Inappropriate urination– urinating in places that are not the litterbox– is disgusting, stinky, destructive, and extremely frustrating to deal with. Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon. Fortuately, there are a number of options to try before doing anything drastic.
The first thing to consider is that this could be a physical problem. Cats are prone to prone to forming crystals in their urine, in part because cats do not typically drink enough. In males this is much more dangerous because the crystals can become a blockage that makes them unable to urinate. This is an emergency situation and requires prompt medical attention. Stress-induced cystitis is another common cause of peeing outside the litterbox. In this case, stress causes irritation to the bladder, sometimes resulting in bloody urine, but also resulting in frequent urination, both in the litterbox and outside. Again, this is a medical condition and requires an exam by a doctor.
Another medical cause of urine issues is bladder stones. For whatever reason, we have been seeing an increase in bladder stones recently, and the constant irritation that they cause to the bladder can cause all kinds of urinary problems. These can be diagnosed through xrays of the bladder. For some types of stones, the only option is surgical removal. For others, there is the possibility of dissolving them through the use of a special prescription food. But this is a problem you’re not going to fix by yourself- it requires veterinary intervention.
To help prevent urinary crystals and stones, increasing the water consumption of your cat is tremendously helpful. Cats, before they became domesticated, relied primarily on their fresh-caught food for the moisture that their bodies need. They didn’t need to be great drinkers. Now that most cats are fed primarily a dry kibble diet, many cats live in a state of constant low-grade dehydration. This makes urine more concentrated and crystals more problematic. Dilution is the solution to pollution! Adding a kitty fountain with running water may entice your cat to drink. Leaving water bowls in a variety of places may help. And adding canned food (ideally mixed with water to make a “soup”) to their daily diet is highly recommended.
Health problems aside, behavioral problems are also common. Fortunately, there are a lot of things a cat owner can do to prevent and even try to solve the issue at home.
1. Litterbox numbers, types, placement, litter type, and maintenance. The general rule of thumb is one litterbox per cat plus one extra, located in different places in the house. Litterboxes should be out of high traffic areas (privacy, please!), and of appropriate size and height. I personally use large plastic storage boxes as litterboxes because they are bigger and the higher sides helps prevent so much litter being kicked over the sides. But this may not be appropriate for an older cat with arthritis or mobility issues. While covered litterboxes are available, most cats don’t care for them because they concentrate the litterbox odor inside, and cats don’t enjoy going to the bathroom in a stinky place.
Some cats also have a distinct litter preference- clay, corn, wood, and paper litters are all available. Cats are also not big fans of change, so switching litter types suddenly can trigger your cat to stop using his litterbox. There are also some products available that contain things like catnip that are attractive to cats and encourage them to use the litterbox.
2. Clean up your act. Cats are, generally, pretty tidy animals, and they like their bathrooms to be tidy as well. Daily or twice-daily scooping and regular changing of litter and scrubbing of boxes will make the litterbox less offensive and more inviting.
3. Clean soiled areas well with an enzymatic cleaner (we like Nature’s Miracle). Consider covering problem areas with plastic (a showercurtain draped over a couch that is being soiled, a plastic carpet runner laid upside down on floor areas).
4. Re-establish litter habits. Confine your offending kitty to a small room like a bathroom with his litterbox to prevent him from urinating in the wrong places. Closely supervised roaming is ok but you need to be vigilent and prevent mistakes– no letting kitty sneak off! Expand his range slowly as his litterbox habits improve and his house-soiling stops.
5. Housesoiling can be a result of stress. Taking action to relieve that stress may help resolve litterbox issues, whether that stress is coming from tension between multiple cats, stress from the family, a new environment, or even stray cats hanging around outside. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone that can help to calm your kitty down and make him less anxious. It is available in a variety of forms including collars, sprays, and plug-in infusers.
6. As a last resort, there are medications available that may help decrease the anxiety that leads to housesoiling. Medication requires bloodwork to start and then continual bloodwork monitoring to make sure the cat’s body is tolerating it, which means it’s not a dirt cheap option, BUT if it makes your cat stop peeing on your couch or in your laundry basket, it may very well be worth it.
Not sure which kitty is the offender? Check out this link for ideas on how to figure out who the culprit really is. This whole website is chock full of great information on cats and their behavior and is well worth a look through, even if you’re not having any specific issues right now. It is an excellent resource.
So, the bottom line comes down to: rule out medical issues first with an exam, urinalysis, and possibly xrays, and then move forward from there. It is a very frustrating problem, and I think every member of our staff truly understands that. But with patience and effort, in many cases, the problem can be resolved.