House Soiling in Cats
Cats don’t potty outside the box to seek “revenge” on their family. The real reasons why a cat doesn’t use the litter box properly can be divided into 1) medical, 2) litter box, and 3) behavioral issues.
Only Urine Outside the Box
Small, frequent urination suggests painful urination associated with urinary tract infections, bladder stones, or cystitis. Large spots of urination can be a sign of diabetes, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism.
Only Stool Outside the Box
This can be caused by constipation, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, or parasites. Use rubber gloves or a plastic bag to examine the stool. If the poop is very hard and dry, this indicates constipation, which is a common problem in older cats.
Both Urine and Stool Outside the Box
Arthritis in an elderly cat can make it difficult for them to race all the way downstairs to potty if a litter box is not available on every floor. A litter box with tall sides can be a difficult hurdle for an older cat to climb. If you find urine or stool around the box instead of in it, suspect this as a possible cause.
What your cat wants
Most cats want unscented, finer-textured litter in an uncovered box. Cats often will have a litter brand preference, just as people prefer one brand of toilet paper. It is your job to figure out what that is, and stick with it. Don’t just buy whatever's on sale.
Covered boxes keep the bad smells in which some cats may find offensive. Even though it looks and smells better to people, it smells worse inside. Just to be confusing, some cats want a cover for privacy. You can either guess, or offer both to find out which type of litter box your cat prefers.
Older cats, young kittens, and cats with mobility issues need litter boxes with low sides so they don’t have to perform the high jump just to get inside. Big cats need bigger boxes so they can turn around and potty without their rear ends hanging over the sides.
Location, Location, Location
Availability and number of boxes is also important. Having at least one box on every floor of the house is advisable, as is one box per cat plus one more overall. Most cats prefer a quiet, private litter box location away from their food bowls. Don't place the box right next to the washing machine, dryer or any other noisy appliance. This may scare a cat into finding a quieter bathroom.
Cleanliness is Next to Catliness
Here is where the real work comes in. Scoop the box at least once daily, and clean the whole box, completely changing the entire contents once weekly. To clean the box, use gloves and a gentle detergent. Don't use products containing ammonia, because that can make the litter box smell like an unfamiliar cat’s urine. Liners have an odor that most cats don’t like, so they are not recommended. Replace smelly or cracked old litter boxes as needed.
Many people think the above rules are excessive. Some cats will still use the litter box even if it’s only scooped once a week, but their owners have been spoiled! They might not be so lucky with their next cat. Many house soiling issues can be resolved by simply keeping the litter box clean.
In any household with more than seven cats, the risk of spraying is greatly increased. Cats tend to “spray” urine on vertical surfaces rather than horizontal (as in, on walls or furniture rather than floors). This is extremely common in unneutered males, but is also seen in 10% of neutered males and 5% of spayed females.
Spraying can be due to intercat aggression/bullying in the house, a new cat being introduced into the household, or outdoor cats being spotted outside and viewed as a threat. Intercat aggression issues deserve an entire behavioral article of their own, but outdoor cats can be safely and more easily dealt with. Stop feeding them near window locations, for starters. In the summer, a motion-activated sprinkler system can safely scare off the outdoor cats. Also rearrange your furniture so that your cats can’t view the ground outside so easily.
House soiling (spraying or regular) can also be due to "litter box bullies." Sometimes one cat thinks the box belongs just to them, and won't let anyone else near it. Then the victim of the bully has to find somewhere else to go. Often, people have to set up a videotape to actually see this in action.
Having multiple litter box locations in your home can help this problem. A litter box bully can only “guard” one location at a time.
Increased playtime (laser pointer, fake kitty mice, cardboard boxes, whatever your cat prefers) can calm anxious cats. If your cat likes to be brushed, daily brushing can also be soothing. More and more companies are developing interactive food bowls to make your cat “hunt” for their food.
Behaviorists believe that environmental enrichment can help solve some anxiety caused inappropriate elimination problems.
Some cats are put on anti-anxiety medications, along with environmental changes, to help with inappropriate pottying issues.
-please call with any questions or concerns involving house soiling
- remember that the EARLIER you intervene, the better your chance of resolving these issues
- Dr. Ann M. Anderson
Quarry Hill Park Animal Hospital
1) Cornell Feline Health Center (Vet School) website
2) An example of interactive food bowls