“Innappropriate Elimination” is a sadly common complaint in cats. It is also one of the top reasons for a cat being surrendered to a shelter. No one likes having to deal with stinky messes around the house.
So, if you cat is among the messy, where do we go from here?
Well, the first step is to figure out the problem that underlies the problem. Is this related to a physical issue? Or purely behavioural?
A few reasons that a cat may mess outside the box:
litter avoidance –
- this can happen when a cat is starting to associate the litter box with something bad. The bad thing could be an occurence (eg the box is next to the furnace, and the furnace fan came on with a loud clatter while he was using the box and scared him), or it could be due to discomfort (eg the pain of a bladder infection or bad cramps from a bout of diarrhea).
Stress-related territorial peeing –
- This could be an issue of stress – for example, if you have houseguests “invading” his home, or renovations going on, or if the cat is not getting enough time with his favourite person due to a change in schedule, or to that person moving out. The cat is trying to restore some security to his life by making sure his territory is safely warded against any further incursion.
- Or, it can be an issue of territorial challenge. Territorial challenge happens when the cat feels threatened, such as by seeing other cats out the window. In these cases the peeing is usually by a door or window where he would be seeing the other cat.
- Territorial messing is usually just about pee, not poop.This type of inappropriate elimination can include “spraying”. That is where the cat backs up against a vertical surface, twitches his tail energetically, and pees backwards.
He physically can’t hold it –
- some medical conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease, cause the production of lots and lots of urine.
- Other conditions, such as a bladder infection or stones, can make it really hard to “hold it in”.
- Bowel issues can cause cramping that mean he has to poo RIGHT NOW.
The result: accidents. If his poo accident is because of a bowel issue, the stool will generally be soft, maybe with some blood or mucus. Check and see if poops that he passes look normal.
He physically can’t get into the litter box –
Once they pass about 11 years of age, a lot of cats are developing arthritis in their spine. This means that the big hoist-the-legs-up step over the edge of the litter box can be too much – he wants to use the litter, so he does go there, but then the huge step up and over is just too much.
So, where to go from here?
Get a vet check.
- Bring a urine sample (your vet can give you a jar of special litter to use to collect a sample at home. Use a new clean box for this, so that the sample is not contaminated by a lot of litter dust and old bacteria). The urine sample will allow a check for bladder infection, and for sugar in the urine (ie diabetes), and for very dilute urine (kidney disease).
- Your cat will also get a physical exam to check for pain in the bladder or kidneys, very “gooshy” bowels, and arthritis.
- If his stools have been soft, and/or bloody or mucoid, get a stool sample checked. Even an indoor cat can sometimes pick up protozoal infections that can make the bowel a very unhappy place.
Address the possibility of litter avoidance
- Give him a few new litter boxes filled with a different type of litter, in addition to what he is used to. See if he gravitates to a different litter that he has not learned to associate with something bad.
- You may also want to try litter boxes in different parts of the house, in case the avoidance is related to a physical location (like the furnace fan example).
Address the possibility of arthritis
- Make the litter box “arthritis friendly”. You can cut away an access port in one side of the box, or switch to using a flat boot tray with a one inch lip, or use an under-the-desk blue box that has a tipped wall on the side meant to face out of the desk.
If you think there is territorial stress
- You can get plug-ins of “cat happy hormone”. These are called Feliway, and when you plug one into a socket (like a Glade Plug-In), it releases a scent pheromone that calms the brain chemistry of an anxious cat. These scent hormones are themselves part of territorial marking: the kind where the cat rubs his cheek against things (“This is mine, so is this, and YOU are also mine…”). The plug-in means that the territory is already marked (in a NON stinky way), and that the cat is getting feedback telling him “all is well, you are feeling goooood” since that is the state of mind in which this cheek marking takes place.
Cats have a very good sense of smell – even if you have scrubbed and disinfected the site of a mess, there are still some scent molecules there to tell the cat “this is the place!” You need to treat these areas with a pet stain eliminator (they are generally enzyme and/or hydrogen peroxide based). These actually break the scent molecules down so they are no longer recognizable to the cat. If he can’t smell it, he is not called to it to “freshen up” that lovely scent signature.
Our pet relationships deserve to have a “Happily Ever After”. Inappropriate elimination can be dealt with if it can be figured out. Don’t get discouraged!