Spraying Vs. Peeing
Cats have two inappropriate urination behaviors. Spraying is peeing against vertical surfaces, like walls. Peeing is usually done on horizontal surfaces. These are two entirely different behaviors and problems. Make sure you know which you are dealing with before you start looking for answers. In this article, I’ll just deal with peeing, and not spraying.
One of the most difficult things to determine is which cat or cats are to blame. There aren’t any quick and easy answers to this dilemma. Some of it is keeping a close eye on things. If you have a suspicion about a particular cat, you can try putting them in their own room with their own litter box. When this method is used, some will still pee all over the place, which makes it easy to pinpoint the culprit. If one or more cats in a multi-cat household seem stressed, keep a close watch. Stress is a common reason for inappropriate elimination. If the culprit or culprits can't be pinpointed, a vet can give you a fluorescent dye to add to the cat’s food. Feed this to one cat at a time. The dye glows when you hold a black light over it.
Is Kitty Feeling Okay?
People are fond of thinking that cats eliminate inappropriately as revenge, spite, and just plain misbehavior for the annoyance of it, but cats don’t know that we dislike urine smells, and they aren’t trying to tell us they’re mad at us when they spurn the litter box. Before jumping to any conclusions about why a cat isn’t eliminating in appropriate places, make sure the vet has checked the cat out. Many behaviorists who work with cats won’t even see a cat before the vet has been consulted. There are a wide variety of medical problems that cause elimination problems, and no amount of behavioral work can fix a cat with a urinary tract infection, bladder infection or kidney stones.
What’s Wrong with My Litter Box?
Kitties can be incredibly finicky when it comes to their litter boxes. Some could care less what you do, but others are more demanding than a doctoral thesis committee. Here are some common kitty concerns.
Type of litter – Not all litter substrates (types of product) are equal in a cat’s eyes. If you’re using one your cat hates, she’ll pee elsewhere. This is a question of trial and error, giving each type of litter a two-week tryout period. In a multi-cat household, don’t assume everyone will like the same litter. One solution is to have three choices available so kitties can find a box they prefer. If your cat always urinates on a specific kind of surface–soft (carpet) verses hard (tile) try to provide a litter substrate that matches that preference.
Location, Location, Location – While some cats will go down to the dark, dirty basement to do their business, others won’t. Especially if the washing machine and dryer are nearby and start making noises inexplicably, sending kitty flying for cover. Is the box in a corner where she can’t see what’s coming and get out on multiple sides of the box? Ambushes at the litter box are common in multi-cat households, and one of the most common reasons cats don't use the litter box. Put the box in an open space where she can see what's going on and escape if need be. Try to avoid putting the litter box in very small rooms, which can be the perfect invitation to pee elsewhere. Keep the litter box and food areas separated as well.
Box Plus One – Multi-cat households need multiple litter boxes. The rule of thumb is that there should be at least as many litter boxes as cats, and some experts say there should be that many boxes plus one. Make sure the boxes are in separate areas. Two litter boxes side-by-side count as one litter box in the kitty world. Scatter boxes throughout the house, and make sure there is at least one box on every floor.
Type of Box – Make sure the boxes are large enough for the cat (or small enough for young kittens), and that the box isn’t too tall for kitty to enter easily. And in multi-cat households you will probably have to forego those hoods on boxes. This is one of the easiest ways for kitty to get ambushed in the box, so take those covers off.
Skip the Scents – Many cats dislike room deodorizers, scented litter and other smells we find pleasant. Try using unscented litter, and don’t keep any kind of deodorizer or use sprays in litter box areas.
Other Causes of Inappropriate Elimination
There are so many things that can result in elimination problems that it’s a wonder these don’t happen more often. Moving to a new home, moving a litter box in a current home, inter-cat aggression issues, the addition of another pet or person, the loss of a pet or person, and other stressors can all set kitty off. Stray or feral cats outside the window can really get kitty riled, though this usually results in spraying rather than inappropriate peeing.
If you are having trouble diagnosing the source of the cat’s problem, call in an animal behaviorist who can take a complete history and help find the source of kitty’s frustrations. This is particularly important if the source of the problem is inter-cat aggression. A behaviorist can help design a protocol for “reintroducing” the cats to eliminate or reduce issues between the warring kitties. Bring in professional help as soon as you’ve determined that you can’t solve the problem alone. The longer the behavior continues the more habitual it becomes, and the more difficult it is to change.
Once a cat has peed outside the box, clean that area thoroughly. Use products with pet enzymes first to eliminate odors humans can’t smell. If a cat has used one spot often, particularly a porous one, you will probably have to pull up carpet, replace floors or couches, etc. Getting the odor out of something porous, unless you can toss it in the wash, is very difficult, and the cat’s sense of smell is much more powerful than yours. If the cat seems set on using a particular area for eliminating either put a litter box there for the cat to use, or if that isn’t feasible, try putting an upside down carpet runner over the spot.
By Sarah Zumhofe