Inappropriate elimination, litter box avoidance, spraying, defecating outside the litter box–probably dooms more cats to euthanasia than any other single factor. Elimination-problems are very solvable. First have the cat checked out thoroughly by your veterinarian to eliminate any medical problems. Keep the litter box cleaner; move the litter box to a more cat-appropriate location; change your brand, texture, or odor of litter; or simply add another litter box. Perhaps a different size box that is larger, and if you have a covered pan, either cut the top off or buy one without a cover. (Most cats prefer uncovered pans.)
A few words on keeping the litter box clean are in order. When you first get your cat, you are eager to keep the litter box clean. Eventually your interest wanes, the daily chore of cleaning the litter box becomes an every-other-day chore, then every third day, until the box becomes such a smelly mess for both the owner and the cat, that the cat just begins to “miss” the box or vigorously dig in the litter so that much of it is scattered outside of the pan. At this point the cat is trying to tell you in the only way she can that the litter box is disgusting and needs to be kept clean. Usually the owner does not get the message and the cat begins to use everywhere else but in the litter pan. The points is, listen to your cat and if you are not cleaning that pan at least daily, you had better change your ways or you will end up with a very smelly house and a cat that won’t use her litter pan. Cleaning the litter box is not the most pleasant task you do but it is necessary, just like taking out the garbage, it has to be done.
We recommend that you use a clumping litter which will make the task of cleaning the litter box much easier. You simply scoop the clumps out and add fresh litter from time to time to keep the level up to two to three inches deep. When the litter pan sides begin to look dirty, then you empty the litter out into a garbage bag, scrub the pan clean and put the litter back in, adding fresh litter as needed. This scrubbing doesn’t need to be done every week; you scoop out the clumps at least once a day. See our section on Litter & Litter Boxes.
Inappropriate Urination–There are 3 kinds of urine-related cat behavior problems: spraying, urine marking, and inappropriate urination. Spraying and marking are both territorial gestures, and just about every single unsterilized male participates in these two gestures. The spraying is directed from the rear of the cat backwards at about the height of the cat and down, to some vertical surface such as a wall or corner. Once in a while you’ll get a cat that will spray higher. Occasionally this activity is seen in a female cat. Urine marking is also a territorial gesture wherein a few drops of very strong-smelling and concentrated urine is deposited on a horizontal surface, such as the floor. In both spraying and marking, a very small amount of urine is deposited. Not much is needed since an unsterilized male’s odor is very pungent.
Cats have an instinctual need to establish and guard their own territory. Territory to the cat is that collection of sights, sounds, and above all smells that a cat considers an extension of herself. A cat’s territory is defined in terms of her so-called nest (where she eats and sleeps) and the area around the nest is her home range. It does not matter the size of the space that the cat claims as her own, she will exercise the same territorial instinct and will do everything in her power to claim a certain area as her own, and that will most likely be scent and urine marking if she is stressed or threatened. This marking can also include your things. A shirt, coat, etc., anything you leave laying out. The cat claims you and anything with your odor on it. In fact, we have even experienced a cat who would back up and spray us! He wanted to be sure the other cats in our household understood that we belonged to him!
Neutering and spaying cure most cases of territorial marking. See our section on Facts About Spaying-Neutering. Sometimes a sterilized male will spray occasionally, when under stress or at the sight of a strange cat. If he sprays in particular locations (particularly near or on a door or window, simply block his access to those areas if possible or cover the windows so he cannot see out. He has probably seen another cat in your yard and is declaring his territory. If it’s a neighbor’s cat that frequents your yard, either physically exclude the cat with fencing or speak to you neighbor about keeping their cat indoors, or at least out of your yard. A good deterrent for stray cats in your yard is a motion-detector sprinkler. This works wonders. Cats hate water spraying on them. One encounter with one of these sprinklers usually drives them away.
To discourage inappropriate marking behavior, try redefining any spots your cat habitually marks. First thoroughly clean the area and apply a deodorizer specifically designed to remove cat odor (available at most pet stores). We have discovered a really good product called “Stream Clean”–we purchase it from our local Wal-Mart, it’s right in with the As Seen On TV products at the checkout lanes, or on WalMart.com. It’s also available at www.BuyStreamClean.com. Next, place your cat’s food and water dishes near the location. Cats don’t like to eliminate near their food as a rule. We have encountered a few cats over the years who will spray over a food dish, but this does not seem to be a common problem. You can also place at the area something with a strong odor that cats generally dislike, if you prefer not to place the food and water dishes there. Fresh citrus rinds, a bar of perfumed soap, or a cat-safe air freshener canister are usually effective in deterring any more marking at this location.
Inappropriate Urination and Litter Box Avoidance–This one can occur with any cat of any age. It is often associated with illness. But a dirty litter box, a dislike for the type, texture or smell of the litter you are using, stress in the household, or having a bad experience while in the litter box can also the inappropriate urination and outside-the-box defecation. A good sign that your cat dislikes the litter you are using is if she doesn’t use the litter box at all. Your cat won’t dig in it, but will dig outside the box on its sides. You must find out the cause and eliminate it if you want to correct this problem. A painful bladder infection is another common cause. The cat will often associate the pain with the litter box, and will begin to avoid the box. Without prompt veterinary care this could easily turn into a complete blockage which can rapidly kill your cat.
Always rule out illness first by having a veterinarian check your cat over thoroughly. If all is well, then examine your cat’s habits and behavior.
- Have you changed the type or brand of litter you have been using?
- Are you cleaning the litter box each day? Litter boxes that are consistently dirty or too smelly will turn your cat away. Cats are very clean. Are you using enough litter in the pan?
