Cats are one of the best family animals to have as a pet. They do not require as much attention and needs as a dog with their daily needs being fed and water, litter box scooped and a comfy space to nap. For those of you who have cats you are most likely agreeing about their ease of care. I have four cats and they are very much on the low maintenance list compared to my dogs.
As much as cats are easy to care for they are not always fluff balls and purrs. What happens when they act out? House soiling, also known as feline inappropriate elimination, is the most common negative behavioral of cats. This behavioral issue can rise due to simple things such as a change in litter brand to moving or adding a new cat to the family. In some instances, house soiling is not a negative behavior but is a medical problem. Although we can’t force a cat to use their litter box we can make it more appealing for them.
Non-medical soiling can be very frustrating as it can be related to many different scenarios. To best determine what change(s) can be the cause of soiling make a list of what has changed in the household. Some examples could be…
All these examples can bring on anxiety and fear for a cat. Cats prefer things to stay the same however that is not always practical. As their caregivers we can help make transitions easier for them.
Not all cats are soiling due to fear and/or anxiety as some can not control it due to medical problems. Medical diseases of the urinary track such as bladder infections, stones in the bladder or another kind of bacterial infections can cause increased urination and may not allow a cat time to get to their box. Your vet can take a urine sample to determine if this is the cause of the soiling. If it is, medication will clear up their symptoms and the soiling should stop within a few days. If a bladder disease is ruled out, then further testing will need to be done to determine if the soiling is due to a medical problem.
Testing will start by taking a blood sample to check the quality of the kidneys and liver. These organs can cause a cat to drink more if they are not operating correctly. Diabetes and endocrine disorders will also be evaluated. Diseases in the organs or diabetes can all be managed through medication. Changes to their diets will also need to be made. It would be wise here to increase litter boxes and space them out within the home where the cat can reach them quickly.
Age can also change a cat’s litter box patterns. Vets will check for cognitive decline and physical mobility. Medical conditions affecting their mobility and joints can lead to difficulty climbing into their box or getting into a comfortable position for elimination. A change in litter box may be needed such as one with a ramp, or a larger box without a top can help. For cats that no longer can cover their feces an automatic box may help so your cat can return each time to a clean box.
We have talked about solutions for stopping soiling, but sometimes further actions need to be made. What if you have multiple cats and are unsure of who is soiling? You may think you know but you may be surprised who the real culprit is. To determine this there are different methods that can be carried out. Confinement of one or more cats at a time but leaving one cat out is one of the best ways to see if the cat that is out is soiling. If after a few days no soiling has happened switch and try a different cat out and confine the rest. Eventually you will determine who is soiling.
Once you have determined who is the one soiling it is best to keep them isolated in a bathroom where they are less likely to not use their box. While they are in their take the time to clean the soiled spots with odor eliminators. This may take several days to fully get the smell out. If it is on carpet, then it will be necessary to pull up the carpet and replace the pad underneath. Carpet pads hold in moisture and smells making them basically impossible to get urine smell out. Once the areas are clean and you let the cat free roam again, placing video cameras where the soiling was happening can help you determine if the cat is going back to them or if you got all the smell out.
Of course, just cleaning the areas will not prevent the cat from soiling elsewhere as modifications need to be made to help prevent it. An increase in litter boxes in multiple low traffic locations, cleaning the boxes daily and fully changing them weekly as well as getting a new but same box (as the old one may hold smells) can all help stop soiling, resulting in a happier cat and home for you. If changes have been made and a vet physical exam as been completed with no medical problems found but your cat is still going to that spot complete elimination of that area may be needed by blocking that room off, making the area less appealing by placing a different texture over it (such as placing double sided tape or plastic carpet runner with nubs) or finding a way to completely cover the spot.
In rare cases where the cat is still soiling then strict confinement may be needed. This entails confining the cat to a large cage but not enough for them to choose to soil elsewhere in the cage. They should have their litter box and enough space to place their food and water away from their box. Cats will not soil near their food but also will not eat near their litter boxes. A large dog crate would be the ideal size. Confinement here can be up to a month for cats that are extreme causes and a minimum of a week. The purpose here is to reestablish good litter box use. This will force them to use their litter box and mentally reinforce the idea of using their litter box when they need to urinate. If the cat only seems to soil at specific times such as when you are not home or at night, then confinement may only be needed during these times.
Patience is a virtue
We have discussed many actions and solutions that can be taken, and, in most cases, soiling is stopped. Our cats are very sensitive and picky creature that like things the way they like them even if it isn’t how we would prefer. It is important to understand that our cats needs come before our wants. In some cases, we can both get what we want if we take slow actions.
While we are making these actions and changes to help stop soiling, medical problems should never be ruled out by the owner as only a vet can determine if it is behavioral or medical related. For cases that cannot be entirely resolved adjustments should be made to accommodate the cat’s needs. Trials and errors are common and should not frustrate you where you jump to complete confinement of the cat. Many cases will require multiple changes and adjustments be made to meet the cats needs.