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Cats bring joy to their owners’ lives in many ways, but when a cat begins to urinate outside of the litter box, it can put a strain on the entire household. It is embarrassing to have company over and realize that your house reeks of cat urine or to go to bed only to find out that your cat peed on your pillow. An owner sometimes worries that the cat may have a health problem. If a health problem is ruled out, then frustration often sets in.
Issues with Cat Urinating Outside of Litter Box
Cats sometimes urinate outside of the litter box. There are many places a cat might urinate besides his box. Some cats urinate on the floor right beside the litter box. Others may urinate in the soil of house plants, on the carpet, on the bed, on towels, or even inside the bathtub.
Once a cat begins urinating in strange places, it will likely return to that place time and again. Since cat urine is one of the hardest smells to completely remove, dealing with the smell alone can be extremely frustrating. If the smell is not completely removed, the cat is likely to return to the spot again and again.
Cat urine is composed of urochrome, urea and uric acid. Of the three, uric acid is the part of cat urine that is hard to remove, because it resists common household cleaners and leaves a scent behind. Even if the scent is not detectible to human noses, a cat’s keen sense of smell can pick up on the scent. In multiple cat households, this can mean that more than one cat in the household could begin urinating in the same spot.
Dealing with the Frustration
An owner who is greeted with the smell of cat urine upon entering his house may have a hard time dealing with a cat that refuses to use the litter box. Not only can it be hard to figure out why the animal is not using its litter box, but attempts to get the cat to use the box may backfire.
- The Cat Is Not a Brat: First, the cat is not pouting or angry at you. Experts don’t believe cats have the ability to plot revenge. While they are extremely smart creatures, revenge is more of a human trait. When a cat stops using its litter box, there is usually an underlying cause. With a little detective work, you’ll figure out what is causing the behavior.
- Solvable Problem: In most cases, the problem can be solved and a cat can be retrained to use his litter box with a little extra effort and some patience.
- Yelling and Hitting Don’t Work: Never strike your pet or scream at her for having an accident outside of the cat pan. This will frighten your feline and she’ll probably find somewhere to hide and urinate, which is much worse than knowing where the pee stain is and being able to effectively treat it.
Common Causes of Cats Peeing in the House
There are many reasons why a cat might begin peeing in the house. The best course of action when a cat’s behavior changes suddenly is to take it to the veterinarian to rule out any health issues. While not every bad behavior can be blamed on a medical problem, it is better to be safe than sorry.
For example, a male cat may develop crystals in his lower urinary tract. If this creates a blockage, the cat may die a rapid and extremely painful death. Urinating outside of the litter box can be an early sign of a developing infection. It becomes painful for the cat to urinate and thus he goes outside of the box, thinking the box is causing his pain. Perhaps he is also trying to let you know that he is ill by changing his behavior. Cats can’t talk and tell us what is bothering them, so they have to find other ways to communicate. Other causes of inappropriate urination include:
- Litter Box Aversion – Consider whether you’ve changed the litter box recently. Litter boxes need replaced every so often, because the uric acid gets into the plastic (even if you use a liner and deodorizing sprays). When you replace the box, it is important to use the same type of box you’ve always used. The depth and size should be the same. If the old litter box had steps, the new litter box should have steps. If the old litter box had a cover, the new litter box should have a cover. If you have not changed the box, the cat may still have developed an aversion to that particular box. Experiment with different shapes and styles (covered and uncovered). If your cat is particularly large, she may need a bigger box. Kittens often outgrow their first litter box rapidly.
- Fear – There are times when cats develop a fear of the litter box. There are several reasons why a cat might become afraid. If there are multiple cats in the home, one cat may be waiting on the other to come out of the box and pouncing. Whether it is done playfully or as a territorial move, such moments can frighten your cat and keep her from using her box. Dogs sometimes startle cats as well. If you have other pets in the home, watch closely and see if this is occurring. If so, then move the box to a new area where the cat can do his business in peace.
