Musings of a Veterinarian

The Most Frustrating Case of Feline Inappropriate Elimination: My Own

January 07, 2010 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

Last night I may have gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a mother who has to let her baby cry himself to sleep. But let’s start two weeks ago, when my cat Winston decided to urinate outside the litterbox. It was not urinary “accident”. Oh no, it was a protest. He protested the delay in breakfast and, in true attention seeking fashion, urinated on the carpet at the entrance to my bedroom. I cleaned the stain, chalked it up to a one time event, and went along my way. About a week later I noticed the undeniable odor of cat urine wafting down the hallway. A nose to the carpet revealed the pungent odor of urine along the wall outside my bedroom. Despite all my veterinary behavior knowledge, I was ticked but decided to fight the urinary demon full force.

This wasn’t the first time we’ve had urinary accidents in the house. In 2006, when my new husband moved into our new home, Winston began urinating in the dining room and bedroom. After performing a medical work-up to rule out some of the common causes of inappropriate elimination (see below), I determined the stress of the move and a new family member shook his world. We scrubbed carpet, added another litterbox (actually, an underbed sterilite container filled with litter), removed lids from the other 2 boxes, and changed to unscented litter. We purchased a cat tree, toys, Feliway diffuser, and locked him out of the bedroom. And when that wasn’t enough, he even received a six month stint of Prozac. He finally began using the litterbox again, was taken off of Prozac, and the carpet in the dining room was removed. All was well until two weeks ago.

Back to last night when I decided to lock the two cats in the basement in an attempt to curb the inappropriate urination. The crying, howling, and gnashing of teeth began in protest of their new imprisonment. It killed me to hear them pawing at the door and meowing their melancholic sorrow. Alas, it had to be done. I am hoping a couple of weeks of confinement will yield a mental reprogramming of sorts. My husband’s office is in the basement so I have eyes watching Winston use the litterbox, which I am proud to report he has been doing.

Tips for Dealing with Feline Inappropriate Elimination

  • Talk to your veterinarian. Many urinary accidents have underlying medical causes therefore it is important to rule them out before proceeding with behavior modification. Diseases like urinary tract infection, feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), bladder stones, kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism among others can cause cats to urinate outside the box. A behavioral issue cannot be diagnosed until all medical issues have been ruled out.
  • Never punish your cat for urinary missteps. It won’t work as cats are immune to guilt.
  • Have your cat spayed or neutered.
  • Increase your number ofย  litter boxes to one more than the number of cats in your home (n+1). Uncover litter boxes as the covers trap odors and can scare skiddish cats. Place boxes in areas of accidents.
  • Give your cat a smorgasbord of different litter box styles and litter types. Underbed Sterilite containers work well.
  • Change litter often and clean sides of pan. Use unscented litter.
  • Be sure to clean soiled carpet with an enzymatic cleaner like Anti-Icky-Poo.
  • Confine your cat to a small space equipped with litterbox, food, water, and bed. Cats are unlikely to urinate where they eat and sleep.
  • Enrich your cat’s environment with toys and things to climb. Cat trees work well but so does shelving. Make sure you optimize play time.
  • Reward your cat for proper litterbox use. Treats work best.
  • Try a feline “happy, calm” pheromone such as Feliway.
  • Prevent your cat from seeing other cats outside.

I will be sure to keep you posted!

8 Comments to “The Most Frustrating Case of Feline Inappropriate Elimination: My Own”

  1. I wish you all the luck in the world. I have 2 older (15-ish) cats that started urinating and defecating in the house 4 years ago.
    I have tried almost every litter known to man. I have bought self scooping boxes, hooded, open, and most recently modified 115L totes for boxes. Currently I am using a Multi-Menu Eucalyptus litter.
    I have done retraining: starting with crate sized, then small room… By the time they worked up to a full time room, they were peeing all over again.
    I tried anti-anxiety drugs.
    They have had thorough examinations and bloodwork with no reportable conditions.
    I have even tried switching foods!
    Finally now they are locked in their own room of the house, with no access to the rest of the house.
    I am at wit’s end – I have tried re-integrating them into the rest of the house as they are *mostly* accident free at this point, but the minute they get out of their room, they head to a corner or a rug and let ‘er rip!
    They are too old to rehome (and let’s face it, who wants someone else’s problem). I don’t spend a lot of time with them as I also spread my time with 2 kids, 2 dogs, 10 fishtanks, and a chameleon. Oh and a husband sometimes too ๐Ÿ˜‰
    At this point it seems cruel, but the only other option as I see it is a one way vet trip ๐Ÿ™
    Any suggestions you might have??

