There are two types of inappropriate elimination problems. Urination on horizontal surfaces and urination on vertical surfaces — or spraying. Males and females can do both of these although spraying is much more common in unneutered males. Urination on horizontal surfaces, or puddles can be motivated by medical problems, an aversion to the box, or a desire to scent mark different areas of territory. Spraying is motivated by a desire to mark territory for various reasons.
Some cats are happy with their litter box but begin scent marking. A stray cat in the yard, tension between two cats in the same household, or even the smell of new furniture or items in the home can elicit scent marking. Often the problem is related to what’s been called “psychosocial” marking — a kind of territorial anxiety in which the cat is concerned about maintaining his or her territory.
Never punish your cat for going outside the litter box. Given that the source of the problem is related to the cat’s anxiety level you can imaging how this can actually worsen the problem.
Step one: Contact your veterinary office to be sure that you cat does not have a medical problem. This will require and exam and urinalysis — sometimes more — to rule out the possibility of an infection or other disease.
Step two: Have your cat spayed or neutered if he or she isn’t already.
Step three: Document when and where the inappropriate urination is occurring. This will help you to pinpoint a stimulus for the behavior as well as track improvement as you begin to tackle the problem.
Step four: Soak up the majority of the urine then neutralize all areas where your cat has urinated or defecated outside the box. Use “neutralizers” not detergents. Some examples are “Nature’s Miracle” “Outright” or “FON”. Again do not use detergent, bleach, or vinegar.
Step five: Do everything you can to make the litter box perfect for your cat.
Tips to creating a litter box your cat will like:
• Large, uncovered clean boxes with no liners and sides low enough for them to see into the box before leaping in.
• Use sandy, scoopable litter with no special scents, about 1.5 inches thick.
• Have more than one box, and at least one on every floor.
• Put the boxes away from your cat’s food, sleeping area and any noisy appliances.
• Scoop the box once or twice daily and change the litter once weekly.
Step six: Make it less inviting for your cat to go outside the box. Place food bowls in the area the cat was using inappropriately OR block access to the area OR put another litter box in the area where the cat has been going. Once the cat begins to use the box (instead of say… the carpet) gradually begin moving the box to another area more suitable in your home.
Step seven: Eliminate the source(s) of anxiety in your cat’s life. If you suspect the sight of outdoor cats or wildlife is stressful, deny access to the windows. Separate from household cats that do not get along. Increase the amount of time you spend with the cat. Lots of positive attention goes a long way to easing anxiety and tension.
Step eight: If the previous measures are ineffective you may confine your cat in a small room with a perfect litter box for up to 3 weeks until your cat is using the box all the time. Then gradually let the cat out and into one new room at a time. This method is hard for the cat and the owner and a last resort but does help in some cases.
Step nine: Feliway spray for use on areas your cat has been marking. The theory is that Feliway surrounds your cat with a replication of the scent marking of a relaxed, mellow cat. It decreases the motivation of some cats to mark. It is not 100% effective but can be worth a try.
Step ten: Adjunctive Medical Intervention — anti-anxiety drugs. If you have tried the above steps without success it is time to consider medication. Prior to beginning a new mediation your cat needs for you to have a discussion with your veterinarian, as well as a physical exam, and lab tests to assess the risk to your cat from these drugs. These drugs are intended to be temporary and are not a magic cure. Some cats do not respond to these either.