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INAPPROPRIATE ELIMINATION

 

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Inappropriate Elimination

 

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If your cat urinates or defecates inappropriately, the first thing to do is:

 

GO TO THE VET!

 

In many cases, inappropriate elimination has a medical cause, such as a urinary tract infection. If this is the case, and you don't address the underlying cause, your cat's behaviour will not improve, and s/he could be in severe pain.

 

Causes of Inappropriate Elimination

Getting to Grips with the Problem
Litter Boxes Location of Boxes Litter Types Cleaning
Keeping Your Cool Cage Training Medications Links

 

Our Experiences

Harpsie

Indie

Karma

Tanya

 

Introduction

Welcome to the home of The Phantom Piddlers! Harpsie, Indie and Karma have all been incorrigible piddlers (and in Harpsie's case, also a pooper) in their time. In fact, Persians are over-represented in the inappropriate elimination stakes. We actually gave Indie and Karma a home knowing they had severe inappropriate elimination problems. The good news is, in 99% of cases, the problem can be controlled, as we have managed with our cats. I promise you, our home does not smell of cat pee, because these days we only tend to have problems when one of the cats has a medical problem such as a urinary tract infection.

 

Causes of Inappropriate Elimination

Medical Causes

  • As mentioned at the top of this page, you must take your cat to the vet to have medical causes ruled out. Inappropriate elimination is often the result of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or constipation, whereby the cat associates the litter box with the pain of the UTI or constipation, so starts urinating and/or defecating elsewhere.

  • You should also consider the possibility of a kidney infection - Harpsie is prone to them and leaks urine uncontrollably when he has one.

  • Infections and constipation can be very painful, and UTIs and kidney infections may damage your cat's kidneys, so if your cat urinates or defecates in the wrong place, you should go to the vet as soon as possible in order to have tests done and treatment begun if necessary. 

Other Causes

  • If there have been changes to your home recently, such as a new baby or people spending less time at home than was previously the case, this might be a factor - cats thrive on routine.

  • If there are cats outside your property who are visible to your cat, this may be sufficient to trigger inappropriate elimination in your cat.

  • Even if there are no obvious changes in your household, as a family cat matures (which happens around the ages of 2-3), you may see inappropriate elimination.

  • If you have recently had new carpets laid, it is possible that the carpet actually has a urine-type aroma to the cat, which leads the cat to associate the carpets with the litter tray and urinate on them. New carpet smells like smelly urine? has more information on this intriguing possibility.

Getting to Grips with the Problem

Litter Boxes

  • As a rule of thumb, in a multi-cat household you need one litter tray per cat, plus one. So if you have three cats, you should have four litter trays. You may be able to break this rule if you are lucky: when we moved to our small apartment, we had limited space, and in fact all three of our phantom piddlers successfully shared one litter tray. But it is a risk. So if you are introducing a new cat, I strongly advise you to follow this rule. And if you are having problems, definitely try the correct number of boxes and see if it helps.

  • Even if you only have one cat, the rule may still apply: some cats prefer one litter tray to urinate in and a separate one to defecate in, or will only use a box once, then need it to be cleaned immediately or need another clean one to be nearby.

  • Some people have had great success with using really massive litter trays, such as Rubbermaid. Petsmart sells this type of litter box.

  • However, kittens and elderly cats, or those with arthritis, may find it hard to climb into a high litter tray.

  • Some cats prefer a lidded tray, some don't. You need to experiment and see what your cats like.

  • Cats need a litter tray to acquire their smell and seem familiar to them. On the other hand, if it gets too smelly, that may be overwhelming for them, or may seem to smell too strongly of the resident cat to a newcomer.

Location

  • The litter tray needs to be accessible, yet private. Try not to put it in high traffic areas. My brother-in-law's cat began exhibiting inappropriate elimination when they moved home. It turned out the uncovered litter tray was about three feet away from the front door of the house, which stressed the cat, especially when the doorbell rang while he was using it. Once the tray was moved to a more private area, the problem ceased.

  • Do not put the tray where it takes a long time for a cat to reach it. Older cats or those with arthritis or chronic illnesses may get caught short en route. If you have several storeys to your home, if possible put a tray on each level. 

Litter Type

  • The litter type can matter to some cats. Some cats do not mind scented litter, whilst others hate it. Some cats like clumping litter, others do not. If you're having problems, consider experimenting with different types of litter, but take it slowly.

