My cat is urinating all over the house. What should I do?
Far too often cats are abandoned or given up to local humane organizations or adopted from family to family for problems such as this. You are not alone! Unfortunately there is not only one cause for this symptom. To have the best chance at curing or managing this frustrating condition we first have to determine if there is a medical underlying cause or if it is strictly a behavioral problem. The starting point should be a visit with your vet for a thorough history, physical exam, and urine test. With this information, your vet can help you decide if the problem is caused by illness or just inappropriate elimination. Medical causes are numerous (bacterial infection, inflammatory condition, bladder stones, crystals, etc) and each cause is treated differently.
If the problem is behavioral, determining the most likely cause for the behavior is necessary to set up a treatment plan. These causes include location preferences or avoidance (such as having to cross the path of another household cat or pet, or having to go up stairs for an older cat with arthritis, etc.), a litter box substrate preference (prefers litter deeper/shallower, different litter type, not cleaned thoroughly or often enough, covered/uncovered, etc), or in the case of an un-spayed pet, hormonal stimulation. If your pet is un-spayed, correct this immediately with surgery.
If you pet has a location preference, put a litter box in the area that it is soiling. (Even if it is on your guest bedroom’s bed!) Once the box is being used you can inch it back to a desirable location at a rate of 1-2 inches per day. It is important with any behavioral disorder to use a high quality effective odor eliminator and thoroughly remove the urine scent from the soiled area(s). If the area is repeatedly marked, consider covering the site with plastic or placing a litter box or, alternatively, the food bowls in that area.
Because cats are not “pack” animals, some stress whether outwardly apparent or not is typically present in most multiple cat households. Providing plenty of litter box opportunities will help decrease the odds that one of your cats will decide to eliminate inappropriately. In other words, a good rule of thumb is to provide one more litter box per cat.
There are many other tools to help entice a pet to use the litter box (special cat attracting litters, pheromone sprays to decrease inter-cat anxiety, automatic self-scooping litter boxes). Sadly, inappropriate elimination is one of the leading causes for healthy cat euthanasia in the U.S. Cats that are shuffled from one owner to another are likely to have more anxiety and the problem usually gets. The best solution is to try the above approaches, work closely with your veterinarian, be willing to modify or tailor your plan, and be patient. Your little friend is not urinating out of the box to make you angry, but being angry at him/her is more likely to add to the anxiety and cause repeated offenses.
If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@example.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.
Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228. More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.
Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.