This article is near and dear to my heart. As an owner of eight cats, this is an issue that has come up in my own house. It is not true that there is nothing you can do, and in my experience, if you have some patience and an open mind it CAN get better.
Why does it matter whether a cat is urinating or marking?
It definitely matters if your cat is urine marking or just urinating outside of the cat box. The reasons for each issue and the approaches to solving the two problems are very different. Determining what your cat is doing and why can be difficult. Use the following signs of urinating and urine marking to try to determine which problem your cat has.
Signs of urinating:
- The amount of urine is larger
- You MAY also find feces outside of the cat box
- No tail or body twitching while urinating
Signs of marking:
- A smaller amount of urine
- Often left on a vertical surface
- The cat will back up to the surface with their tail erect
- His tail and/or body will often twitch while the cat urine marks
This is simply to help you “see” the way your cat sees. Having some understanding of your cat’s thinking may help with patience, and in some cases may help you identify possible triggers for urinating or urine marking. Indoor cats may have a problem with outdoor cats even if they only meet through the window. Consider any changes to your cat’s environment, even if it’s only your schedule that has actually changed.
Reasons cats urinate/defecate out of the litter box:
- Having a dirty litter box. (They have sensitive noses!)
- Not having enough litter boxes (cats tend to be loners and territorial)
- Preference for a certain surface (smooth tile, carpet, bedding)
- Preference for a certain type of litter
- Preference for a certain area or preferring to avoid a certain area
- Physically unable to enter the cat box due to age or disability
- Associating the litter box with pain
- Stress due to changes in the cat’s environment
- Territorial disputes with other cats (even with an outdoor cat)
- Feeling threatened (often by another cat)
- Attempting to communicate with other cats in the household
- Decreased feelings of security/familiarity
What to do if your cat is urinating or urine marking out of the litter box:
Perhaps the most important thing is to act quickly. What starts out as a reaction to physical surroundings or to physical or psychological issues can quickly escalate into bad habits which are hard to break
First, take a mental inventory of possible influencing factors in the cat’s surroundings. Have you added a new pet or a new person to the household? Have you tried new litter? New food? Has your cat been spending more time looking out the window (at a potential rival)? Does your cat have enough toys to ward off boredom? Are there new plants in the house? Has your cat’s urine or feces changed in odor, color, or texture? Undo any changes if you can. Absolutely keep your cat box clean and free of odors! This often means scooping the cat box daily and cleaning the empty cat box with a mildly scented soap and rinsing and drying thoroughly on a weekly basis. Clean up any messes immediately and thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner designed especially for cats. Write down any observations.
Also assess your cat’s environment for toys and adequate climbing spaces. Cats tend to be curious and playful by nature. Boredom can lead to all kinds of irksome behaviors. Be sure that they have lots of toys and lots of places to climb. Coating “old” soft toys in a baggie with catnip may increase their desire to play with them again.
Next, take your cat and your observations to the vet–even if you have taken him or her to the vet recently. Your vet will test the urine for crystal formations, infection, and blood cells and will take some blood to evaluate your cat’s kidneys and overall health. They may request a fecal sample as well. Be sure to follow your vet’s instructions.
If you have multiple cats, be sure you have enough cat boxes. The general rule is to have the same number of cat boxes as you have cats and then add one more. Cats really don’t like to share. They may also prefer to urinate in one box and defecate in another.
Another potential solution for multiple cats is Feliway. Feliway is a natural calming pheromone found on cats’ faces. It’s sold in most pet stores. You may find it in collar form or as a diffuser that plugs into an outlet in the wall just like normal scented diffusers. Each diffuser lasts up to four weeks. As an owner of eight cats with huge personalities, I have three of these diffusers throughout my house. It is colorless and odorless. It works quietly and continuously, but I know when the diffusers are low or out due to the cats’ increasingly irritable behavior.
In the event that none of the above works for your cat(s), there are a few more options. The ASPCA has more suggestions on their website. You may also consider consulting a cat behavioral specialist. In the event that you have multiple cats, there is a possibility that your cat may not function well in a multi-cat household, and you may need to consider rehoming the cat that has the issue.
The most important things to remember are to be patient, take your cat to the vet, keep the litter box clean, and keep trying. Remember that your cat is trying to communicate with you or with other cats in his or her environment. We at Brynn’s Critters would love to help you with this or any other behavioral issue that you deal with with your cat.