Feline house-soiling is a complex problem faced by many cat owners.  It not only exerts stress on the bond between cat and owner, but it can also be an indication of either an underlying medical condition or a complicated behavioural issue. It is important to realize that your veterinarian and registered veterinary health technologists are a valuable resource when it comes to diagnosing, managing, and preventing house-soiling behaviours.  We understand that this represents a stressful situation for cat owners.  Many of us have been in similar situations with our own cats.  Though it can feel like the behaviour is personal, it is very important to note that cats do not urinate or defecate outside of the litter box due to anger or spite.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recognizes that there are four main causes for feline house-soiling:

Marking Behaviour

Marking is part of normal feline behaviour and can include urine spraying, scratching, rubbing and deposition feces.  Marking will occur for a number of reasons, ranging from sexual behaviour in unneutered/unspayed males and females, anxiety-related marking in response to environmental changes and stress, as well as territorial marking due to a perceived threat from outside of the home (new people, neighbourhood cats, visiting tradespeople during renovations).

Social and Environmental Factors

Cats are very private and tidy creatures, so it is no surprise that they can be very particular with their litterbox requirements. In a multi-cat household, a dominant cat may cause a less dominant cat to seek areas outside of the litterbox to ruinate and/or defecate.  Some cats may also avoid litterboxes in high traffic areas such as near doors, hallways or next to the household laundry facilities. Cats may also avoid using the litterbox if they perceive the experience to be negative, such a a dirty litterbox, loud noises occurring near the litter box (washing machine, furnace), or becoming trapped in a lidded-litterbox.

Medical Issues

Every cat exhibiting house-soiling behaviours requires a thorough physical exam, which may include screening tests such as blood work, urinalysis and x-rays or ultrasound.  This is because there are many medical conditions that may present with the first symptom of house-soiling.  Conditions can be as varied as arthritis, other sources of pain, kidney disease, urinary tract infection, or constipation.

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)

This is a common condition of cats that results in symptoms similar to a urinary tract infection (UTI), however there is no bacterial component present.  Inflammation of the bladder wall leads to frequent urination, painful urination, and sometimes there may be blood in the urine.

Treatment and Management

First and foremost, contact your veterinarian.  This is especially important to rule out underlying medical conditions resulting in this type of behaviour.  The next phase of management revolves around three key components

Providing the Perfect Litterbox

Number of Litterboxes: the general rule of thumb is to have one more litterbox than the total number of cats in the house.

Type of litter: consider trying different types of litter (clay, newspaper pellets, granules) as some cats may develop a preference for certain textures.

Size: LARGE! Cat’s love large litter boxes.  Sometimes a homemade litter box made from a shallow yet large Rubbermaid container is better than any store-bought alternative.

Location of litterbox: Place litterboxes in different areas of the home with. Litterboxes should not be placed next to each other as cat perceive this to be one large litterbox, versus separate boxes.  Prioritize quiet and sheltered areas and on different levels in multi-level homes.  Older cats may prefer a litter box on the main floor due to mobility issues.

Other Helpful Tips

–          Clean litterboxes daily

–          Restrict outdoor and roaming cats from entering your yard

–          Do not punish your cat for marking as this may result in fear aggression

–          Use feline friendly pheromone sprays and diffusers, specifically Feliway

–          Clean urine-marked areas thoroughly to remove any residual scent which may encourage re-marking

Cats are complex little creatures, and this is why we love them!  However, they are sometimes accompanied by the complex issue of house-soiling.  Please ensure to reach out to your veterinarian right away for guidance in understanding your cat’s medical, social and environmental needs.

For additional resources for enriching your cat’s environment and ensuring they are living a happy and stress-free life, we encourage you to visit: www.catfriendly.com/enrichment

Written by Dr. Samyra Stuart-Altman
Learn more about Dr. Samyra Stuart-Altman here.