  • If your cat has recently lost weight, this can make your cat's paw pads rather tender, which makes standing on litter uncomfortable. This can be remedied by providing softer litter, or by placing a few layers of newspaper on top of the litter which can easily be thrown away with the litter.

  • Some people have had good results with a particular type of litter which is supposed to appeal to cats called Cat Attract

Cleaning

  • You need to scoop waste from the litter tray at least once daily, perhaps more often depending upon how many trays and how many cats you have.

  • You need to completely change the litter approximately once every month. 

  • If your cat has been urinating in one particular spot, you need to clean it very thoroughly to remove all traces of the smell - even if you can no longer smell it, your cat, with his/her better sense of smell, probably can.

  • Many cleaners contain ammonia which is a component of cat urine, so it attracts them back to the spot. Try to get a cleaner without ammonia in it. Ideally you need an enzymatic cleaner which really removes the smell, though of course you must make sure you do not use a product which is harmful to cats. A product called Anti-Icky-Poo (available to purchase online in the USA here, and has a link for purchasing it in the UK)  has an excellent reputation.

  • Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Indoor Cat Initiative has some good information on how to clean cat pee from different surfaces.

  • After the area is completely dry, try putting a litter box in the cat's chosen spot, or if that is not possible try a food bowl (cats usually do not urinate where they eat), a pot plant or aluminium foil (cats do not like the texture). 

Keeping Your Cool

Yes, I know, I know. Tell me about it. Harpsie had an accident on a rented denim sofa a week before we were due to hand it back, and because it was denim, I had to pay somebody US$200 to come and clean it professionally. It's horrible to live with the stress of a piddling cat. The smell, the mess, the problem of cleaning it, especially if it's something like a bed, sofa or carpet; not to mention the hygiene issue.

 

The problem is, if you get mad or uptight, your cat will sense it. And contrary to what many people seem to think, cats do not exhibit inappropriate elimination out of spite, or anger. A piddling or pooping cat is either physically sick (in which case the vet should be able to help), or stressed and maybe feeling insecure (in which case if you are angry, the cat will pick up on that and feel even more stressed or insecure). Cats urinate because there is a problem with their toileting arrangements, or to comfort themselves in some way - perhaps to make themselves feel more at home in their surroundings by adding their own scent. If you can give your cat satisfactory toileting arrangements and help your cat feel secure, the problem should reduce or disappear.

 

So try not to shout at your cat. By all means have a little chat asking if they feel OK, but don't shout at them, or hit them.  It is quite in order to give one firm "NO!" if you catch your cat in MID-pee but shouting after the event is pointless. Oh, and please, do NOT rub your cat's nose in the accident, it is extremely cruel and achieves nothing, cats do not associate the punishment with their behaviour, they will simply become even more stressed and possibly frightened of you
 

If you have a cat whom you cannot trust, help both of you by reducing temptation. For cats who urinate on beds or sofas, try limiting their access to such areas by closing doors, or if you are reluctant to do this, cover the bed or sofa with incontinence pads or a plastic sheet (see incontinence supplies), and put a machine-washable blanket on top for the cat to lie on; this will protect the area and so reduce your stress levels, whilst allowing the cat to lie on a comfortable but easily washed blanket. If you are in the USA, you could try using Catpaper rather than a plastic sheet: I have this on my sofas at home, underneath throws, and nobody even knows it is there.

 

I would recommend you also try cage training: because the cat is confined, you can go about your business knowing your cat is not urinating on your belongings.

 

Cage Training

I used this method with both Indie and Karma, two years apart. Ideally you want to use a cage, but it is also possible to use a small room such as a spare bathroom instead of a cage. You want a smallish space - the reasoning is that a cat will not soil his or her bed or food so s/he should use the tray because that is the only viable alternative in his location.

  • Get a reasonably sized cage (one the cat can see out of) that is large enough for a bed, a litter tray, food and water bowls and a little space between them all. Drs Foster and Smith have an example of one.  

  • If you are only caging the cat for litter retraining purposes, you can place the cage in a busy area, such as the lounge, so the caged cat can interact with the family. For how to use a cage for introducing a new family member, see the Feline Introductions page.

  • Place cat, litter tray  and other supplies in the cage. With Indie, I placed her litter tray at one end, her food and water at the other and her bed in the middle.

  • Allow the cat out of the cage for short periods (two minutes to start with is fine), gradually increasing the length of time out of the cage if  the cat does not urinate anywhere.

  • If the cat urinates inappropriately, place him/her back in the cage and shorten the time out of the cage next time.

