It is no question that cats can be complex creatures. If you have (or have had) cats in your life, you’ll know that they are not always easy to read and can act very different from one another. This can make living with them a bit tricky, especially when their complexity results in urinating on your carpet or shoes!
Urinating outside of the box, often referred to as inappropriate urination, can have a multitude of causes. This can lead to very difficult and tense times as you cannot easily treat the problem if you don’t know the cause. Inappropriate urination can be grouped in to three main root causes: Litter box avoidance; preference for somewhere else; and a vague “I don’t feel well” – this last one can refer to medical reasons or psychological.
Litterbox avoidance means that there is something about the box that the cat does not like. This could be the location, the box itself (sides are too tall, covered, not covered), or the type of litter used. Cats are most likely to prefer the finer, clumping litter that is not strongly scented. Be sure the litter box is not near a loud noise (washer/dryer, furnace, a busy street, playroom, and so on). Some cats like covered boxes, whereas others do not. Be sure the kitty is not getting bullied in or around the box by another cat, dog, or child. Many cats like to use the box in privacy. To help this situation, be sure you have enough boxes, offer a few types of litter to see which is preferred, and make sure the boxes are in different (and quiet) locations. The golden rule for boxes is “n + 1”, meaning it is the number of cats you have plus 1 more box. So if you have 1 cat, that’s 2 boxes. If you have 5 cats, that’s 6 boxes (sorry). You can also use litter that has an attractant to help draw the cats to it. Lastly, if your kitty is older, make sure they can easily access the box and get in/out without much effort.
Preference for somewhere else is tricky and frustrating. There might be nothing exactly wrong with their box, but they’ve decided they prefer the scent of your shoes or the texture of the couch. This can also be seen with cats who are marking their territory. Marking is differentiated from other urination in that it is often a smaller amount and directed on to a vertical surface. This usually means there is a cat around who is making them anxious. To help this problem, try to make the preferred spot less desirable. Block off access, if possible, and clean the area with enzymatic cleansers to clear the urine odor and make it less likely that they’ll go back. If it’s an area that will allow this, consider placing one of the boxes close by in hopes they’ll use the box instead. If there is another cat around, you might need to talk to your veterinarian or a behaviorist.
Lastly, when a cat is upset for any reason, this can translate into inappropriate urination. It is important to note that it can be something medical or emotional. Another pet in the house, lurking wildlife, or nearby construction can be stressful for them. They may be bored or want to watch the birds but are unable to. They may have a urinary tract infection, or another medical issue that is causing them discomfort and distress. Because this area encompasses so many possibilities, the treatments and preventions will have to be aimed at the specific cause.
The best way to get to the bottom of this problem is to check with your veterinarian. They can first rule out medical issues and then work through the scenarios you are dealing with to identify the cause and come up with a treatment and prevention plan. This might include environmental enrichment, pheromone sprays, consultation with a behaviorist, and possibly some medications and/or supplements.
Cats certainly make a statement with their inappropriate urination, and it is up to us to team up to find the solution. For a helpful website, please visit: https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats