HOUSE SOILING PROBLEMS: MARKING & INAPPROPRIATE TOILETING BEHAVIOUR
Copyright 2000, 2003, Sarah Hartwell
Added to the Messybeast Cat Resource Archive due to popular request. There are many reasons cats pee or poo in the wrong places. There may be a combination of different factors. These include:
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorders
Cystitis - causes frequent urgent urination and the cat may simply not make it to the tray
Sore paws (particularly after declawing)
Reaction to medication (the hormone "Ovarid" has sometimes triggered house-soiling)
Litter Tray & Litter Type
Litter tray too close to food or bed
Litter tray shared with other cats
Litter type not acceptable - some cats dislike fullers earth litters, others dislike wood pellets etc
Litter tray is in an area which is too busy/frequently disturbed
Litter tray has been suddenly moved
Litter tray not clean or not clean enough
Behavioural (Scent Marking)
Stress - too many cats in a multicat household
Territorial - cat is trying to mark the area as its own to deter other cats
Insecurity/Invasion - a stranger has triggered marking behaviour (may be another cat or another human)
Scent - other scents in the area mimic cat odour and trigger marking behaviour; the cat tries to eradicate the offending scent with its own scent
Reaction to the urine/faeces scent from a nappy (diaper) - a cat's sensitive nose may detect any slight leakage of odour.
Although most often associated with spraying (in both males and females), both urine and/or faeces may be deposited for marking.
Some cats genetically lack what it takes to use a litter tray correctly; this has been found to be more common in Persians (UK studies)
The mother cat may not have used the litter tray and her behaviour has been copied
The cat was not previously provided with a litter tray and has learned to deposit its waste on the floor (seen in cats rescued from cat hoarders)
Painful paws as a cause of house-soiling is more often encountered in the USA than elsewhere due to the practice of declawing. Declawing involves the amputation of the end of the toe and results in post-surgical pain in the paws. A newly declawed cat tries to dig in its usual litter and this increases the pain in its feet. Even after the cat is apparently running around normally, its healing paws may still be too tender to dig in litter. The cat associates the pain with the litter tray and may refuse to use the litter tray even after their feet have healed.
Painful feet can also result from overgrown or ingrown claws, from a paw injury (such as treading on broken glass, splinters or thorns) and from dermatitis.
A very soft substrate such as sand or peat (both can be sterilised in a hot oven if necessary) may be more acceptable while the paws are sore or healing. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication may also be needed in the short term.
Get the cat checked over by a vet. Several medical conditions can cause house-soiling: incontinence/partial incontinence, cystitis, reaction to medication. If there are other behaviour problems, such as aggression or destructive behaviour, it would be worthwhile contacting a pet behaviourist. Your vet may be able to provide a referral. If not, you will be able to find information on the web. Look for a behaviourist who is a member of a recognised association in your country.
If possible, exclude the cat from the soiled area. If the cat soils a particular rug or cushion, consider moving that item to an area the cat has no access to. Sometimes prevention is the only method. It may be possible to give the cat access to the prohibited area or to return the rug/cushion to its usual place once the cat consistently uses its tray and its association to the soiled place/item is broken. If so, the soiled item(s) must be thoroughly cleaned so that there is no residual smell to attract the cat.
Each cat should have its own litter tray and these should be well away from food, water or their beds/baskets. It may involve having litter trays away from each other as well.
Make the soiled area unattractive to the cat: obstruct it, cover it with crinkled foil or double-sided adhesive tape etc. Make it an unrewarding area to visit.
Clean and deodourise the soiled areas/items with non-chlorine bleach (e.g. a hypochlorite bleach such as Parazone, Domestos [UK tradenames]) or a non-bleach cleaner. Diluted white vinegar helps to remove the residual scent, or there may be proprietary odour removers in pet stores (depending on which country you live in). Many of the normal bleaches (and also any product containing ammonia) break down into components which smell a bit like cat pee (usually too faint for humans to detect) and this can drive a cat into a frenzy of scent marking; in addition, chlorine bleaches can cause some cats to "trip" much like catnip. Avoid phenol disinfectants (those which go cloudy when added to water) as these are toxic to cats.
Use strong smelling deterrent scents such as eucalyptus, citronella or citrus. If you use these, make sure the cat cannot lick or chew them. Mothballs used to be recommended for this purpose, but are toxic to cats. Though no longer advised, should you decide to use mothballs, these must be places such that the cat cannot get to them (e.g. crushed and the powder placed underneath the fitted carpet).
Place bowls of food (biscuits are best, these don't spoil as fast as canned food) in the cleaned areas. Few cats will pee where they eat, although I have been unfortunate enough to have one of the exceptions to the rule. Do not use bowls of food and deterrent smells in combination!
If possible, consider putting the litter tray(s) in one or other of the areas chosen for house-soiling. If the cat uses the tray, over a period of days or weeks, shift the tray by an inch every few days to the owner's preferred location. Do not shift it too far at a time as you will confuse the cat and may worsen the house-soiling.