  • Keep the cat in the cage whenever you are busy, say cooking dinner or at night, so you know there is no piddling going on behind your back. This way, you are not going to be stressed by worrying about what the cat is up to, which the cat would pick up on.

  • I must emphasise, cage training is NOT intended to be a punishment. It's supposed to give the cat a secure base from which to gradually expand his/her territory, and give the human peace of mind so the human isn't tense (which can then stress the cat and cause stress-related piddling).

  • I would also plug in a Feliway diffuser near the cage. Petguys sells plug-in Feliway for US$23.99 in USA, with refills costing US$11.99.

When we cage-trained Indie and later Karma, they were both out of the cage full-time within two weeks, but you need to go at your cat's pace - do not rush this. Indie has had no relapses since. Karma has relapsed occasionally but on most of these occasions she has either had a urinary tract infection or was severely constipated.

 

Medications (Pharmacological Treatments)

Sometimes medications are advised for treating behavioural problems including inappropriate elimination. Since all medications have potential side effects, and few of them have ever been tested in cats, I would advise caution. In most cases, it is worth seeing a behaviourist to try to get to the root of the problem rather than simply accepting medications prescribed by a vet with limited experience of behavioural problems.

 

Of course, even behaviourists may sometimes advocate the use of medications; it depends on the cat and the nature of the problem. However, medications should only ever be used in conjunction with a behavioural modification programme; if medications are used in isolation, the chances of resolving the problem are much reduced. 

 

Pharmacological treatment for behavioural problems (2005) Overall KL Presentation to the 30th World Congress of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association

 

Links

Hilltop Animal Hospital has excellent information from Dr Karen Overall, a famous US animal behaviourist. 

Hilltop Animal Hospital also has a series of four other articles with advice on dealing with such problems.

Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors has a very helpful article by one of its members, David Appleby, which also covers spraying and middening.

Feline Advisory Bureau covers spraying and soiling indoors.

Feline Behaviour Guidelines from the American Association of Feline Practitioners has some information on normal feline elimination (page 15).

The association between feline elimination and feline aggression disorders (2005) Overall KL Presentation to the 30th World Congress of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association discusses how intercat stress in the home may be a factor in the development of inappropriate elimination.

The Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine offers a consultation service via your vet using fax. It costs approximately US$112 (the exact price depends upon the complexity of the problem) and will provide you and your vet with a detailed treatment programme. They also offer a service which doesn't involve your vet called Petfax, but this is more expensive at US$206.

 

Our Experiences

 

Harpsie

When we got Tanya, she was very clean and always used her litter tray. Therefore when Harpsie arrived and, as mentioned on the Feline Introductions page, began exhibiting inappropriate elimination, we were utterly mystified. In fact, until it happened to us, we had no idea that this problem could arise, let alone that it is actually relatively common.

 

Since Harpsie's first episode involved him peeing and pooping on the bed, initially we thought he had an upset stomach. We praised and comforted him, which was actually the best thing we could do. We had been away for the weekend, so the damage had been done some time earlier, and if we had wanted to punish Harpsie (which I do not advocate in cases of inappropriate elimination), he would never have associated the punishment with the inappropriate elimination because of the time gap. But also, he was exhibiting this behaviour because he was stressed (we had not introduced him to the household properly), so comforting and reassuring him was actually the best possible thing we could have done.

 

Even so, Harpsie's behaviour worsened initially, as his territory within the house expanded, and he earned himself the name "The Phantom Piddler". He peed on our bed several times, once, memorably while my husband was sleeping in it - he jerked awake to a cold, wet leg. Harpsie also took a real dislike to my knitting bag and the wool therein - I had to ditch it. And - worst of all for us Brits - he struck several times on the tea cosy! There's nothing like staggering down to make yourself a cup of tea at 6 a.m. before your long commute to work, only to end up with a hand soaked in cat pee.

 

With Harpsie, we had no plan at all. We knew little about feline behaviour, but we did know one thing: we loved Harpsie and he was not going anywhere. So we never shouted at him (though boy, did we beg), and we patiently cleaned up after him, and eventually, as he began to feel more secure in our home, the inappropriate elimination stopped.

 

Harpsie did go through one more phase of inappropriate elimination, not long after Thomas and George joined the household seven years later. I saw all three boys sitting close to each other on the stairs. This was unusual, so I went to investigate. There was a large fresh stool on the stairs, which George and Thomas were sniffing intently, whilst Harpsie sat there looking smug. Obviously he felt the need to let the other guys know who was boss, so he was middening.

