03 3489728 Straven Road Vet
03 3525749 Papanui Vet
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 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 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 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.
Some specific problems and possible solutions include:
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:
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.