Aug 31 2014

House Soiling in Cats



The following contains information about an extremely frustrating, yet common issue in cats. So common in fact, that it is the number one behavioral issue seen by veterinarians in our feline companions. This common issue happens to be house soiling.  House soiling usually refers to the cat urinating outside of his or her litter box, around the house and sometimes even on the owner’s belongings.  There are several reasons why this may happen and your veterinarian will help you decide on the best approach to take. Medical issues are usually ruled out first, your vet will then move onto the more complicated behavioural issues, such as territorial anxieties and litter box aversions.


First off, if your cat starts urinating around the house and no longer uses his/her litter, the vet will usually start things off by looking into any medical issues. When cats are ill or under the weather, they can sometimes change their litter box habits as a form of non-verbal communication. As a first step, it is important to have your cat examined by the vet and submit a urine sample at this time, sometimes blood work may also be recommended.

Urinalysis: Testing your cat’s urine is one of the main tools your vet uses in order to make a proper diagnosis. The urine will be tested and examined under the microscope either in clinic or to an outside lab.  Once the urine is collected(usually by the vet), the vet/ lab technicians will be looking for abnormalities in it; blood, white blood cells, glucose, protein, urinary crystals and other such things should not be present. If there are any abnormalities, your veterinarian will discuss it with you and decide upon a plan of action.

Depending on the issue, your pet may need to be treated with medication or diet changes in order to resolve the condition.  Your vet may also ask that you resubmit a urine sample for retesting as a precautionary follow up. This will help to ensure that the treatment is working and your pet’s problem is either clearing up or at least improving.

X-rays of the abdomen/urinary tract: Bladder stones and mineral deposits can sometimes be the cause of discomfort and therefore subsequent inappropriate elimination within the house.

Ultrasound of the Abdomen: This can take a look at any issues which may be affecting the internal organs, and urinary tract.

Sometimes no medical issue can be found; in this case the veterinarian will usually start looking into behavioural issues. Behaviour problems can be frustrating and sometimes difficult to treat and can happen in both young and older cats.


Territorial Anxiety:

Sometimes behavioural issues may be linked to territorial anxieties in which the cat marks the environment with urine as a way of communicating. They may urinate to let other cats know that a certain area is already claimed, or to let others know where they have been.

A major predisposing factor in territorial anxiety and urine marking is stress. Sometimes this stress can be triggered by simply living in a multi-cat household, or may be due to having an owner absent for long periods of time.


Signs that your cat may be urinating due to territorial anxieties: 

  • Using the litter box sometimes but not consistently
  • Having bowel movements in the litter box but urinating elsewhere
  • Urinating in the exact same spot consistently
  • Urinating on personal belongings(such as the bed/clothing/shoes etc)
  • Urinating near windows or doors where outdoor cats are visible
  • Having a cat who is neither spayed nor neutered yet and who doesn’t use the litter box
  • Changes in the home such as the addition of new pets or new people, moving to a new home along with co-existing house soiling issues



Medication: Treatment for this type of behavioural issue usually involves anti anxiety medications.  These medications are great for when the source of stress cannot be pinpointed or if there is a source of stress that cannot be altered, Example: having a new baby.

Alternative products, such as ‘Feliway’ may also be beneficial. This product uses synthetic pheromones (chemicals used in communication between animals) to reduce stress levels in your cat. This product is available in a spray or a continuous diffuser and is odourless to humans.

-Remove triggers: Use enzymatic cleaners in order to remove pervious urine odours from carpets, beds, clothing or other porous items. Avoid using ammonia based cleaners, and try using chlorine based products on vinyl, concrete or other hard surfaces to remove the urine scent.

-Spay or Neuter your cat

-Outdoor Cats? Try to prevent (if possible) roaming outdoor cats from coming around your home environment.

-Positive Reinforcement: Punishment during or after inappropriate elimination can increase stress and therefore the motivation to mark. It will also normally reduce the owner/pet bond.

-Restricted Access: Try to restrict access to previously soiled areas within the household. Some ideas to help restrict access: foil, plastic sheeting, carpet protecting mats turned upside down (bumpy side up), or loops or tape/double sided tape.

-Positive Association: Creating a positive association between the previously soiled area and something which the cat enjoys, such as cat nip or toys.


Litter box aversions/Environment:

Another reason why a cat may not use the litter box may be due to simply not liking it. Sometimes the litter box may not be clean enough, or have a new type of litter or smell to it, sometimes it may not be in a quiet enough area. The following are signs or issues which predispose the likely hood of your cat having a litter box aversion:

  • The cat tends to urinate on horizontal surfaces
  • You have recently changed the brand of litter (different texture, smell, size etc)
  • The cat may be urinating AND having bowel movements outside of the litter box
  • Multiple cats share the same litter box
  • Your cat uses a covered litter box. These litter boxes are considered unnatural for cats and the odours inside are much stronger due to the enclosed space.
  • The litter is not scooped or box not cleaned frequently enough
  • The litter box is in an area without privacy (ex: busy area in the house, hallways etc)
  • The cat has experienced negative situations while in litter box, ex: dog barking at him or her, a child bothering the cat etc…
  • The litter box is located near noisy appliances such as the washing machine.



