The wonderful vets at St Francis Animal and Bird Hospital wrote an important and informative piece on feline inappropriate urination (FIU) – an issue we see often, and is the main reason cats are given up! But don’t lose hope, FIU can be remedied and cats can stay in their loving homes!
Feline Inappropriate Urination
Inappropriate urination or house soiling can be a challenging issue for cats, their owners, and veterinarians alike. For many cats, the underlying cause of this behavior is multi-faceted, making management more challenging. However, with patience and consistent behavioral modification, most owners can successfully manage this issue long term.
Cats that are exhibiting inappropriate urination should initially have a complete physical examination performed by a veterinarian followed by specific diagnostics that help to exclude an underlying medical cause for the behavior. Recommended diagnostics may include a) a complete urinalysis and culture to rule out infectious or inflammatory causes; b) radiographs (x-rays) +/- an ultrasound to identify stones, masses, or structural abnormalities; and c) baseline blood work to rule out concurrent or underlying diseases.
If these diagnostic tests are normal, our goal will be to address a behavioral cause. Common issues that can result in inappropriate urination include substrate preference or aversion (type of litter), litter box preference or aversion (including litter box type, construction, or size), anxiety, or marking behavior.
Your veterinarian may have you keep a journal of the frequency and location of any inappropriate soiling behavior to help determine which of these issues are playing a role. If possible, try to identify changes in the household that could be triggering the change in litter box habits. Did you recently add another pet or a new baby to the household? Is there a stray cat outside spraying your home or shrubs? Did you start a remodeling project or move into a new house?
Though more specific management recommendations can be advised on a case-by-case basis, the following are general guidelines that may help resolve inappropriate urination.
Improve the Litter Box Environment
1) It is essential to provide an adequate number of litter boxes. Ideally you should provide at least one more litter box than the number of cats in the household. In addition, litter boxes should be scooped daily and cleaned thoroughly every week using soap and hot water.
2) Litter boxes should be placed in inviting areas. It is important to avoid obstructing your cat’s path to the litter box with obstacles such as baby gates, flights of stairs, or closed doors. In addition, avoid placing the box near loud objects such as a washer or dryer.
3) In multiple cat households, position litter boxes in areas that are difficult for one cat to guard. For example, avoid placing a litter box in a room with only one entrance/exit. If this is not possible, several litter box locations are necessary.
4) Litter boxes should be large enough to allow your cat to dig, turn around easily, and bury the excretions. For some cats, this means that standard litter boxes are simply too small. You could try plastic storage bins intended for use under beds or modify larger containers to allow access by cutting a “door” into one of the sides. Both covered and uncovered boxes may be tried, but most cats seem to prefer uncovered boxes. Some cats are terrified of the self-cleaning litter boxes, so alternatives should be offered.
5) Most cats prefer clumping clay litter, though it is a good idea to experiment with other types of litter. Cat Attract litter or litter additive may be tried. Liners are generally discouraged.
Discourage Recurrent Elimination Outside of the Litter Box
1) Thoroughly clean all soiled areas with soap and water, then follow-up with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle or Anti-Icky-Poo to help prevent residual odors that may be perceived by your cat. Avoid ammonia-based cleaners – they can actually contribute to the problem because of the urine-like scent. NOTE: Enzymatic cleaners will typically cause the soiled area to smell worse during the first 24-48 hours after application.
2) For areas that are soiled repeatedly, make the area less inviting by covering it with a food bowl, piece of tin foil, or plastic carpet runner turned upside down so that the small spikes face upward.
3) Some cats gravitate towards soft surfaces such as piles of laundry or bedding for elimination. If this behavior is exhibited, be sure to restrict access to these materials. Closet doors and even bedroom doors may need to be closed.
4) Cats that have a long history of inappropriate elimination may require a period of confinement to re-establish litter box habits. Though each cat should be assessed individually, the typical time of confinement required is proportional to the time that the behavior has been occurring. Generally, cats will need to be confined for approximately 1 week for each month that the behavior has occurred. Your veterinarian will discuss specific confinement plans for your cat.
1) Increase positive interactions with your cat and provide behavioral enrichment with interactive and/or foraging toys, trick training, and regular grooming.
2) Provide ample hiding areas as well as cat trees, shelves, or perches placed high up within the cat’s favorite areas.
3) Diffusers containing synthetic pheromones (Feliway) can help to relieve anxiety and promote feelings of security within your cat’s environment. These diffusers plug into a wall outlet and cover approximately 500-700 square feet. Feliway diffusers should be used for at least 4-6 weeks initially and may be safely continued long term if helpful.
4) Some cats are quite stressed if outdoor cats can be visualized through the windows or doors. Self-adhesive window coverings may help eliminate this trigger. The Scarecrow motion-activated sprinkler can also be used to deter stray cats from your yard.
5) Behavioral medications are appropriate for use in cats with chronic inappropriate elimination that is unresponsive to other therapy. Baseline blood work is recommended prior to starting any behavioral medication, and regular monitoring (every 6-12 months) is recommended. Please consult your veterinarian for more information and recommendations regarding these medications.
6) Avoid punishment at all costs – punishment rarely results in improvement in symptoms and can damage the trusting bond between you and your cat.
Inappropriate urination in cats can be a difficult problem to manage. With a little diligence and patience, there are plenty of ways to get your cat thinking inside the litter box.
By Kevin Roeser, DVM and Jennifer Blair, DVM