Vicky Halls Cat Behaviour Counsellor

Feline FAQs - House Soiling (Urinating and/or Defecating)

Q: For the past 6 months my single cat has been regularly urinating in the same place in our house, although she still uses her litter tray as well. She is an indoor cat. Why is she doing this and how can I stop it?

A: There are many reasons why cats urinate inappropriately indoors. The first step to take is to discuss this with your vet. You will probably need to take your cat to see the vet so that a urine sample can be taken to rule out any urinary tract problems.

If your cat gets the all clear, then you need to do a little detective work! Have you changed the cat litter brand or type recently? If the answer is "yes" then return to your original brand as soon as possible! Has she had a bad experience that she may associate with the tray? If you think so, then provide another litter tray elsewhere (see below). Is the tray positioned in an area where she may feel vulnerable on occasions? If the answer is "yes" then the second tray may be the answer.

It's sometimes very difficult to work out why your cat's habits suddenly change like this. I would suggest that, as an experiment, you introduce a second litter tray. Ensure it is positioned well away from the original tray in an area that is secure and private. You also want to position it away from regular feeding areas and big windows. Fill it to a depth of 2-3cm with a fine sand-like litter and leave out any polythene liners or litter deodorants.

Clean the soiled area with Urine-Off Urine Stain and Odour Remover or a similar product that your vet may recommend to prevent her from returning there in response to the residual odour.

If this doesn't resolve the problem quickly then you will need to ask your vet for a referral to a cat behaviour counsellor.

Q: Why won't my cat won't toilet outdoors?

A: Sorry but I think you may have to put up with a tray! Unfortunately we can't make all cats brave and going to the toilet in the garden, in the presence of other strange cats nearby, can be very daunting. Your little cat may have had a fright!

Position a large open tray well away from the cat flap (or your cats' normal entry and exit point) and I am sure she will use it. Check out where she is choosing to toilet at the moment; that should give you some idea of the sort of place where she feels safe.

The down side to this is that if you have more than one cat, all your cats may be excited about the introduction of an indoor toilet! You could first try digging a large area of soil in your garden (nice and near to the house), digging down approximately 18 inches. Line the bottom of the hole with gravel or hard core to provide drainage and fill the rest of the space with a 50/50 mix of peat and sandpit-quality sand. If this is near enough to the house and your cat feels safe it may be a sufficient measure to get him back on track!

Q: Do deterrents work if my cat is soiling in the house?

A: Tin foil, pepper, pine cones and citrus peel or any other smelly or noisy objects may deter a cat from soiling in one specific location but this doesn't address the underlying cause of the problem and merely directs the soiling elsewhere. Some well-meaning people still recommend that you rub your cat's nose in any urine or faeces that he or she may have passed on the floor. PLEASE DON'T DO THIS! It will make your cat even unhappier, he or she will not have a clue why you did it and you may never be trusted again.

Q: Our moggie has recently stopped using her tray to defecate and is now using the hall carpet instead. What can I do?

A: Firstly, are her faeces normal? Some cats will soil when they have a bowel problem so a check with the vet is required.

This may have resulted from a bad experience or negative association between defecating and that tray. The possible solution is to provide an additional tray elsewhere, with the fine sand-like substrate I love to talk about, and see if she starts to use this.

Clean the area where she has soiled with Urine-Off or similar urine stain and odour remover and hope that the second tray will tempt her back to more acceptable behaviour. This should represent a fairly instant fix so, if she isn't back to normal straight away, you would probably benefit from a referral from your vet to a pet behaviour counsellor.

Q: We have 3 cats, one of which has always been very anxious and seems to need a lot of reassurance. He's always had a habit of urinating in the house, but since we've had our new baby this has increased. We're so frustrated that we sometimes shout at him when we catch him. We need to resolve this as it's getting us all down.

A: It's important to establish whether your cat is urinating (squatting and passing urine on a horizontal surface) or spraying (passing a small amount of urine from a standing position to mark vertical surfaces). Spraying is a form of marking cats occasionally do indoors if they feel insecure or under threat. The arrival of your new baby may have caused an escalation in the behaviour as he has started to feel more vulnerable with all the changes to routine that a new baby represents.

Just to complicate matters, some cats will urinate inappropriately for a thousand different reasons; even stress can cause the problem. He may be suffering from a stress-related cystitis, often the only sign you will see is urinating in strange places.

Here are the steps to take from here:

  • Contact your vet and get him checked out for cystitis or any other problems
  • Provide him with two litter trays in separate private locations, filled with a sand-like substrate
  • Some cats are nervous about using covered trays so remove the cover from one of the trays and see if he votes with his bottom!
  • Don't shout at him; this will just make him feel worse about life
  • Set a few minutes aside every day to play with him, groom him and generally have the sort of quality time together that you are missing now baby has arrived
  • Don't reassure his nervous behaviour, this will just reinforce it. Give him attention when he is being calm and relaxed and ignore him when he is cowering if there's nothing actually dangerous going on.

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Got a question? My Feline FAQs and Free Guides page answers some of the most commonly asked questions and gives you access to some great advice in my free cat behaviour guides.

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