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Cat Urine – Inappropriate Elimination

The most common reason for surrendering or euthanizing a pet cat is a result of inappropriate urination in the household. This represents 30% to 60% of behavioural problems presented to a veterinarian. House soiling is not only damaging to the owner’s possessions, but more importantly can destroy an owner’s bond with the cat, and subsequently the cat itself.Long-standing cases of inappropriate urination can sometimes be difficult to solve, as often the stimuli maintaining the behaviour can be very different from the initial cause.

For example, a cat that originally urinated on the carpet as a result of a lower urinary tract infection, may develop a preference for it over using the litter box. As a result, house soiling problems must be addressed and treated immediately for optimal results.

Litter box Training

Proper litter box training is extremely important for consistent litter box use. A newly acquired kitten or cat should be confined to a small room with a litter box so that it may become accustomed to using the box. As usage becomes consistent, a cat’s privileges to other rooms may be increased gradually. This process can take from a few days to a few weeks. The litter box should be cleaned regularly and the litter used should be consistent with no strong odor. It should be placed in a quiet, private place free from noisy stimuli such as appliances or other household pets. In terms of number of boxes, there should be at least one litter box per cat in the household.

Spraying vs. Inappropriate Urination

It is important to differentiate between spraying and inappropriate urination. The two represent completely different behaviours and hence, require different treatments. Spraying occurs on vertical surfaces such as windows and doors, and is a marking behaviour commonly observed in intact male or female cats. Inappropriate elimination occurs on horizontal surfaces and can involve both urine and stool.

Treatment: Medical Issues

The first step in dealing with house soiling is to rule out underlying medical problems. Lower urinary tract infections and bladder stones are the most common medical causes of urination outside of the litter box. You may observe an increase in frequency of urination, straining, vocalization, or even blood in the urine. Other problems that can lead to inappropriate urination include: pain that prevents access to the litter box (for example, arthritis), diarrhea, kidney failure, constipation, and diabetes. Examination of the cat by a veterinarian for these problems should be done prior to investigating behaviour-related causes.

Treatment: Spraying

Spraying is a 100%normal behaviour in cats, representing a form of communication between them. Neutering or spaying an intact cat is the most effective way of stopping unwanted spraying behaviour – effective 90% of the time in males and 95% of the time in females. Early spaying/neutering at the age of six months is recommended, not only to prevent the spraying behaviour from developing, but also to protect the future health of the cat. In males, neutering can prevent testicular tumors and an enlarged prostate, while in females, early spaying greatly reduces the risk of malignant mammary tumors.

In multi-cat households, stress to the cats can be diminished by decreasing the number of cats or creating different areas for food, water and litter boxes. The spraying cat should also have a few hours of alone time each day.

A spraying cat may be provoked by free-roaming neighbourhood cats. Keeping your cat away from windows and doors may help to keep stray cats out of sight. It is also helpful to remove urine from surfaces outdoors with an enzymatic cleaner and remove anything that would attract outdoor cats, such as food and water.The use of moth balls can also be attempted to deter unwanted visitors.

Remote punishment with a water spray bottle or loud noise may deter the cat from the behaviour, but physical punishment must never be used. Finally, if all else fails, referral to a behavioural specialist and possible drug therapy may be necessary.

Treatment: Inappropriate Elimination

An elimination problem should be addressed as soon as possible, and medical issues should be ruled out first. If the cat’s health is good, litter box issues should be considered.

Litter box aversion commonly causes the cat to eliminate elsewhere in the house, or even just outside of the box, often involving both urine and stool. Try switching to a sandier, unscented litter, and a milder cleanser that is free of ammonia. The litter box should be cleaned more often and if using a covered box, the cat may prefer the cover be removed.

Litter type and litter box type preference can be determined by providing a few types of boxes (varying sizes) with different types of litter. The number of litter boxes in the household should be at least equal to the number of cats, and adding one or two more can only improve the circumstances.

Examine the location of the boxes to ensure that there is enough privacy, are accessible to the cat, and are not in close proximity to loud appliances.

If it has been a long-standing problem and none of the previous suggestions have been met with any success, litter box training in confinement may need to be repeated. Clean all previously soiled areas with an enzymatic cleaner making sure to saturate the entire area. The area can also be covered with foil or plastic to deter the cat from eliminating there. Alternatively, you can place the litter box in the area preferred by the cat, and once use has become consistent, the box can be gradually moved to the desired location.

Tasty food rewards are great for positive reinforcement and are perhaps a better alternative to remote punishment. Again, if all else fails, referral to a behavioural specialist may be required.

By Beverly Wong – writer

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