Any time there is an issue with house soiling in your cat, you need to take a closer look at the litter box!

Amount of litter boxes: Single cat households require 2 litter boxes, each in a different location. For cats in multi-cat households, you need to have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. This will provide the cats with a sufficient number of litter boxes; furthermore each social group of cats will have their own litter area.

Location: In multi-level homes, there should be one litter box per each level.

Placement of food and water: Avoid placing food and water near areas of elimination as this will discourage cats from using the litter box.

Size of Box: The size of the litter box is just as important as the amount of litter boxes available to the cat. The box should be rectangular in shape and 1.5 times the length of the cat (from nose, to base of tail). Many commercial litter boxes are too small. TIP: Going to a home improvement or department store may offer more creative options, such as: concrete mixing trays, or under the bed storage containers.

Special Needs: Cat’s with joint issues? Try a lower litter box or a litter box with a ramp attached to it. A cat may avoid the litter if it is difficult or painful for them to climb into. This causes a negative association and therefore avoidance.

-For elderly or visually impaired cats: Place litter boxes in an easy access area (not in the basement for example), and try adding a night light in order to help reduce anxiety in older cats.

Extra Tip: Try cat litter additives, such as ‘Cat Attract’. This is a natural product which helps encourage the cat into returning to his or her litter box.


Cleaning the Litter box:

-Cat litter should be scooped daily or more, clumping litter should be changed at least every 4 weeks and non-clumping litter should be changed about once every week. If you are fairly busy, you might want to look into purchasing a self-cleaning litter box.

-When cleaning out the litter box, use mild soap and water, and avoid using strong smelling or ammonia based products which can be offensive to cats.

Type of Litter:

-Sometimes trying a new cat litter brand might help. There are many types available; clumping, non-clumping, unscented, crystal beads, recycled newspaper, dust free etc…

-Cats usually find scented litter or litter box deodorizers offensive, scented items are marketed more towards people than cats.

-Most cats prefer litter which is:  sand like, clumping, non-scented, and at least 3cm in depth. Tip: try added different types of litter at different depths to a few different litter boxes to see which one your cat prefers.

Covered VS Open: This depends more on your cleaning habits of the litter box. If there are any odours within the litter box, the cat may avoid its use. As well, smaller covered litter boxes may make it difficult for larger cats to eliminate.



Reducing Stress:

In order to create healthy habits in your cat, try creating a healthy environment!

-Provide a ‘safe place’ for your cat, they feel most comfortable when they have access to quiet or secluded areas. This gives a cat the option to retreat if they feel anxious, stressed or threatened. Cats enjoy areas that are elevated (cat perches) or areas in which cats can conceal him or herself (boxes, cat house).

-Positive cat/human interactions: Cats benefit from consistency, this include positive interactions with people. Most cats tend to prefer frequent, low intensity, and shorter interactions. They also feel best being able to initiate and end interaction with humans on their own.

-Separate key areas within the household (multi cat households): Provide separate areas for cats to perform key daily activities, such as: a playing, sleeping, eating, eliminating, and scratching. These areas must be available in multiple and physically separate areas of the household to prevent competition within multi cat households.

-Keep your cat busy: boredom causes anxiety in cats. By playing with and creating an opportunity to be predatory, cats stay active/busy and can reduce undesirable behaviours. Even shorter multiple periods of play per day can be beneficial!

-Scents: Keep scents within the home to a minimum as cats have a very acute sense of smell. Cats evaluate their surroundings mainly through information they receive through scent/smell. Introducing new or strong scent can create a threatening, unpleasant environment for the cat, which can result in anxiety and therefore house soiling.


If all else fails…

If nothing seems to be working, you must start off from square one.  Your pet should be confined to a small space, such as a dog crate or a large cat carrier with a litter box. If the cat begins to use the litter, he or she can then have more space. The cat carrier can be upgraded to a small bathroom with tile flooring, then into a larger area until the cat once again has full access to the household.

If the cat still refuses to use the litter box consistently, your vet may need to refer you to a behaviour specialist.


Remember that house soiling is a very common issue in cats and your pet should be seen by a veterinarian if experiencing any of the above signs. By having your cat fully examined by his or her vet, and having certain tests performed, an underlying medical issue may be diagnosed. If there are no underlying medical issues discovered, your cat may have a behavioural issue such as territorial anxiety or a litter box aversion. These particular behavioural issues require many changes, hard work and most of all patience on behalf of the owner. For more information or advice please contact the Lansdowne Animal Hospital at 730-2460 and we will gladly offer our guidance.



Beth | Uncategorized

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