Now dive deeper.
If your cat has started urinating in the wrong place, please act quickly. A habit can be very hard to change if it goes on for too long. To fix the problem you need to know why it’s happening…
Why Do Cats Urinate Inside?
- Urinary Tract Diseases
- Behaviour & Mental Health Problems
- Unsuitable Litter Tray Management
Let’s look deeper at each of these.
Urinary Tract Diseases
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
Ever had cystitis? If you have you’ll remember the sudden burning need to urinate. FIS can make cats urinate outside of the litter tray and pass small amounts, often with a lot of straining. Sometimes there’s also blood.
Most cats with cystitis don’t have an infection but instead have this poorly understood disease. Even though we don’t know the cause, vets have many successful ways to manage the condition.
Urinary Tract Infection
There’s no way to tell FIS from true bacterial cystitis without urine testing, which your vet will do when needed. I see infections more in elderly cats who don’t have a previous history of urinary problems.
Once common, bladder stones (called urolithiasis) are now a rare cause of urinary problems in cats. Modern cat diets have been adjusted to reduce urine pH so that stones are less likely to form.
When they do, signs look much like for FIS or infection. The exception is the male cat straining to urinate. This can be a true emergency due to bladder stones blocking the urethra.
Excessive Urine Production
Cats normally produce small amounts of urine, but there are many diseases that can change that. When cats are forced to produce large amounts of dilute urine, we often see overflow incontinence.
Any disease that causes problems moving will make it hard for your cat to go to the toilet, especially if outside or in a high-sided litter box.
Read about my old cat’s arthritis here; as well as being less active, she started toileting on the floor until I recognised the problem.
Anxiety & Mental Health Problems
Urine in cats is also a tool for territorial marking. Normally a cat won’t mark the core of their territory unless something is wrong. The exception is tomcats (undesexed males) who usually mark the house.
To spray urine the cat stands up, usually making a treading motion with its back feet, quivers its tail and a small amount of urine is sprayed backwards onto a vertical surface such as a wall, leaving an obvious scent mark. Common sites for spraying include doors, windows, around cat flaps, curtains, electrical equipment and shopping or rubbish bags. https://icatcare.org/advice/problem-behaviour/soiling-indoors
I won’t assume a cat is marking until I’ve also proven that the urine is normal. Here are some behavioural reasons why cats may pee in the house.
In my experience it’s best to assume the cause is another cat, even if you haven’t seen evidence. Cats are very good at hiding the signs of conflict or stress. Examples could be:
- Acquiring a new cat
- A stray cat (especially tomcats) hanging around outside
- A cat entering via a cat flap to steal food
- A kitten recently matured into an adult
Your cat’s physical and mental health often depends on keeping strange cats away. That includes not allowing cats to look in through the window.
A New Environment
I’ve seen urine marking after renovations or moving into a new house. The new place just doesn’t feel like home any more. Here are our ideas for making the home more cat-friendly. Minimalist open plan living isn’t how most cats would choose to live!
Cats are very sensitive to their environment, so even changes in people or other pets could trigger urine marking. A common example is a new dog in the house.
If something causes your cat to fear going outside the problem may not be marking at all. Cats may urinate inside simply through the lack of a litter tray option.
Cats are creatures of habit. You may inherit a preference for urinating on something your cat has always thought is a toilet based on past experience, but you do not. This takes quite a bit of work to resolve by preventing access to the area or item and reestablishing a litter tray routine.
How To Reduce Urine Marking Caused By Anxiety
- Create refuge areas where your cat can get away from dogs, cats and people when needed
- Do not allow strange cats or dogs to enter the house at all
- Make any stray cats in your yard as unwelcome as possible without cruelty
- Cover windows or use screening plants if stray cats are looking inside
- Teach children to respect a cat’s personal space and private areas
- Medication is an excellent way to improve quality of life and reduce suffering. Furthermore it can often be used just for short periods, for example to allow adjustment to a new place.
- Feliway® pheromone diffusers are also very helpful to help cats adjust to a new home.
- Reduce stress from other household cats
To reduce anxiety from hidden conflict with other pet cats:
- Make the home environment more cat friendly can only help
- Provide private places for each cat to escape
- Feed each cat separately
- Give each cat sufficient attention
- Ask us about specialist behaviour advice
Litter Tray Management
The fact that cats will pee & poop in a box can make us take this very convenient behaviour for granted. Don’t; it’s precious. Here’s when litter trays don’t work:
Not Enough Litter Trays
Provide at least one per cat unless you are sure your cats don’t mind sharing
The tray needs to be semi-secluded but easy to access. It can’t be where a cat feels watched or under threat from children, dogs or other cats. It also shouldn’t be near food and water if possible.
If your cat is using a spot you don’t like, put a litter tray there for a few weeks until it’s used regularly. Then ’walk’ the litter tray slowly day by day to where you prefer.
Wrong Type Of Litter
Watch cats in the garden and you’ll see they like dry sandy soil to dig in. Cats can adapt quickly to artificial litter types but it’s best to transition slowly. If you are having trouble, try adding some dirt from where your cat goes, whether outside or in potplants.
Enclosed litter boxes with lids are all about human convenience. Ammonia can build up to intolerable levels inside these small spaces without us even noticing. Problems occur faster in warm conditions. Lidded boxes need someone who is a very reliable litter checker.
Cleaning Too Much Or Not Enough
Yes, both are a problem for some cats! The ideal tray for most cats has a slight toilet smell but no urine or faeces present. I had a cat who would never use a litter tray even twice without cleaning but most can be changed every few days without refusal.
I only scoop or knock out the old litter and replace with fresh so that the tray retains a slight odour. Using chemical cleaners is more likely to put cats off than help them.
How To Clean Up Cat Urine
If your cat keeps peeing in the wrong place, it may be because it still smells like a toilet. Household residents adjust quickly so you may want to ask visitors if they can still smell cat pee.
- Use biological or enzyme-based cleaners. If possible, buy one made for cat urine.
- If cleaning carpet or fabric, test the cleaner and alcohol on an inconspicuous part first.
- Follow the instructions: don’t use too much water so it soaks even deeper.
- Pat dry, then repeat with plain water only and pat dry again.
- Lightly spray with alcohol and pat dry.
- Areas often get re-used despite your best efforts. If it’s in a particular room, try to keep the door shut. If the area can’t be closed off, cover the ‘toilet’ with bubble wrap or aluminium foil to deter cats.
How to conclude? By saying the obvious: cats peeing inside isn’t just a simple case of laziness or spite. It’s complicated and they need our understanding. Now spread the word!
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.