- Dirty Litter – Some cats are particularly finicky about their litter. If it is soiled at all, the cat may not use it. In homes with more than one cat, you should set up more than one litter box. Put everyone in the family on pooper scooper duty. The litter box should be cleaned out several times a day and a fresh layer of litter added every couple of days. There are some automated litter boxes on the market, but they can be costly and some cats are scared of them as well. If you decide to purchase an automatic litter box, be sure you can return it if your cat doesn’t take to the system.
- Type of Litter – Consider what type of litter you are using. Some cats prefer very fine, scoopable litter and others like a coarser litter. If your cat has been declawed, his paw pads may be tender and coarse litter could be the culprit. Some litters also have heavy perfumes that are a turn-off to cats. Trying different types of litter is an excellent way to see if the litter is the reason your cat is urinating outside of the box and is an expensive solution. When changing cat litter, start with a mixture of 75 percent of the old litter to 25 percent of the new litter. Use that combination for a few days and then switch to 50 percent of each. Continue changing every few days in 25 percent increments until the box has 100 percent of the new litter. Do this each time you change litter brands or types.
- Household Changes and Stress – Major changes in the household or stress can cause a cat to feel confused and to not use the litter box properly. Divorce, a death in the family, new family members moving in and new pets introduced to the home can all cause stress on your cat. A neighbor with new dogs that bark constantly can also unnerve your cat. Moving to a new home can also cause stress. If the home is not new, then pets that have lived in the home before may have left behind scents that will frighten and confuse your cat.
- Marking Territory – One common reason for peeing in inappropriate places is to mark territory. If you’ve lived with a cat for more than a few minutes, you probably realize that they are territorial. Cats seek out their favorite spots and return to them time and again. In a house with more than one cat, each cat may seek to mark his territory by urinating or spraying. Spraying is an entirely different issue with its own set of problems, but is usually cured by neutering your male cat. Solutions include making sure each cat has its own box in a separate area of the house, keeping a separate bed and separate food dishes for each cat. If you have more than two or three cats, this can be a real challenge, so you may need to simply isolate the cat with the urination problem and give him a space of his own.
- Separation Anxiety – Another possibility is that your feline has separation anxiety. People often get cats because they are a pet that can be left alone for longer periods than a dog. Cats don’t need walked and many people assume they don’t need a lot of attention. While a cat may not require as much one-on-one attention as a dog, felines still crave interaction with their human companions. If you work long hours or have been away from home a lot, your cat may be experiencing separation anxiety, which leads to stress, which can lead to inappropriate urination.
- Old Age – Elderly cats experience litter box issues pretty frequently. If health issues have been ruled out, then the cause could be arthritis. Getting in and out of the litter box may be an issue for cats with a lot of pain in their joints. Try purchasing a shorter litter box or one with a ramp. If the cat has poor vision, she may have trouble locating the box. Take care to always keep it in exactly the same location. Accept that your cat has given you many good years of companionship and you may have to make allowances for her old age. Even humans have bathroom problems as they age. Treat your cat the way you would want to be treated.
- Associating Pain With Box – When a cat has had an infection or even a painful bowel movement, your cat may begin to associate the litter box with pain. This can be a difficult thing to overcome, because the cat doesn’t want to feel that pain again and believes that the pain came from the box. Use the steps below to begin to retrain your cat and consider getting a different type of box as the cat may associate the current box with pain.
Best Ways to Deal with Cat Urination Problems
According to veterinarians at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, it is vital to address the problem as quickly as possible. The longer your cat urinates outside of the litter box, the more likely it is that the behavior will turn into a bad habit.
Once you’ve read through the common causes above and narrowed down the cause of your cat’s behavior, take the following steps to try to end the problem once and for all.
- Thoroughly clean any areas where the cat has previously urinated. (see Cleaning the Pee Stains below)
- Replace anything that needs replaced, such as the litter box or brand of litter. If the cat likes to pee on a particular rug in front of the box, remove the rug or replace it with a new one.
- Try to catch your cat using the box and praise her. Cats respond best to positive reinforcement.
- If the cat continues to urinate in the wrong spot, isolate your cat with the litter box in the smallest space possible, but as a bathroom or laundry room. Leave your cat in this room with her box for a minimum of one week. Go in to clean the box and give her attention, but the cat stays in the room with the litter box. Ideally, this is also the area where the box will remain.
