This week, I am dedicating my column to all of you miserable cat owners out there who are suffering from your cat’s desire to urinate somewhere else beside the litter box, such as on your favourite couch or in your bed.
As an owner of a cat that has this horrible habit, I know how frustrating and annoying this phenomenon can be.
There are different types of aberrant urination behaviours in cats, and different reasons that can cause it.
First, we should distinguish between real urination and urine spraying. Spraying of urine is most typical to adult intact male cats (not neutered), and the purpose of the spraying is to establish and mark their territory. This behaviour is part of a sexual vice.
The cats are usually spraying their urine on vertical objects such as walls or furniture.
Once the cat has adopted this habit, it is very hard to get rid of, hence many veterinarians recommend neutering cats before they reach sexual maturity.
As opposed to spraying, although disturbing, urinating outside of the litter box is still considered a normal feline behaviour. A real urination outside of the litter box can also be a symptom of a medical or emotional problem.
In this case the cat will usually urinate on horizontal surfaces, basically anywhere in the house. It can be in your bed, on furniture, on the carpet, in the sink—anywhere that will make you notice it.
In most of these cases, this aberrant urination is a cry for help. The cat’s problem can be either medical or emotional—stress, or a combination of those two.
The first step in tackling this problem is taking the cat to be checked by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will conduct a physical exam and will recommend medical tests to assess the cat’s medical state.
Ruling out urinary tract infection and presence of crystals or stones in the urinary tract is very important because these tend to be common reasons for aberrant urination. (I will write about this in a later column.)
If the cat is healthy you should start thinking about the other most common reason of the phenomenon, which is stress.
Cats are very finicky, they are easily influenced by any change in the house. Try to think of any recent change in the cat’s life that might have triggered this behaviour.
Here are some ideas:
• Changes in the litter box—change of the location of the box or the type of litter
• Infrequent cleaning of the litter box. Cats are clean creatures, if the litter box is not clean enough they will use a different place
• New baby in the house
• New cat is the house can be a major stress factor
• Presence of guests or any other strangers.
Sometimes the owners cannot recognize the reason for this behaviour—if only cats could talk.
Eliminating this behaviour is a challenge. Here are a few things you can try.
Make the litter box attractive—use the litter brand the cat is used to, clean the litter daily, and place the litter box in an easily accessible place.
Make the places that the cat tends to urinate unattractive, using items like aluminum foil, sticky paper, or sandpaper.
Clean the area very well to eliminate the urine odor. Cats tend to return and use the same places they have used before because of the urine odor.
Use aversive smells in the area. You can buy products that are made for this purpose, for example, cats tend to be averted by citrus smell.
As tempting as it might be, do not get mad at your cat when you find the urine. Do not yell at it, rub it in the urine or aggressively place it in the litter box.
This reaction might strengthen the problem by increasing the stress and create a traumatic association with the litter box.
If you catch your cat in the first few seconds of the urination, you can try to promote a negative consequences to this action.
Squirting with a toy water gun at the cat, or rattling a can with few coins in it might do the trick.
It is really important that the cat not see you doing these things.
The noise/water squints should “come out of nowhere” so the cat will associate it with the urination and not with you.
There are also anti-anxiety medications that may help control urine marking in your cat.
The suggestions above should be attempted before considering medication.
If you feel that you have tried everything and the problem still persists, consult your veterinarian about drug therapy.
Moshe Oz is a veterinarian operating the Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital in West Kelowna, 2476 Westlake Rd.