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(207) 846-6515 H
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(207) 846-6515

BEHAVIOR: HOUSESOILING BY CATS

Housesoiling is a very destructive problem, both for our homes and our relationships with our offending pets. The first step in trying to resolve this problem is to identify what is going on: the three causes of housesoiling are medical problems, inappropriate toileting, and urine marking. To complicate matters, one, two, or all three of these causes may be present simultaneously, and they may apply to a single cat or to various cats in a multiple cat household.

MEDICAL PROBLEMS
If the housesoiling involves urine, possible medical causes include:
- increased thirst and urination: diabetes, chronic kidney disease, urinary tract inflammation or infection, and urinary tract stones
- incontinence: brain or neurological bladder problems
- lameness or weakness due to muscle (atrophy), skeletal (arthritis), or neurological (brain or spinal cord) illness or injury
- miscellaneous problems: thyroid gland tumors (hyperthyroidism), liver failure, cognitive dysfunction

If the housesoiling involves feces, possible medical causes include:
- increased frequency of defecation: inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, diarrhea
- painful defecation: anal sac problems, constipation, pelvic tumors
- lameness or weakness as noted for urine
- miscellaneous problems as noted for urine

A correct diagnosis is essential for effective treatment to take place. We always need to examine the (possible) offending cats, and we usually need to use diagnostics tests, including blood, urine and fecal testing, x-rays and ultrasound exams.

INAPPROPRIATE TOILETING VS. URINE MARKING
Inappropriate toileting is not the same problem as urine marking. Again, one cat may be doing one or the other or both, and in multiple cat households more than one cat may be involved. Proper treatment requires the correct diagnosis of inappropriate toileting and/or urine marking.

Features of urine marking include:
- may be territorial-, hormonal-, and/or anxiety-induced
- almost always adult cats
- most common in intact males, followed by females in heat and neutered males
- almost always urine; rarely feces
- usually small amounts of urine
- usually on vertical surfaces, but in uncommon cases may be urine or feces on horizontal surfaces
- the cat stands up, backs up, treads with back legs, and sprays urine
- often on prominent upright surfaces: doorframes, windows, new objects, frequently used furniture

Features of inappropriate toileting include:
- voiding behavior
- kittens or adult cats
- males or females, intact or neutered
- urine and/or feces
- normal or larger amounts
- horizontal surfaces
- normal urinating or defecating posture
- may occur on specific surfaces or locations or be entirely random

URINE MARKING
Factors that might influence a cat’s tendency to spray:
- hormones
- genetics, temperament
- feline population density: new cats in household or neighborhood
- scents from other cats
- environmental changes: new baby, new furniture, remodeling
- new schedule for the owner, less time with the cat
- owner absent from home
- punishment

Goals of treatment and treatment options for urine marking:
Keep stimuli away from the cat
- even indoor-only cats can be affected by outdoor stimuli
- eliminate outdoor stimuli: remove wildlife, move birdfeeders, move trash containers, use odor eliminators on outdoor cat urine
- reduce the number of cats in the home
- keep children, dogs, and visitors away from the cat

Keep the cat away from stimuli
- block access or vantage points that allow the cat to visualize outdoor cats
- white noise, tv, and music to reduce sound of outdoor stimuli
- separate from children, dogs, visitors

Surgery
- neutering or spaying resolves the problem 90% of the time

Confinement
- when unable to supervise the cat, confine it away from the area it sprays
- relapses may be decreased by gradual reintroduction to previously sprayed areas, with constant supervision and rewards for not spraying

Supervision, Punishment, and Avoidance
- punishment should be avoided; if caught about to spray, cat should be called away with a command and reward; if caught spraying, cat should be interrupted (clap hands, toss shaker can), with interruptions ideally administered with the owner out of sight so that the cat does not become fearful of the owner
- avoidance devices include: double-sided tape, cirtus, perfume and cat repellent scents, motion activated spray or alarm

Change the function of the sprayed area
- if spraying only one or two areas, move bedding, food and water bowls, toys, or scratching post to the area

Access to the outdoors
- some cats spray less if they are allowed outdoors, some spray less if they are kept in

Provide alternative marking sites
- try a litter box with higher sides or a cover
- place litter box in tub or shower stall

