Caring for a cat that urinates in the house

cat lying on carpet

Not many things in life are more frustrating than watching your beloved cat urinate all over your new carpet. Sure, it may seem at first like they’re doing it just to spite you, but getting angry won’t help fix the problem. Chances are there is a good reason why he or she is doing it and figuring that out is the first step towards a solution.

Establish exactly what is happening

To start, it may help to make some notes about where, when and how the problem occurs by answering the following questions:

Make notes on your cats toileting habits

  1. Does your cat sometimes use the litter tray to urinate normally?
  2. Do they ever defecate inside the house?
  3. What does your cat urinate on? Is it vertical surfaces such as walls or furniture legs, horizontal surfaces such as the carpet or floor or bath, or do they use personal items such as clothing or shoes or bags?
  4. Is there any chance that another cat is getting into your house through the cat flap?
  5. Does your cat respond frequently to other animals they can see outside?
  6. Where does your cat tend to urinate? Is it along the perimeter of the room, near windows or doors?
  7. Does your cat leave a large puddle of urine or small spots?
  8. Do they strain as if in pain or howl while urinating, or produce bloody urine?
  9. Is your cat drinking more than normal?
  10. How long has this problem been going on, and can you think of any event which may have triggered it?

If you have any concerns about your cat’s health or there is blood in the urine please use the Cat symptom guide to find out how urgently you need to seek help from a vet.

What makes cats urinate in the house?

There are 5 main causes of feline house soiling, and each condition has its own set of characteristic behaviors:

  • FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease): a collection of medical conditions (including stress, urinary stones, crystals, bacterial infection, sterile inflammation, and less commonly, cancer), which result in painful or difficult urination. You may see blood in the urine, and your cat will likely be straining to urinate small volumes all over the house, often in front of you.
  • Polyuria: a medical condition that results in too much urine being produced. Causes include kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, pyometra (infection in the uterus), oestrus, and certain medications. With this condition, you will notice your cat urinating large volumes all over the house, with no blood or straining. Your cat will probably also spend more time than normal at the water bowl, and will use the litter tray regularly as well.
  • Litter box aversion: when a cat has a bad experience in the litter tray, they become less likely to return to the box in the future and may start to urinate elsewhere in the house. Reasons for this include constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergy/intolerance, parasites, or neurological/physical abnormalities. With this condition, you will almost always also see faeces outside of the litter tray as well, and may only rarely use their tray, if at all.
  • Toileting issues: a behavioural problem in which the cat simply prefers to urinate outside the tray. Such cats usually have a preference for particular substrates or surfaces, and may choose several horizontal surfaces throughout the house. They urinate a normal volume a normal number of times each day, and may have never learned to use the litter tray correctly as a kitten. They may also choose to urinate outside the tray if they feel threatened or scared in the tray. Stress and anxiety are therefore some of the biggest causes of toileting issues.
  • Marking: a behavioural problem due to the cat’s natural tendency to mark their territory. They tend to urinate on vertical surfaces such as walls (particularly around the outer walls of the house) and frequently respond in an unfriendly manner to other cats within or outside the house. They may urinate more frequently than normal, but also use their litter tray normally at times. Cats will also sometimes mark personal human items such as clothes and bags. Tom cats are particularly prone to this behaviour.

What to do Next

You may already have a good idea as to what may be causing your cat to urinate in the house, but often the underlying cause is hard to determine or more complicated than it seems so the next step is to enlist the help of your vet. Make an appointment to have your cat examined by your vet and discuss the problem, and remember to bring the notes you made above. Your vet will work with you to develop a plan to hopefully stop the undesirable behaviour as soon as possible. These are some of the things that you can do to help:

Talk to your Vet

  • Work with your vet to rule out medical causes. This may include lab tests such as a urinalysis, haematology, chemistry panel, and thyroid level
  • Make sure you have correctly identified the problem cat – video cameras can help determine the culprit
  • Try Feliway calming pheromones (spray on the affected areas, or use a plug-in diffuser) if the underlying cause may be related to anxiety

Reduce your cat’s stress levels

  • Reduce overcrowding and stress in multi-cat households by increasing the amount of available vertical space (cat trees, etc.)
  • If neighbour cats are a problem, restrict access to windows and glass doors, and get a microchip-activated or magnetic cat flap
  • In multi-cat households try separating the problem cat in a smaller room with the litter tray of preferred litter to avoid distraction or competition and encourage use of the tray, then gradually reintroduce to the rest of the house

The litter tray

cat litter tray

  • Litter trays should be spread out throughout the house, and placed in areas where the urination tends to occur, then gradually moved to more convenient locations
  • Use large, uncovered trays without liners
  • Increase the number of litter trays in the house to the number of cats plus one
  • Try a variety of unscented litters – clumping or non-clumping, clay or newspaper or wood shavings – at 8-10 cm deep to see which one the cat seems to prefer

Cleaning up

  • Use cleaning products designed for this problem, taking special care never to use an ammonia-based cleaner (as this can itself smell like urine and encourage more urination)

Amy Bergs DVM

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