Try several trays, each with different cat litters. If the cat was used to using outdoors, use sterilised garden soil (bake the soil in the oven in a metal roasting tray). Over time, mix conventional cat litter into the soil and reduce the amount of soil used. The cat is gradually familiarised with cat litter until the soil can be eliminated altogether. Follow a similar approach whenever you change from one litter type to another.
Check that the cat isn't getting territorial due to other cats entering the house or due to other odours. If the behaviour was triggered by a new arrival (adult or infant or another animal) then the cat must be properly socialised with the newcomer so it isn't seen as a threat or competitor. This can be done by scent-mixing.
1. Place a clean tea-towel in the newcomer's bed for a few days to pick up the newcomer's scent.
2. Wipe the cat down with the scented towel so that it picks up the cat's scent and the two scents are mixed; you will need to do this two or three times.
3. Use the towel (still with mixed scents) in the cat's bed.
4. If the newcomer is another cat, this needs to be a 2-way process with each cat scenting a towel and that towel being transferred to each other's beds.
Note: Do not be tempted to put the scented towel straight into the cat's bed - he will probably pee on it! The towel must have a mixture of both scents first.
Step-By-Step Litter Tray Rebonding Program
1. Confine the cat to a kitten pen (large cage) which contains his bed, food and water. The rest of the kitten pen floor must be covered in litter. The only place he can pee is in his bed or on the litter. Only allow him out after he has peed (if he still pees outside, it is marking behaviour which different altogether). During this time, deodourise the house and /clean articles he has peed on.
2. After about a week, instead of litter on the kitten cage floor, put it in a litter tray. If he has bonded to the litter, he will use the tray. If not - it's back to step 1 for another week.
3. When he is consistently using the tray, confine him to a single, easily cleaned room with his bed, food/water and litter tray. If he reverts, it's back to step 2.
4. Once he consistently uses the tray he can have more freedom.
Note: Avoid leaving around any triggers for bad toileting - newspapers etc - until he is absolutely reformed. There's owner lifestyle modification needed too!
THREE CASES OF INAPPROPRIATE TOILETING
These are three of my own cats who have house-soiled at some point and the steps I have taken to resolve the problem. The first case is a case of the cat never having been litter-trained and simply not understanding the concept of house-training (believed to be a genetic problem). The other two cases were triggered by different factors; one being litter tray habit breakdown and the other was marking behaviour. Please note that these reports are from England where cats are most usually indoor/outdoor pets.
CASE 1: CAT UNABLE TO COMPREHEND LITTER TRAY USE
CAT'S NAME: APHRODITE (Affy)
BREED: Domestic Longhair thought to be of part-Persian ancestry
Acquired as stray, aged 5 months approx, from area where there was known to be an unneutered Persian tomcat servicing local unspayed females and also a backstreet 'breeder' - whom I have met - producing Persians known to be 'unhousetrainable'. 'Persian type' kittens often found stray in area; some had litter-bonding problems which were solved by having kittens fostered amongst litter-trained kittens! Affy's litter tray problem was evident from the start. There was no physical problem although she did suffer from occasional blocked anal glands (anal gland episodes and soiling episodes do not appear to be linked).
TIME TO LITTER/HOUSE TRAIN
Affy did not recognise a litter-tray at all. This was very problematical as she was confined to house until settled in and spayed. Multiple trays with various alternative substrates were provided, but not used. Had preference for urinating/defecating on shoes or on doormat (presumably attracted to smells of outdoors), but even when area was thoroughly deodorized and such attractions removed, she used the floor (anywhere in hallway) rather than litter trays. In all other respects she was very eager to please us and seemed genuinely flummoxed by the concept of litter trays. Tried to 'prime' litter tray with her scent by placing solids in it - no luck.
Once allowed outdoors, problem diminished, but did not disappear. Initially blamed this on laziness, but it seemed that she genuinely did not recognise the household (den) as being somewhere to keep clean. Intermittently soiled previously soiled areas despite rigourous efforts to deodorize, deterrents and exclusion from these areas for several weeks at a time. Litter trays were removed from area once she had access outdoors - pointless leaving them down as she never used them. A long term barrier was placed to exclude her from the most often used area by the front door. Soiling behaviour only truly vanished when the entire hall carpet was replaced (after 18 months approx) and the areas under the soiled patches were thoroughly sterilized.
After approximately 3 years, she used a litter tray provided for an older cat who was not able to go outdoors. She watched the other cat use the litter tray and the penny dropped - but only for urine. From then on, she would sometimes use litter tray for urine, but preferred the middle of the front lawn for her excretory functions. We exhausted the whole array of available litter types AND garden soil. In order to maintain clean house we allowed 24 hr access to a garden (the rear garden is fenced in). Litter trays are only provided in inclement weather or if one of the other cats too doddery to go outdoors. We now consider her 'clean' as many cats have an occasional accident indoors.
METHODS USED/SUCCESS RATE
Many methods were used, often in combination, during the 18 months before we re-carpeted the hallway. Once Affy allowed outdoors, all solids were relocated from soiled area to a flowerbed to build up attachment to outdoor toilet.