 

Thereafter Harpsie never had any problems, apart from for medical reasons (when he developed kidney infections, these resulted in incontinence, which disappeared when the infections were brought under control).

 

Indie

Indie came to us as a rescue, aged almost two years. I wanted a companion for Harpsie, who was pining away after Tanya's death, and I had had a long talk with Cats Protection, during which I mentioned how Harpsie had had inappropriate elimination problems, but we had resolved them (via patience rather than an actual plan).

 

The very next day, Cats Protection asked if we could take Indie, who was an urgent case. And she was a real phantom piddler! Her current owner was a guy whose girlfriend had given Indie to him because she kept peeing in her home and her flatmate had complained. Now Indie was peeing in his home, and his flatmate had threatened to dump Indie (who had never been outdoors in her life) out on the street if she wasn't out of there by that evening.

 

I was underwhelmed at the thought of a piddling cat who was not yet two years old, so we had years of piddling ahead of us. But she needed us - who else was going to take her with her history?

 

Indie arrived that same night. While we were collecting her, the guy she lived with mentioned that she peed on sofas while lying next to you. This was all sounding better by the minute - not! I managed to track down her breeder and obtained further information about Indie. She had been fine until she went to her first home; but things definitely went downhill from there. In total she had had five homes before us because of her behaviour!

 

To say we were not optimistic would be an understatement. But we cage-trained Indie - you can read more about this method above. And I am pleased to say that Indie has now been with us for over seven years, and not once has she exhibited any inappropriate elimination. In fact, she is a very clean cat who spends ages covering up her litter box performances, and who has been known to cover up for the other cats too.

 

Karma

Karma, a blue Himalayan, was born in August 1997 in the USA. She was spayed and declawed at the age of 10 weeks, and immediately began exhibiting inappropriate elimination. Her owner dealt with this by promptly locking Karma in a bathroom for 18 months, where she had very little contact with others, apart from when food was delivered to her twice daily. Karma did not improve, so she was given up for adoption in Seattle.

 

A friend of mine on the East Coast of the USA saw this photo (left) of Karma on the shelter website and fell in love with her. She did a long distance adoption knowing of Karma's problems. She worked very hard to help her, took her to a world famous (and fully qualified) animal behaviourist, and Karma improved greatly and did not urinate inappropriately for six months, despite living with a male cat (my friend's existing cat) who was one of the most aggressive cats the behaviourist had ever seen.

 

Unfortunately circumstances changed (see My Siblings) in November 2000 when Karma was three, and Karma began to urinate inappropriately again.

 

Karma was placed in the bathroom, the only room without soft furnishings, her favourite peeing spot (unfortunately, the rest of the house was open-plan so there were not many options). This was very lonely and boring for Karma, and eventually her human decided she had to find her a new home.

 

Of course, nobody would take Karma - shelters said they couldn't rehome her because of her history, and she couldn't find anybody else. Karma was at risk of euthanasia so we eventually agreed to take her. She had to go into quarantine, which wasn't much fun, but unlike living in a bathroom it was at least temporary.

 

Karma came home to us in August 2001. She had been on medication for her problem (initially clomipramine, as prescribed by her American behaviourist, but unknown to us the quarantine vets had changed this to diazepam). We cagetrained Karma, and eventually we were able to wean her off all her medications.

 

Karma is pretty good overall - she coped superbly with moving from the UK to the USA in 2004, despite having a urinary tract infection at the time. Having said that, she is the least reliable of all our phantom piddlers. She occasionally urinated on beds and sofas in 2004 and 2005 but in all cases she had a urinary tract infection (or, on one occasion, constipation) and following appropriate treatment she became clean once again.

 

At Christmas 2005 and in March 2006, Karma peed on the sofa (once each time) whilst we were on vacation. We believe she felt stressed and bored because she only had limited company during this period. Whilst she's far from a cuddler, Karma does like company. Because of Harpsie's tendency towards incontinence caused by kidney infections, we always have Catpaper or puppy pads on the sofas, so fortunately this was not as stressful as it might have been.

 

Incidentally, Karma's behaviourist said Karma's declawing played a major part in her behaviour. It's a disgusting practice and should be illegal everywhere, as it is in most Western countries apart from USA and Canada.
 

Tanya

As mentioned above, Tanya was the cleanest cat on the planet. However, she did exhibit inappropriate elimination after she was diagnosed with chronic renal failure (CRF). This is not that uncommon, and it is addressed here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This page last updated: 11 February 2008

 

Links on this page last checked: 2 February 2008

 

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