Feline Behavior Problems - House Soiling
Advice from Dr. Chenjerai
House soiling is the number one behavioral problem of our feline friends. This problem includes urination and/or defecation outside the litter box as well as urine spraying. One common misconception by cat owners is that cats soil in inappropriate places for revenge. I have heard clients saying: “he defecated on the carpet to punish me for leaving him for the weekend.” This kind of thinking requires sophisticated cognitive abilities that cats do not have.Urinating or defecating in inappropriate places can mean either a behavioral problem or a medical problem and in most cases the difference is difficult to tell.
Urinary tract infections or inflammation cause frequent urination, painful urination and sometimes blood in the urine. An affected cat is most likely to urinate outside the litter box if she associates pain with the litter box or if she has an increased urgency to urinate. On the other hand intestinal parasites and other gastrointestinal problems may cause painful defecation, increased frequency and urgency to defecate. In addition, age related conditions that interfere with the cat’s mobility like arthritis and muscular problems influence the cat’s ability to reach the cat litter box on time.
Urine Spraying/Territorial Anxiety
Urine Spraying is the deposition of small amounts of urine around a given area. This behavior is normal but unpleasant. Urine spraying is used as a means of communication which tells other cats that, ”I was here at this time and on this date.” The purpose is to announce a cat’s presence, establish territorial boundaries and advertise sexual availability. Cats spray on vertical surfaces like on backs of chairs and walls. When cats spray, the tail lifts and quivers and small puddles of urine are deposited in several consistent locations.
Cats that spray are usually unneutered males and to a lesser extend unspayed females. In multi-cat households the likelihood of spraying is very high. Cats also spray due to psychological stress such as a perceived threat to their territory (presence of a new cat ) or prolonged absence of the owner. New furniture and carpets can also prompt spraying as well.
Litter Box Aversions
Litter box aversion means that there is something about the litter box that your cat finds unacceptable. It could be the box, the litter, the location of the litter box or a combination of these. The following are indicators that litter box aversion is the cause of inappropriate urination:
· Urination does not involve spraying vertical surfaces
· Both urination and defecation occurs outside the litter box
· Two or more cats share a litter box ( Recommended: One litter box per cat plus one extra)
· A new brand of cat litter is suddenly introduced
· The box is covered. A covered box is unnatural for cats and odors are concentrated in enclosed areas.
· Litter is not changed regularly or harsh chemicals are used to clean the litter box
· A cat has negative experience with the litter box. For example it was attacked by other pets or captured from the box for medication or to be disciplined.
· The litter box is in a heavy household traffic area
· Litter box is placed near a noisy household appliance like clothes dryer.
Inappropriate Site Preferences
Cats may also develop a preference of eliminating in a spot other than the litter box. Cats that prefer certain surfaces usually stick with that choice, for example a cat might find it pleasing to eliminate on a soft surface like clothing or carpets. Some cats might just have found a better location to eliminate than the litter box.
If your cat is house soiling, it is wise to visit your veterinarian to see if there are any underlying medical conditions. Once medical conditions have been ruled out you can now start to address the behavioral issues.
Because of the hormonal components associated with spraying, intact animals should be neutered or spayed. If this does not help, it has been shown that spraying is responsive to anti-anxiety medications. Feliway is another alternative treatment that has been quite successful in treating territorial spraying as well. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone which mimics cat cheek scent and when applied to household surfaces, many cats would not spray on those surfaces. Medication is only part of the solution and must be used in combination with environmental changes
Cats with litter box aversion would need to be retrained to the box. As a first step, a new litter box should be provided in a separate location. The cat may have experienced something unpleasant in the current litter box and may need a new “bathroom” area. In multi-cat households, the cat might feel that the litter box has been taken over by another cat and are reluctant to use it. Scoop the litter box and keep it as clean as possible.
If your cat prefers certain surfaces to eliminate on, you can modify the litter box to suit her preferences. If she likes soft surfaces like carpets, use finer softer litter and consider adding a piece of carpet in the box. If she likes smooth shiny surfaces, you can add a piece of a tile in the box.
Your cat might prefer a new location because something bothered her about the previous location. Try placing the box in her preferred location and once she uses it regularly, gradually move the box towards the desired location.
Inappropriate elimination can be difficult to control. Full resolution depends on early intervention, followed by detective work to determine the cause of the behaviour and time and effort to try and solve the problem.
I wish you all a harmonious relationship with your feline friends,