Resolving house-soiling problems may require making changes to several aspects of a cat’s home environment and care. All the changes are interrelated. They will help to provide the optimal litter box/tray and decrease stress by meeting the cat’s other social and environmental needs. They may also include medical treatments and diet suggestions.
Making the following changes to your cat’s home environment may help to resolve your problems. Speak with your veterinarian about coming up with a specialized plan to fit your cat’s needs and personality.
Number, location and design of litter boxes:
- Provide additional litter boxes. Offer some large (1½ times the cat’s length from nose to base of tail) deep, open boxes. Storage containers, sweater boxes and concrete mixing trays are examples. If necessary, cut a door in one end and cover edge with duct tape to avoid sharp edges. Your cat may prefer a hooded litter box if it is kept scrupulously clean.
- If your cat often urinates over the edge of the litter box, put plastic covered by newspaper around the litter box to absorb the urine. A rigid sheet of plastic cut so that it can be positioned vertically inside the box can protect adjacent surfaces.
- Put the litter boxes in separate locations around the house, ideally in quiet private places that are easy for a cat to access. Locate litter boxes where the cat needs them, such as in previously soiled sites, and in areas separate from other pets’ locations.
- Avoid high traffic or remote areas.
Types of litter:
- Offer a variety of litter types and allow your cat to choose its favorite. Cats most commonly prefer fine-textured unscented clumping litters.
- In addition, examples of alternative litters include play sand, potting soil or peat moss, or a piece of carpet or other soft material used as a temporary measure only and in select cases.
Scooping and changing litter:
- Scoop the litter box daily and replenish litter.
- Some behaviorists feel that weekly washing and replacing the litter is optimal. Others find that every 2–4 weeks does not compromise the cat’s response. Rarely because of a particularly difficult to control urinary tract infection, daily washing of the litter box may be recommended. Use soap and hot water only; avoid strong chemicals or any ammonia-based products.
- Herbal products for this use are available in the US (but may not be available in other countries).
- An alternative is to sprinkle a small amount of the cat’s urine-soiled litter on top of the clean litter.
- Synthetic pheromone sprays or plug-ins (i.e Feliway)
- Use a spray or plug-in diffuser in areas we have marked on your house floor plan. Spray vertical surfaces 1–2 feet (up to 0.5 m) from the floor three times daily; use the diffuser 24 hours a day. Replace diffuser refill unit monthly, or sooner if the top of the brown wick becomes pale tan in color.
Litter Box Placement:
- Ensure vertical spaces for resting or hiding places are available to all cats.
- Use shelves, cat condos or trees to increase separation among cats. The more perceived space, the less stress cats undergo. Provide cardboard boxes and other cozy containers for resting places.
- For cats needing increased opportunities for play and predatory behavior, increase window access by using cat trees and shelves.
If outside cats seem to be the stimulus for marking behavior, minimize exposure to them. Block the view through windows by applying something your cat cannot see through or prevent access to the window.
- Options include opaque glass decorating sprays, static film, or taping on paper or translucent window coverings. Put rough surface mats outside sliding doors to discourage other animals from resting there.
- If your cat lives indoors or does not leave the premises, use motion-activated water sprinklers at the perimeter of the yard to deter animals from entering the area.
Put clothing away rather than leaving it on the floor or accessible to your cat.
Place shoes, backpacks and luggage with unfamiliar odors off the floor and out of your cat’s reach.
Clean outside doors and walls where outdoor cats are spraying. Block drafts to prevent odors from penetrating indoors.
Deny access to affected areas if possible or place an item in the affected area that may discourage house-soiling. For example, food and water bowls placed in the soiled areas may discourage soiling; battery-operated motion-activated lights may illuminate dark private areas that a cat previously soiled.
Behavior modification efforts should focus on positive reinforcement of desired behaviors. Physically punishing a cat during or after house-soiling only creates stress and increases the motivation to continue the behavior. Punishment can lead to fear-related aggression and will almost always reduce the bond between a cat and owner. Punishment also tends to encourage house-soiling in less obvious areas.
- If you catch your cat in the act of house-soiling, sneakily distract but do not scare it with noise that is not associated with humans, such as a whistle or by rattling coins in a can. Use your cat’s temperament as a guide to how loud this noise should be.
- Praise your cat if you see it using the litter box. Keep a supply of treats near litter box stations for use as rewards
- Make sure that adults, children, noisy appliances or assertive cats do not block traffic patterns or a cat’s access to litter boxes, especially in the case of timid or anxious cats.
- Place a bell on the collar of the most assertive cat in the house.
- Set up multiple food and water stations (one for every cat in the house)
Cleaning Soiled Areas
Many products are available for cleaning areas affected by house-soiling. Urine will fluoresce in the dark under ultraviolet light. Use a black light from a poster store to find soiled areas. Clean affected areas with a good quality urine odor and stain remover according to the type of surface that the cat has soiled. Test products on an inconspicuous area first.Always ensure that you clean a sufficiently large area to remove the odor – this may be up to three times the diameter of a fresh wet patch or stain.
- Chemical, bacterial-based and enzyme-based cleaners can all be effective when used as directed.
- Scrubbing the area with a 10% solution of biological washing powder (enzyme-based laundry detergent) to remove the protein content of urine, allowing area to dry and then spraying with isopropyl alcohol to remove the fat component is also effective.
- You may need to pull the carpet up for several days and treat the subflooring/underlay again using either a specifically designated cleaner or both the washing powder and isopropyl alcohol.
- If the padding under the carpet is soiled, cut out the affected area and replace with new padding. Use a concrete sealer if appropriate or a polyurethane or other sealant product if there is wood subflooring/underlay. Treat the back of the carpet with urine odor remover and tack the carpet back down.
- If allowed in your area, use a sodium hypochlorite bleach (1 tablespoon per gallon of water) to wash a concrete floor. Make sure the area is well ventilated, and eyes and hands are protected. Avoid all ammonia-containing cleaners.
Wooden baseboards/skirting boards:
- Use a wood soap then seal the edge of the board to the wall with a silicone sealer.
- Use a product designed for urine and stain removal.
- Launder in washing machine using your usual soap or detergent; add a peroxide-based bleaching agent, if available.
- Use products designed for these materials; for example, fabric or leather cleaners.
Diagnostic tests can also be used to rule out medical issues. Speak with your veterinarian about which test(s) might be right for your cat.
- Chemistry Profile
- CBC (Complete Blood Count
- Fecal (float)
- Urine Culture & Sensitivity
*** NOTE: There are no anti-anxiety medications approved for use in cats. These drugs are prescribed for feline use as anextra-label application. Anti-anxiety drugs may cause side effects such as sedation, dilated pupils, weight gain, diabetes, increased appetite, liver and kidney disease, and cardiac arrhythmias. Do not change the medication dosing or frequency without consulting with your veterinarian. Laboratory tests are required before and during the use of many of these medications. Keep these medications out of the reach of children. Full effects may take up to 4–6 weeks to be seen.