It is important to understand that inappropriate elimination (not using the litter box) in pet cats is not performed out of spite or revenge by your cat but it is your cat coping with a certain situation it is unhappy about. When this behaviour is performed outside the home, it is seen by humans as normal feline behaviour. So when we see our pet cats eliminating in the home, not in the litter tray, why is this?
There could be various reasons and as a caring owner the first port of call should be the vet. The vet will be able to give the cat a full medical examination to determine if there is something bothering the cat medically. Medical problems can include bowel or bladder problems so that the cat can’t get to the litter tray quickly enough, there may be blood in the urine or faeces, which could be a sign of infection or other problem. The cat could also be pulling out its fur in the tummy area, often a sign of bladder pain. A urine test can be carried out by the vet to check for any infection, tumour or crystals in the bladder. If the problem is faecal, the vet may check for parasites or give the cat a rectal exam or anal gland exam as glands can get impacted. If the cat is elderly the vet may look for orthopaedic or neurological problems, the cat may not be able to step into the litter box as its legs are stiff and causing pain or the cat maybe old and confused. The cat may also be diabetic or suffering from kidney problems. If any medical problems are found, these can be treated with the relevant drugs and medical procedures. Bladder infections, crystals will be treated with drugs, change of diet and the cat encouraged to drink more.
If once all the relevant tests and examinations have been carried out and the vet cannot find a medical reason, the vet will make a diagnosis of either feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), marking behaviour or house soiling related to environmental or social reasons.
FIC can cause pain and discomfort and will cause a cat to house soil, cats are diagnosed with FIC when they may or may not have previously suffered from urinary infections or stones but no such problems can be found since but still the cat is urinating inside the home away from the litter tray. At this present time there is no test to show FIC and many researchers are looking for answers beyond just the cat’s bladder, it is also believed that stress has a huge factor to play. Common treatments to help with FIC include drugs which help relax the cat, diet, getting the cat to drink more water (this will help dilute inflammatory cells), creating a suitable environment for your cat and using a synthetic pheromones plug in like Feliway. Getting a cat to drink more is not always easy but cats are attracted to moving water and will often benefit from a cat drinking fountain or slow dripping tap, a few more water bowls spread around the home not near to the food bowl may help them to drink more. Naturally in the wild a cat is rarely going to find water near its food, so they tend to like the water bowls placed around the house.
So if medical issues and FIC have all been looked into and are not the problem, we now need to look at marking behaviour. Cats mark by either scratching, rubbing with their faces, urine spraying or middening (depositing faeces uncovered). Cats will mark to leave their scent on their territory, this is an important part of a cat’s behaviour but urine and faeces marking are really not appropriate for inside the home and both can often be avoided if the owners understand the cat’s motivations for doing it. So why is the cat doing it? Middening is very rare and is often a sign of the cat feeling insecure, maybe the owners are away or the builders are in, or some other factor is making the cat unhappy. Urine marking can be a sexual or reactional behaviour and is much less common in neutered cats but it does still occur. The cat will often urine mark indoors to make it feel more secure in its territory maybe another non resident cat is coming in via the cat flap and eating the resident cat’s food or starting a fight? The cat may live in multi cat households and be in competition for food, beds and owners attention, one cat may be bullying other cats. The resident cat may be able to see another cat outside the front door or windows and start to spray near those areas to make it feel more secure in its own house. The resident cat may also spray new objects or new people coming into the house, this is all part of scent marking to make the cat feel more secure and happy. Solutions to all these issues are often resolved by blocking or removing the cat flap, blocking the cat’s view of windows and doors where they can see other non resident cats. In multi cat homes, providing lots of beds, litter trays, feeding areas, water bowls and giving all the cats lots of play time and high up places to have time out away from other resident cats will help. People living in the house will also need to be aware that if they bring new objects or people into the house they may get sprayed on! Often if young children visit the resident cat may be happier shut away in the bedroom in peace. Cleaning certain areas that the cat is frequently marking with special cleaner will also help. Spraying the home with Feliway spray may also help.
Looking for solutions to inappropriate elimination is very much a process of detective work. If all medical, FIC and marking behaviour has been examined and no answers have been found, it is time to look at environmental and social factors. This is a complex area and owner needs look at litter trays, food and water bowl sites and sleeping, hide way areas. Cats need to feel happy and secure in their environment, they need feeding areas where they can relax and eat without being disturbed by other cats or humans, they need to be able to hide and sleep in suitable places, so they can get away if they need to. The home they live in maybe very noisy with children or other pets and cats need their own space, especially if they are indoor cats. Maybe new people or builders are appearing in the home, or maybe someone has left home, all these things may stress the cat to make it house soil. Feliway plug ins can often help in these situations as they give off pheromones to relax the cat. Pet Remedy is another plug in that can help in some cats, instead of giving off pheromones it releases natural herbs scents and has helped some cats to relax. It’s important to remember every cat is individual and what works for one cat may not with another. Ringo my own cat seems to like Pet Remedy but when I used Feliway he defecated under it!
Litter tray issues are a very important factor with indoor house soiling. The position of the tray needs to be looked at, is it in a very busy, noisy area that would put the cat off using it timid? Does the cat dislike the type of litter? Some litters are hard to stand on if you are an old cat and the litter hurts your paws? A sandy type litter is often recommended, at least 3 cm deep. Does the litter smell funny, has it not been changed enough? Cleaning twice a day is needed and a complete change of litter at least once a week. Is the tray by the window and another cat is watching (cats can be intimidated). The tray may have a cover on it and another cat has pounced on the cat when they came out? A bully cat may also be guarding the tray, so the poor cat can’t even get in it. Is the tray by the dog’s area? The owner may have tried to give the cat medication while in the litter tray and the cat won’t use the tray again? Are there enough trays, the rule is one per cat and one extra; they also need to be big enough. If the owner is punishing the cat when it doesn’t use the tray, this will only make things worse. Maybe the cats outdoor toileting area has gone and they don’t have an indoors tray. If the cat is usually eliminating outdoors maybe they are being bullied by another cat, so prefer to toilet indoors, therefore a tray should be provided. Old possibly senile cats may need to be confined to a room of their own, with everything in it they need to make them secure. Vets may also prescribe drugs to help calm cats but this is often a last resort.
All these factors need to be looked into and then hopefully a solution can be found and everyone can live happily together, however sometimes the cat just isn’t happy and rehoming may be the only answer and a caring owner must think of the cats quality of life before their own emotions. I hope this has helped answer a few questions for you and your cat.