Why’s my cat thinking (urinating) outside the box?

By March 11, 2019 Blog

As I start on this particular blog entry, I do so with great trepidation.  There is nothing more complex and frustrating for owner (and often veterinarian!) than a cat who is doing their business somewhere other than the litter box, especially when it’s places like your shoes or, heaven forbid, your bed!  I give a disclaimer up front; I do not promise that this will be all inclusive, but I’ll try to give some ideas for ridding yourself of these pesky behaviors.

First things first, when your cat starts answering nature’s call in an inappropriate place, my top recommendation is you schedule a visit with your friendly veterinarian.  It is important to rule out medical issues such as a urinary tract infection or diabetes before we start trying to overhaul the environment.  Prepare yourself for the recommendation (and hopefully acceptance) to check a urine and blood sample to cover all bases in the health department.

Once that step is done, its time to start taking a close look at the nature of the elimination.  For behavioral issues, we have the common culprits which include (but are by no means limited to) the following; marking behavior, substrate preference, location preference, and odor preference or aversion.  One of the best things you can do to help your veterinarian get to the bottom of the cat’s motivation is to videotape the elimination behavior.

Lets take a look at marking behavior.  This seems like it should be pretty straight forward, and it generally is.  Marking, by definition, is generally on a vertical surface such as a wall, door or window. There are two classes of marking behavior; social versus sexually motivated (usually intact animals).  These issues can not only occur in a multi-cat household, but can also be stemmed from issues in and out, as in a stray roaming the yard and forcing our house cats to exert their authority over the area by spraying.  When trying to figure this issue out, pay close attention to if the areas being violated are near doors or windows.  If you suspect that your cat is defending his turf with the rank odor or his or her urine, consider placing some opaque glass coverings to interrupt the visual stimuli.  These type of marking issues can really be very individual and should be closely reviewed with your veterinarian.

For all those accidents that are happening on the horizontal surfaces we need to look at some preferences.  The first is substrate preference. If I had a dime for every time a feline patient is peeing on the bath rug I’d at least be able to buy a nice Starbucks latte.  For some reason, cats can develop weird surface preferences.  In these cases, its a good idea to remove the new favorite surface and it doesn’t hurt to place a litter box in the nearby vicinity.  The same goes if your feline friend seems to be preferentially eliminating in a certain room.

Cats (and dogs, for that matter) are extremely odor sensitive.  What we think smells simply delightful (citrus for instance) may be disgusting to Fuzzy the cat.  It can be as simple as a dislike of the cleaning chemicals we use to drive a cat to pee on the bed.  I recommend, at the very least, trying to utilize cleaning products that are unscented.

For those stubborn beasts who just won’t play nice I recommend starting from scratch.  Put the offender in a bathroom (without rugs!) with a litter box, food and water.   While they’re locked up and becoming acquainted with the appropriate way to behave, you can look into purchasing Feline Odor Neutralizer (Summit Hill Labs) and treating all the top surfaces tainted by your cat.  If necessary, you may consider peeling up the rug and putting the neutralizer under the carpet.  Once they are using the box explicitly release them into the wild world of the house again!

As always, please consult your friendly veterinarian for inspiration on the best way to handle this sticky situation.

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