an established litter box. One is marking, which is a form of communication. The second one is inappropriate elimination, which is a toileting behavior. Both behaviors may occur for a variety of reasons.
Answer the following 4 questions:
Is your cat depositing urine on vertical or horizontal surfaces?
Are you finding large or small amounts of urine?
Is your cat still using the litter box, or has litter box use decreased?
Does your cat stand or squat when she is urinating outside the litter box?
Your cat might be marking if you answered: small amounts on vertical surfaces, while standing, however still using the litter box sometimes.
If your cat backs into the wall with the tail up and squirts small amounts of urine onto vertical surfaces such as the wall, front door, or windows, your cat most likely is displaying marking behavior. This is most often triggered by territoriality or stress. While the triggers may seem harmless to us, they can be a source of turmoil for your cat. Popular triggers include:
- new home
- new furniture
- smell or view of a strange cat
This is a normal feline behavior; some cats use urine as a form of communication. In order to get the marking behavior under control, do all of the following:
- Clean all soiled areas with an enzymatic cleanser. The odor of urine will draw cats back to previously marked areas. Use a blacklight to help you locate all the spots in your house; urine will glow yellow-green in the dark. As the amounts are often small, you might be missing areas where your cat sprays. Cleaning urine-marked areas frequently will reduce a cat’s habit of refreshing its scent on the marking site. Clean affected areas with a good quality urine odor and stain remover according to the type of surface that the cat has soiled. Test products on an inconspicuous area first and clean a sufficiently large area to remove the odor, which may be up to three times the size of the soiled area.Avoid using ammonia-based cleaners, which smell like urine to a cat.
- Implement excellent litter box habits. This has been proven to significantly decrease the incidence of spraying.
- Make previously marked areas unavailable (close doors to certain rooms).
- Place one litter box per cat in the household, plus one extra. Litter boxes should be in different rooms to count as separate litter boxes because two litter boxes right next to each other count as one.
- If you have a multi-story house, have litter boxes on each level.
- Keep litter boxes away from food and water bowls, as well as the washer and dryer.
- Always keep the litter box clean. Scoop the litter box at least once daily and completely empty and clean it with mild dishwashing liquid weekly.
- Identify and change/remove any new stressors in your cat’s life. For example, you can block your cat’s view of strange cats with curtains on the front window. However, keep in mind that outdoor cats might be marking the outside of your door. In this case, deter stray cats from coming near your front door or window, and clean those areas as well. Deterring cats from coming to your yard or front door can be done with motion activated deterrents. It can also help to initially confine your cat to a separate part of the house where they are more comfortable.
- Enrich your cat’s environment. Provide more resting and hiding places, multiple feeding locations, scratching boxes and posts, and interactive toys. Hide small quantities of food around the house or use food dispensing toys to keep an indoor cat busy. They will be less worried about things going on outside the home.
- A feline facial pheromone, Feliway®, may help decrease the urine marking.
- Always begin by consulting your veterinarian to rule out medical causes.
- Check all the above guidelines as every cat and situation is different.
- VERY IMPORTANT: Do not punish your cat for marking as this will not solve the problem; this can make your cat even more anxious. Punishment can lead to fear-related aggression, reduces the bond between cat and human, and encourages urine marking in less obvious areas.