- After a week, allow your cat to wander into the rest of the house, but watch her very closely. If she starts to urinate outside of the box, firmly tell her no and carry her to her box. Praise her as you place her in the litter box and leave her in the room with the box for a few more days.
- Repeat as necessary.
- Be patient. It may take weeks to retrain your cat to use the box, especially if she has had a traumatic experience of some sort.
Cleaning the Pee Stains
Throughout this guide, you’ve heard that the underlying scent of the urine must be removed to discourage your cat from returning to that spot again. That is easier said than done. The crystals in the uric acid bond with whatever they come into contact with. Simply cleaning does not remove the scent for the long-term.
Follow these steps to remove the scent of the uric acid. In the worst case scenario, where an area was particularly soiled before you moved in or a home with multiple cats having accidents, you may need to replace the flooring to solve the problem.
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- Blot the urine spot up with a towel. Get as much of the liquid as you can out of the carpet. Use an old towel that you can throw away.
- Use a good enzymatic cleaner, which is available at any pet supply store. You will want a formula specifically created to treat cat urine, since dog and cat pee are two different monsters. Make sure the formula has active enzymes. Also, there are some versions that contain a deodorizer as well. This is a good addition as it can help mask any odors.
- Coat the carpet or floor completely with the liquid enzyme cleaner. You want to completely soak it so that the liquid reaches the padding below the carpet and the enzymes can begin to work on any urine that soaked through. Cover with a towel and keep wet for about 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, uncover the spot and allow to air dry.
- Once dry, vacuum the area to remove any remaining crystals or debris.
- You may need to repeat this process several times to get rid of the odor, but if you catch it quickly it will be easier to treat the spot than if the stain is older.
If you are not sure where your carpet is soiled, but can smell cat pee, a black light held a few inches above the carpet will reveal any urine stains, which can then be treated.
Some Other Ideas to Stop the Soiling
There are a few other methods you can try if you are still having urinating issues with your feline. These work in some situations. If you’re desperate, they are definitely worth a try.
- Place sheets of aluminum foil in the area where the cat urinates. Cats dislike the feel of the foil on their feet and will avoid the area. This will not hurt your cat. She simply doesn’t like it.
- Cats don’t like to use the litter where they eat, so place her food bowls in the soiled area to see if you can persuade her to do her business in her litter box.
- Toilet train your cat. If the issue is a clean litter box, teaching your cat to use the toilet can eventually eliminate the need for litter at all. It does take patience and must be done in stages, but many cats will take to using the toilet, especially younger cats.
What to Do if Everything Fails
If you’ve tried absolutely everything and your cat still refuses to use the litter box, it may be time to make some tough decisions. How you ultimately choose to handle a cat that urinates in strange places is up to you and depends upon your patience for such antics. Here are a few solutions:
- Give the cat away to someone who has the patience to deal with his bathroom habits.
- Allocate him to a single room to keep him from soiling more than one room of your house.
- Switch to a different type of flooring.
- Set up a special area for him to soil with plastic and cheap carpet or other materials that can be easily replaced.
- Use Feliway spray to dissuade the cat from spraying in an area that has been cleaned.
It is really best to keep your cat indoors if you can. There are many dangers outside for cats, including roaming dogs, coyotes, neighbors and cars. Cats that live outdoors are also more prone to catching diseases from other felines in the area or getting into fights which can lead to infection.
However, if you truly cannot train the cat and cannot handle him being indoors, this may be your final solution. If you choose to put your cat outside, be sure she has adequate shelter from the elements and a place to easily get away from any predators.
Check on her regularly and get her normal veterinary treatment. Invest in shots for Feline Leukemia and other contagious diseases. Making such a decision is not easy, but knowing you’ve tried everything you can helps ease the pain a bit.
Most cats will respond to at least one of the steps above. If the problem is not caused by a health issue, be patient, work the steps and see if your cat will respond. You may need to repeat steps more than once before your feline learns once again how to use her litter box.
The good news is that using a litter box is instinctive for cats, so once she picks the habit back up, she should keep it for the long-term.