Litterbox and other environmental management
- increased number of boxes
- increased and varied location of boxes
- scoop boxes at least once per day
- clean the box thoroughly weekly
- clean sprayed areas thoroughly; research shows cats are repelled by citrus scents and are attracted by, or feel neutral about bleach; use enzymatic odor neutralizers

Environmental Enrichment
- pheromone therapy: Feliway spray and diffusers in problem areas
- opportunities to climb, perch, and hide

Drug Therapy
- must be preceded by examination and often lab testing
- must be administered at least once daily
- transdermal medications not likely to work
- response may be seen in 1-4 weeks, up to 8 weeks for maximum response
- after 2 months of effective control drug may be gradually reduced; some cats cannot be successfully taken off of medication

Factors that affect the chances of resolving a urine spraying problem:
- cause(s)
- duration
- frequency of marking
- number of areas/surfaces marked
- number of cats in the home
- ability to control arousing stimuli
- practicality and limitations of environmental control
- health of cat
- owner commitment and expectations
- drugs: ability to administer, cost
- correct diagnosis

INAPPROPRIATE TOILETING
Possible causes of inappropriate toileting include:
- litterbox aversion: odor (perfume, waste), not cleaned frequently enough, discomfort eliminating, unacceptable litter depth, texture or odor, unacceptable box (too small, covered, lined), cat disciplined, medicated or frightened in the box
- location aversion: too much activity; traumatic or fearful event in the area; too inconvenient
- location preference: another area is more appealing than the one the box is in
- surface preference: another surface is more appealing than the litter
- anxiety: owner absent, too many cats in household, moving, household changes, new furniture, remodeling, punishment
- need for privacy: nervous or fearful cat

Goals of treatment and treatment options for inappropriate toileting:
Reward desired behavior
- food treats or play immediately after appropriate litterbox use
- clicker training to go to litterbox area and to time rewards

Remove the cause
- rule out medical problems
- if location aversion, temporarily move the box to desired location, then gradually move it back to owner’s preferred site
- identify deterrents in the litterbox area: laundry equipment, furnace, cat being disturbed in the area by other pets or people
- if litterbox aversion, determine which features could be improved by preference testing

Prevent access to soiled sites
- move furniture over the area
- block access by closing doors, etc., to frequently soiled rooms

Re-establish normal litter use
- providing preferred box, litter and location and removing deterrents problem might be resolved
- if soiling persists despite these changes, confining the cat to a small area with the litterbox (please contact us for a detailed plan if you would like to use this option)

Decrease the desirability of inappropriate sites
- reduce appeal of soiled areas: remove carpet, place a sheet of plastic, aluminum foil, vinyl carpet runner (nubs up), double-sided tape in the area, apply aversive odors such as citrus or perfume
- place food bowls, bedding, toys, scratching post, kitty condo, or play center in the area
- use booby traps or avoidance devices (motion detector alarms, sprays
- use enzymatic odor eliminators in sufficient quantity (area must be saturated)
- punishment should be avoided, but if the cat is caught immediately prior to soiling, the owner should interrupt with a device (squirt bottle, bean bag or pillow tossed on floor near cat) so that cat ceases voiding without becoming fearful of owner

Increase desirability of the litterbox
- preference testing to determine: favorite litter (clay, clumping, carbon-activated, perfumed or not, pelleted newspaper, soil, potting soil), litter depth,  or substrate preferred instead of litter (carpet scraps, tile, linoleum, towel, empty box)
- favorite box (covered, uncovered, larger, lower sides)
- scoop daily, clean weekly ( do not use citrus or perfumed detergent)
- increased number of boxes

Stress control / Environmental enrichment
- stress contributes to both anxiety and medical problems
- provide calm, stable environment, with easy access to food and water, and opportunities to engage in climbing, perching, hiding, scratching, playing, and exploring
- make household changes slowly
- avoid punishment
- use pheromone diffusers and spray

Drug therapy
- horizontal elimination is only uncommonly due to marking
- if it is suspected that the soiling may be due to marking then trial drug therapy may be warranted

Factors affecting the chances of resolving inappropriate toileting:
- the cause of the problem
- the litterbox experience
- duration of the problem
- frequency of housesoiling incidents
- number of areas and surfaces soiled
- number of cats
- temperament of cats
- owner committment to modifying the behavior
- enviroment limitations
- health of the cat
- correct diagnosis

*Most of this article is adapted from Feline Housesoiling in Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, third edition, by G. Landsberg, W. Hunthausen, and L. Ackerman 

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