- Is the depth 2 to 3 inches? Perhaps your cat likes less litter.
- Look for a behavioral cause.
- Is your cat stressed out?
- Are other pets picking on him?
- Is another cat ambushing her when she is using the pan?
- Are there any new pets or family members in your family?
- Has there been a change in the usual routine or her environment?
- Do you have only one litter box for more than one cat? (You need one box per cat plus one extra one).
- Is your litter box too small, or its sides too low?
- Are the litter boxes in different locations?
A loud noise, a child, a dog, or other stressor may have scared the cat while she was using the box, causing her to avoid it. Try the simple solutions first and you will most likely solve the problem. An insecure cat will mark a surface to provide comfort for herself. These cats need a litter box that is not covered. An open litter box enables the insecure cat to see in all directions, and thus not feel trapped. This cat can escape in several directions rather than by only one opening. A very confident cat may mark simply to announce her presence. Some cats mark as if to mask unpleasant or unfamiliar scents. For example–new furniture or new belongings.
A cat who has separation-related anxiety will often mark areas their owners frequent, and/or mark the owners’ personal belongings.
CLEANING UP THE MESS
No cat is always perfect–mistakes can happen, often due to an illness, stress, or an unpleasant experience in or near her litter box. If she is unhappy about a dirty litter box, she will take her business elsewhere. Cleaning up the mess then becomes necessary. Feces is fairly easy to clean up. On hard surfaces pick up the mess with paper towels and dispose of it. Clean the area thoroughly with a cat-safe stain and odor remover. White vinegar is also a very effective and inexpensive cleaner that works well.
On carpeting, it is important to confine the mess to as small of an area as possible. Pick it up with a paper towel being careful not to smear it into the carpet. Diarrhea on carpeting is a bit more complicated to deal with. Remove as much as possible without smearing or rubbing it into the carpet fibers. Blot, don’t rub, with a warm, wet paper towel or rag and remove as much of the mess and stain as you can. Try not to allow the carpet to become soaked or saturated. Then, alternately blot with wet, then dry paper towels until you have removed the majority of the visible stain. Now you can apply an enzyme-based stain-and-color remover according to the label directions. Be careful to always apply this to a small test area in an out of sight location to be sure that the product won’t damage the color of your carpet. Sometimes it is necessary to apply the product more than once before the stain is completely gone.
Cat urine is very smelly (particularly if it is from an intact male), persistent and difficult to get rid of. If you do not remove all traces of urine odor, your cat’s extra-sharp sense of smell will let her find the spot where the urine was at and she will most likely use it again. The odor will linger even though you can’t smell it–your cat can! If your cat is inappropriately urinating or marking about your house, you will have to discover immediately the areas and thoroughly clean them first then deodorize them with products specifically designed to eliminate cat urine smell (we prefer Stream Clean). You must also find out the reason why the cat is not using the litter pan, then correct it. If you wait too long, your house will smell like a giant litter pan. Ugh!
Fresh cat urine is acidic and relatively clean and free of bacteria. It is only after it begins to dry that it is converted into alkaline salts which are a good environment for odor-producing bacteria to thrive. Different cleaning strategies are required for fresh urine as opposed to old, dried urine.
White vinegar works well on old, dried urine, it does not work well on fresh urine–it only makes it worse. Vinegar increases the acidity of fresh urine thus creating more odor-causing bacteria to form. This also allows more moisture to be absorbed from the air so that the odor will return again and again. It is particularly noticeable on hot and humid days.
The solution to cleaning fresh cat urine is to blot up as much of the urine as you can with paper towels that have been moistened with warm water, being careful not to rub the urine into the surface it is on. Now, using only club soda, alternate wiping the area with wet and dry paper towels several times until you have removed most or all of the urine. Next wash the area with a mild diluted dish-detergent solution (1 teaspoon to 1 quart of water), rinse, and then dry thoroughly. Next apply an enzyme-based stain-and-odor remover like Stream Clean, according to the product label’s use directions. The product sometimes needs to be applied more than once to remove the odor entirely. (Stream Clean is great!)
Old, dried cat urine requires a different cleaning method. It is much more difficult to locate since cats many times use out-of-the-way spots (like closets or remote corners). If you use a black light, you will be able to find it easily. A black-light flashlight or lamp can be bought at a pet supply store or a hardware store. Use it to locate old urine-marked areas.
Now you can use a solution of white vinegar and water. This will help to neutralize the alkaline salts that have formed and give the urine a neutral pH. Soak the area well with the solution, alternating blotting and drying (with paper towels). Next, wash the area well with a mild, diluted dish-detergent solution (1 teaspoon to 1 quart of water), rinse, and then dry thoroughly. Apply an enzyme-based stain-and-odor remover according to the directions on the label. This might need to be repeated several times until the odor is completely gone.
Unfortunately, urine can soak completely through the carpet, the padding, and into the flooring itself. To eliminate the odor entirely, these must also be treated.
Cats seem to prefer corners. The job is easier if this is so. Pull up the corner of the carpet and any padding so that the flooring is exposed. Clean the exposed areas completely. Allow the area to dry thoroughly before putting everything back in place. Re-treat if you have the slightest suspicion that any odor remains.
If the urine is extensive is several areas of the carpeting, your best bet would be to simply remove the carpet, padding, and even the underlayment in some cases. When deciding on a replacement floor, consider something other than carpet that is easier to clean and maintain. Area throw rugs can soften the atmosphere and be very attractive.
#1 RULE WITH LITTER BOXES:
Keep the litter boxes clean, unless you want your cat to eliminate elsewhere in your home.