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Beyond 9 Lives: Inappropriate Elimination, Part 2

by Elizabeth Arguelles — June 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1 Comment

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza.

Nothing is more frustrating for owners than inappropriate urination, which is the leading cause of feline surrenders. Once you’ve diagnostically ruled out medical reasons for inappropriate urination with your veterinarian, the next step is to isolate what environmental elements are causing your cat’s unwanted behavior. With owner dedication, behavioral inappropriate elimination can be rehabilitated helping you and your cat to have a better quality of life.

What are the behavioral causes of inappropriate urination?

Behavioral disorders that result in urinating outside the litter box generally fall into one of two categories: dislike of or aversion to the litter box and new sources of stress.

Why would your cat start disliking the litter box?

A number of different things might make your cat reluctant to use its litter box. Inaccessibility is one obvious reason why a kitty might start going elsewhere. Other causes could include the following:

  • The litter box has not been cleaned frequently enough for the cat’s taste.
  • There are not enough litter boxes for all the cats in the household.
  • The kitty’s litter box is too small, making it more difficult to use.
  • The box has a hood or a liner that bothers the cat in some way.
  • The owners are trying a new brand of litter, and the feline simply does not like it.
  • The cat prefers other surfaces, such as carpets, potting soil or bedding, over the litter box.

What stressors can cause inappropriate elimination?

Cats like predictability and do not generally react well to stress. Urinating outside the litter box can be your kitty’s way of letting you know that it is not happy with recent changes to its environment. If it’s clear that none of the factors mentioned above are causing litter box problems, then stress could be the source.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Have you introduced a new cat to the household? In addition to causing stress, this change could induce rounds of spraying to mark territory.
  • Have you gotten married or had a baby in the recent past? Though perhaps provoking less anxiety than a new feline presence in the house, new humans can also stress out your kitty.
  • Have you or any of the other human occupants of your house been gone for an extended period of time? If your cat has gotten used to having you or other people around, temporary or permanent absences can be extremely disquieting.
  • Has another pet in your house passed away recently? Cats can be remarkably sensitive to the loss of a feline or canine companion.
  • Is there a new cat or dog in the neighborhood that is visible to your feline?
  • Have you and your kitty recently moved to a new house? Have you gotten new furniture, drapes or curtains? Have you rearranged the layout of your home? All of these changes are disorienting to your kitty and can lead to inappropriate urination.
  • Where are your litter boxes located? Is the box near something noisy like the washer, hot water heater, or HVAC?
  • Is another pet stalking them while they are in the litter box?
  • Is another person or child in the house messing with the cat while it’s in the box, on the way to the box, or when it’s done?

How can you treat the problem?

If your cat is consistently eliminating outside its litter box, it is imperative that you get control of the situation as soon as possible. Remedying the problem is significantly more likely if the inappropriate behavior has been going on for less than a month and if your cat is only urinating in one or two places in the house. Obviously, the longer the behavior persists, the less probable it is that these conditions hold.

Start by talking to your vet. He or she should offer suggestions regarding two current courses of treatment: changing the way your cat feels about the litter box and administering very mild drugs.Modifying your kitty’s behavior can be done through a combination of aversion therapy and attraction therapy.

Aversion therapy: This course of treatment attempts to make inappropriate elimination an undesirable act for your kitty. There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Use a cleaning product that will neutralize the odor in the places your cat has urinated outside the box. Some products simply mask the smell which will not discourage your cat from re-using the same areas. There are numerous products on the market that neutralize cat urine, but our favorites are: Anti-icky Poo, Urine Off, Urine Away, and Fizzion.
  • Cover said area with double-sided tape or aluminum foil taped to the furniture or carpet. In general, cats do not like walking on these textures.
  • Place orange or lemon peels at the base of any potted plants that your kitty uses as a bathroom. You can also try covering the area with a piece of plastic or cardboard to prohibit your cat from digging in the potting soil.

Attraction therapy: Though a little more difficult, it is possible to convince your feline friend that the litter box is a more desirable location for urination. Here are some tips on how to achieve this:

  • Buy a new litter box, preferably one without a hood.
  • Make sure you have enough boxes — it should be at least the number of cats you have plus one. For example, if you had 2 cats, you need 3 boxes minimum.
  • Clean the box often — daily at the very least.
  • Purchase unscented clumping litter. Odd scents can repel cats, and many felines prefer clumping litter to regular clay.
  • Place a new litter box near where the inappropriate urination is occurring to encourage your kitty to use it. After several days, move it two to three feet closer to the original location every day until it is back where it belongs. Of course, the time required for the litter box to return to its original location and the number of feet you need to move it each day depend entirely on your cat’s progress.
  • Keep the old litter box in its usual location just in case the aversion therapy works and your cat decides to reuse it without additional encouragement.
  • Check your placement of litter boxes to ensure they are in quiet places in the house.

Regarding drug therapy, your vet might decide that administering a mild antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety medication may also help reduce stress and correct the unwanted behavior. Additionally there are more holistic therapies that can help to reduce stress and/or marking behaviors. Feliway uses pheromones to help your cat feel more secure and relaxed, which can help reduce stress and urine marking. Zylkene, a supplement derived from casein, a milk protein that has calming properties, can help reduce environmentally induced stress.

Make sure you never:

  • Rub your cat’s nose in the urine or feces. This increases stress in cats.
  • Yell at your kitty, or carrying/dragging it to the litter box. Again, this is simply going to make things worse.
  • Confine it and the litterbox to a small room.
  • Use ammonia-based cleaners. Urine contains ammonia and cleaning with ammonia could attract kitty to the same spot again.

If you are struggling with behavior based inappropriate urination and have ruled out medical reasons through diagnostics, you may want to try working with a local trainer or behaviorist to help isolate the problems and figure out the best solution for you and your furry friend.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Thank goodness my boss doesn’t rub my nose in it when I urinate or defecate in the corner of his office. Now, that would be stressful.

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