Urination Problems

Cats that toilet where you don't want them to

by Dr. Francesca Matthews


Inappropriate elimination, urine spraying and urine marking are the terms for different types of 'going to the toilet in the wrong places'.

These are all common problems in cats and can be a cause of clients requesting euthanasia.


However, with good diagnosis and patience in working through the possible solutions, resolution can be achieved in the vast majority. It is important to recognise the differences between these because they can have different causes and therefore different solutions. 




Inappropriate Elimination

Inappropriate elimination is going to the toilet (for numbers 1's and or 2's) in places that are not acceptable to the human owner.  When the problem is inappropriate elimination as opposed to urine spraying or marking, the cat will pass normal quantities of urine in the chosen toilet place. Inappropriate elimination can be urination or defecation or both.


Urine Spraying

Urine spraying is the spraying of urine on vertical surfaces. Many cats will do this on the boundary of their territory and if this is outside, it will not often be seen by owners. Urine spraying becomes a problem when the urine starts being deposited on vertical surfaces inside. Target areas tend to be furniture, bookcases, curtains, windows and interior walls.




Cats engaging in this behaviour will still be using the litter tray or garden for normal toileting.


Urine spraying is not just a sexually provoked response. It can result from chronic anxiety such as moving house or a new cat introduced into the household. These are both commonly associated with the onset of urine spraying. Making an outdoor cat an indoor cat and vice versa has also led to spraying as well as changes in the owner’s routine.


Urine marking

Urine marking is the depositing of urine on a horizontal surface. Targets include the clothes of family members or the owner’s bed. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate urine marking from inappropriate elimination. Cats engaging in this behaviour will still be using the litter tray or garden for normal toileting.


Our veterinarians will be able to help differeniate these by examining your cat and performing simple urine tests.



Did you know that the incidence of urine spraying and marking increases significantly with every additional cat added to the household?


What should you do first?

As is the case with all of these, it is important to rule out any underlying medical conditions prior to embarking on a programme to change your cat’s behaviour.

This requires a visit to one of our veterinarians. Please telephone us to make an appointment.



Once it is ascertained that the problem is behavioural, then a number of solutions can be implemented. What works for one cat may not work for another, so there is a need for perseverance and a bit of trial and error. The use of behaviour modifying drugs is also recommended in a number of situations. These are only available on prescription from your veterinarian. If the cat is a very anxious type of cat, these may be used right from the outset.


Solutions to Inappropriate Elimination


If your cat is engaging in this practice and has been deemed healthy by one of our veterinarians, then here are some tips to help resolve this problem.

The key is to remove the causes of aversion to the litter box or to going outside.


Some specific problems and possible solutions include:

  1. Aversion to a dirty litter tray - practice increased frequency of litter box cleaning. Once a day may be adequate for 1 cat, another may require you to clean it out 2 - 3 times per day.
  2. Litter additives may be a problem for some cats – offer a variety of different litter options (including sandpit sand and soil) and see which your cat prefers.
  3. If children bother a cat while it is in its litter box, this may cause the cat to develop an aversion – keep children away from the litter box area and you may even consider an enclosed litter box (looks similar to a cat carrier) for additional privacy.
  4. An aversion to going outdoors to toilet may be related to rainy weather, or that the cat is being bothered by another cat in its normal toilet area. In this case where the cat used to go outdoors, you may have to offer the cat an additional option of toileting inside in a litter tray. A cat used to toileting outdoors may prefer soil in its litter tray. There is a pet-specific soil available at many pet stores.
  5. Some cats have an attraction to certain textures or substances, for example carpet, and they are drawn to these areas to urinate. Reduce the cat’s access to these areas, and make sure the litter tray options are as attractive as possible.

Establishing new litter box habits


When establishing new litter box habits, the new litter must be as attractive as possible. If you have 2 cats in your house that use litter trays, you may need to provide alternative litter sources for each cat. Offering the cat a number of litter trays with different litter choices at one time will quickly help to identify which litter your cat prefers.


The appeal of outdoor areas can be improved by making sure the soil is dug over nice and finely and is easy for the cat to dig. Having soil that is free draining also helps so that the cat doesn’t get dirty feet (they don’t like it!). Another option is to dig out an area and fill it with sandpit sand and then clean it regularly like a litter tray (but make sure childrens sand pits are well covered so these aren't used as toilets). Make sure toileting areas in the garden are sheltered and private.


Once you have ensured an attractive toileting option, you need to work on stopping the cat going to the inappropriate place/s. Cats will continue to be attracted to these so the best option is to make them unavailable to the cat, until the new habits are well established, the other areas have been cleaned and all traces of the smell of urine have been removed. Do not use an ammonia based product however, as this smells like urine to a cat and they will continue to urinate in that area. If it is impossible to make these areas unavailable, then consider booby traps like double sided adhesive tape or triggering alarms. There are also some sprays available that are supposed to discourage inappropriate elimination, available from veterinary clinics or pet shops, but the success of these is variable.


In addition to all of this, our veterinarians may recommend drug therapy. This may be before you embark on the above changes, or afterwards, if you are unsuccessful. It depends largely on the nature of the problem, the cat and you.




Solutions to urine spraying or marking


If your cat is urine spraying or marking, you should always seek a veterinary consultation first because it is important that the cat exhibiting signs of urination is presented for an examination by a veterinarian first to differentiate behavioural problems from medical causes. This is achieved by asking a series of questions, examining your cat and doing some simple urine tests.


The solutions for resolution of urine spraying and urine marking are similar.


The first thing to do is ensure the cat is neutered. 80% of entire adult male cats presented for spraying show a rapid decline in spraying behaviour after being neutered. A further 10% show a more gradual decline. It has been shown that the age of neutering is not related to the incidence of spraying.

Once the cat (male or female) is desexed and medical issues have been ruled out, then try these options:


  1. If the cat marks or sprays in only 1 or 2 locations, feed the cat in these locations. Cats will not engage in these behaviours when their food and water sources are close to the area they are spraying in.
  2. Use feline pheromone sprays such as Feliway®. When used consistently (through a diffuser) this has been shown to reduce this behaviour.
  3. Drug therapy is available on prescription. Success rate is variable and the degree of difficulty in administering tablets to your cat may also play a role in whether drug therapy is an option.
  4. Reducing the number of cats in a multi-cat household may be an option. Note that if you are trying to rehome the cat that is spraying or marking, it is important you tell prospective owners about this problem. This does not mean the cat that marks or sprays will continue to do so at a new home, but there is a higher likelihood.
  5. Assist the cat in clearing problem neighbourhood cats from your section. This must be done without contravening the Animal Welfare Act! That is you can’t terrorise or hurt the other cat. However a few well placed sprays of water or loud claps may be enough to get the other cat to move on.


If you have a cat that is showing any of the signs above, please contact us to discuss the problem and best solutions for you and your cat. The sooner the problem is diagnosed and resolved, the more chance of changing the behaviour.


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