WHY YOUR CAT IS HOUSE SOILING: POSSIBLE CAUSES
Did you know that house soiling is the most common feline behaviour problem in North America? Unfortunately, it’s also one of the leading reasons cats are euthanized. Don’t let this issue ruin your relationship with your feline friend. Talk to your veterinarian to find out why your cat isn’t doing their business in the box. They can recommend solutions to help you handle the problem.
House soiling, or inappropriate elimination, can be caused by a number of factors—usually medical, thus the importance of seeing your veterinarian as soon as possible. If it’s not a medical issue, it may be social or environmental. House soiling can also be caused by anxiety, which can further exacerbate existing medical conditions or cause cats to mark their territory even more.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF INAPPROPRIATE ELIMINATION IN CATS: MARKING AND HOUSE SOILING
There are two main categories of inappropriate elimination in cats:
- A normal feline behaviour cats use to communicate
- When your cat sprays a small amount of urine on a vertical surface, it’s called urine marking
HOUSE SOILING IN RESPONSE TO AN INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL FACTOR:
- This is when your cat fully or partially urinates or defecates on a horizontal surface other than the litter box
It’s important to make a distinction between marking and house soiling. The underlying causes are completely different so the two behaviours need to be dealt with differently.
URINE MARKING: A NORMAL SOCIAL/SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR
Urine marking is a normal behaviour both male and female cats use to communicate (although it tends to be more common in males). Marking is therefore not the same thing as house soiling.
When do cats mark? For females, it’s usually when they’re in heat. Male cats may mark their territory with urine to send a message to any other cats in our outside the home. Sometimes marking is an anxiety-induced behaviour. And, in over 38% of cases, it’s caused by an underlying medical condition, like a urinary tract infection.
But just because it’s “normal” for cats doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to their human companions, especially in the house. The best way to keep cats from urine marking is to have females spayed and males neutered if you’re not planning on breeding them. It’s better to have the procedure done when they’re still a kitten, before they’ve started marking anything. To learn more about the process, read our article on Sterilization in the Vet Care section.
WHAT TO DO IF A SPAYED OR NEUTERED CAT KEEPS MARKING
Marking is a social behaviour and can also be caused by anxiety, so 5% of female cats and 10% of male cats will still do it even after they’re sterilized. What can you do? Discuss it with your veterinarian. They’ll rule out any medical issues and recommend behaviour modification techniques like managing your cat’s:
- Social interactions with other cats
- Elimination areas
For advice on these topics while waiting to speak with your veterinarian, read these articles on our site:
HOUSE SOILING IN RESPONSE TO AN INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL FACTOR: STEPS TO TAKE
If your cat is house soiling, there may be a health or behavioural reason related to their environment or social relationships. The first step is figuring out why your cat is engaging in inappropriate elimination.
ELIMINATE MEDICAL CAUSES
If you observe house soiling symptoms, take your cat to the vet right away. During the consultation, the vet will do a physical exam and test your cat’s urine, excrement, and blood. Specifically, they will look for:
- Birth defects
- An underlying health problem like a urinary tract infection, a kidney or bowel disorder, cystitis, or a joint problem that physically limits kitty’s ability to use the litter box
If something is wrong, your vet can recommend a treatment plan. And if your cat is healthy, you can discuss potential social and environmental causes.
IDENTIFYING SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSES
Once medical causes have been ruled out, your veterinarian and their team can refer you to suitable resources for your specific situation, including specialists like animal behaviourists.
A behaviourist can analyze your cat’s behaviour and their environment to figure out why kitty is avoiding the box. They’ll ask targeted questions and may even ask you to record video footage of your cats interacting at home.
Social causes in multiple cat households
House soiling is much more common in homes with more than one cat. Social problems like bullying are often the primary cause of inappropriate elimination in multi-cat households.
You may not even notice most of the social cues that go on between your cats, but animal behaviourists know how to detect passive aggressive and bullying behaviour. Video footage of your cats interacting could provide invaluable information. If you do have video, bring it to your appointment.
If the behaviourist can find an obvious social cause or other source of stress or anxiety, they’ll develop an action plan to keep things under control.
Poor waste management
The second most common cause of house soiling in cats is poor management of elimination areas. This can occur in multi-cat households and in homes with only one cat. It is usually the result of factors like:
- The litter box not being clean enough
- Not having enough or the right litter
- Having too few litter boxes
- Having the wrong kind of box or placing it in the wrong location
To understand how to better manage elimination areas in your home, read our article on
Waste management. Ask your veterinary team for recommendations.
Changes in routine and environment
A change in your cat’s routine or environment can also lead to house soiling. This may include:
- A new litter box
- Using a new product to clean the box
- Moving the box to a new location
- Moving to a new home
- Bringing a new cat into the house
Our advice in these situations is to go back to the way things were. If that’s not possible, try to support your cat through the transition. For instance, if you move, don’t change everything in one fell swoop: Use the same litter and the same box to help reassure your cat. Take change one step at a time. You can also try to keep your cat’s stress level down. We carry natural products in our online store that can help. Talk to your veterinary team for their recommendations.