  2. I feel you missed a huge step in this post. Blog posts can be read out of context and by not stating that a lot of inappropriate elimination stems from medical issues and you should seek out medical attention first before attempting behavioral changes, you could lead some cats to be subject to behavior modification when there is a medical issue behind it.

    talking to the vet should be the first step, not the last

  3. A couple of years ago, Mr. Kitty urinated in the kitchen and in the bathroom. Since he was chronically good about not peeing inside, we took him to the vet. Mr. K. checked out fine, and the vet asked if there had been any change or disruption in the house. Aha! A college-age niece and her friend had been over for the weekend. Mr. Kitty had met the niece before, but evidently, two giggling, chattering creatures had been too much for our very quiet, very small house. Ever the good host, he had saved his displeasure until they left.

    A friend adopted a sweet declawed cat who had a terrible problem of peeing on her bedclothes. If I knew what I knew now, I would have suggested switching litter to something softer (Swheat or World’s Best) and Feliway. Expensive, but not as expensive as constant laundry!

  4. Excellent point Julia! I’ll add it in! This post was to document my own personal struggle with my cat (whose history I know well) and am rightly chastised for not including all the work-up that went into my cat’s case.

    For the record, Winston has had repeat urinalysis and blood work in the past four years. When the first urinary issue reared its ugly head, the first thing I did was a UA, then bloodwork, then behavior modification and environmental enrichment, and finally placed him on prozac for 6 months.

    For cats with inappropriate elimination issues, predominantly urination, I recommend a urinalysis, CBC/CP/T4, and abdominal radiographs to rule out bladder stones.

  5. I am a new follower to your blog (via Dr K at Doolittler) and this is an excellent post. I have rehabilitated almost every cat I have taken back from homes where they have had sometimes years of inappropriate eliminations (usually urine) and I go through a rigorous rehabbing protocol with all of the things you have mentioned, but it seems like what works in the end is finding the right home and environment for them. If not a medical issue, then they are trying to tell us they are unhappy and it’s up to us to figure out why…

  6. Amanda:

    You’re in a really tough situation and I don’t wish it on any cat owner. I think, when faced with the alternative of euthanasia, permanent confinement to a small room (that seems to work, no?) is a better option. Also, have you tried Feliway, enzymatic carpet cleaner, and prolonged confinement? I usual recommend two weeks to start but some cats will need it for months.

    Big and sometimes seemingly little changes at home can certainly lead to urinating outside the box. In cats deemed healthy by a vet, my experience is urinating outside the box is a stress response. I think “2 kids, 2 dogs, 10 fishtanks, and a chameleon. Oh and a husband sometimes too” could certainly be stressful for 2 senior cats. Rehousing 15 yr olds is difficult, but if you getting a good response with small room confinement, that’s the direction I would keep heading.

    Good luck. I feel your pain.

  7. *sigh* I am the same point with one of my cats. Inappropriate urination has become frustratingly habitual for him now. As soon as we save up some $$ we will be constructing a secure outside cattery area.

  8. I’m in a similar situation. My 15-year-old cat started peeing outside the litterbox a couple of years ago. I’ve done everything that behaviorists recommend. She has two giant, uncovered litterboxes in different areas of the apartment. She has a good vantage point from both litterboxes. They are scooped at least twice a day (usually more often – I scoop whenever I notice they’ve been used) and changed once a week. I use Cat Attract litter, which she seems to like best (I’ve tried many other kinds too). She gets plenty of playtime and attention. There are no other pets or kids. However, she *still* pees outside the box. On average she does it once a week, though the frequency varies from week to week. I clean all messes thoroughly with an enzyme cleaner. She’s been examined by a vet and there are no medical issues. It’s not arthritis – she jumps up on counters and tables with no problem. She seems to be happy and enjoying life, so I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had her euthanized. But what can I do? I live in a small open-plan apartment with carpet throughout, so I’m not sure how I can isolate her. This problem has taken over my life. Kitty is extremely shy and easily stressed, which I know contributes to her litterbox problems. Prozac didn’t help. So, my life revolves around trying to minimize her stress. I’m afraid to have guests over or travel. I’m suffering from anxiety and depression over this. I am at the end of my rope. Can anyone suggest a solution?


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