Luckily the incidence of soiling gradually decreased and Affy used the garden more frequently, but would still use the area close to the front door if she could gain access to it. A barrier was erected to prevent access to this area. Every time the barrier was removed, the problem flared up again despite use of above methods.
Finally: The hall carpet was ruined by repeated soiling, perfuming, shampooing etc. A new one was laid but the barrier at the front door was retained for a while to prevent access. Otherwise, no further soilings occurred, but rather than use a flower bed, Affy used the middle of the front lawn. Middening/marking behaviour was considered, but she showed covering behaviour so we presume she was raised in an area where there was no suitable substrate for digging. Raking/covering up behaviour was present, but ineffective on grass. We considered the problem solved to our satisfaction; as long as she had access to garden and was excluded from the doormat, she is housetrained.
After around 3 years, Affy observed another cat urinating in a litter-tray and copied its behaviour, but would never be fully bonded to a litter tray. There were occasional accidents (either Affy or one of the other cats) by front door, probably due to the outdoors scent (having no porch we cannot remove our shoes before entering house). When accidents occured we replace the barrier for a period of several weeks and thoroughly deodorize the area before removing the barrier. We can then go several months without problems.
Affy was very used to seeing other cats around as I take on old cats and have fostered kittens. The presence of other cats did not seem to affect her behaviour as she was a very tolerant, mellow animal. She was very eager to please and was most confused about the toilet problem as she genuinely seemed to have a blind spot in this respect.
At age of 10 years 11 months, Affy was confined following a "heart attack" (cardiomyopathy of acute onset). She used the litter tray consistently for liquids and solids. Unfortunately she had to be euthanized a week after the heart attack as the cardiomyopathy did not respond to treatment to regulate the heart or to prevent fluid accumulation.
CASE 2: TOILETING HABIT BREAKDOWN DUE TO MEDICATION
CAT'S NAME: SAPPHO
TYPE: Domestic Longhair
Sappho showed inappropriate urination (on a particular rug) while she was on Ovarid tablets for skin problems (at age of 12). As soon as the Ovarid was withdrawn, the problem was resolved. As Sappho was a very fastidious cat who would only use the most secluded spots in the garden for her toilet, the Ovarid seemed to be the cause.
In later cases of skin problem, Ovarid was not used. Evening Primrose Oil was used instead and a daily dose was used to prevent skin problems from occurring at all. She also had Inflammatory Bowel Disorder. It appears that Ovarid triggered inappropriate urination though the reason was not clear (Marking behaviour? Poor continence? Bladder inflammation?)
At 16, Sappho become wholly senile and though continent, her toileting behaviour (anywhere, no attempt to locate litter tray or to use tray even if it was in front of her) became problematical for the household. She also had increasingly liquid bowel motions. The diarrhoea and toileting behaviour, combined with aggressive secondary tumours on the abdomen (2 mammary tumours had previously been removed) contributed to the decision to euthanize Sappho due to decreased quality of life.
CASE 3: URINE MARKING DUE TO INSECURITY/NEWCOMER SCENT
CAT'S NAME: CINDY
TYPE: Domestic Longhair
Cindy is a domestic longhair adopted from a shelter. Her previous owner had moved from a house to a flat (apartment). Cindy had previously had access to a garden. The owner's new boyfriend did not want the cat and Cindy was often shut out of the flat, causing a nuisance on the staircase. She was relinquished to a shelter, with very detailed medical history and notes (i.e. her owner had cared greatly for her, but was unable to keep her). Cindy was very withdrawn and scared; most people were deterred when she hissed at them. When taken home, she tong a long time to gain confidence and was wary of my partner and other men. This was worsened when my partner hissed back at her. Cindy developed a strong bond with me.
Almost 2 years after adoption, Cindy began to urinate persistently on the shared double bed. The only solution was to exclude her from this room during the day when we were not there to supervise her. If the door was not firmly closed, or if we forgot to close it, she immediately soiled the bed. On two occasions, she soiled the bed while were in it, leading to her being excluded at night. She did not soil the bed when my partner was away from home on business, suggesting that his presence was a trigger factor.
Not long after, it transpired that my partner was having an affair. He moved out of the home. On a hunch, I allowed Cindy free access to the bedroom again. There have been no more soiling incidents. It is notable that Cindy is obsessive about cheek marking/flank marking doorways, furniture and even scent-marking Motley, my other cat. This indicates that she is basically an insecure personality who needs constant reassurance. Note: The bedroom is usually the area of the house with the strongest owner scent. In feline terms this means it is "core territory" and prime target for urine/faeces marking problems as the cat tries to reinforce the association of its scent with its owner's scent..
I concluded that Cindy, known to be nervous and insecure, was marking to remove the other woman's scent (carried in on my partner's clothing or skin) from the bed. She was doing this to reinforce her bond with me and to repel the intruder. Once the strange scent no longer appeared on the bed, there was no need to scent mark. When my current partner stays overnight, although she is nervous, she does not try to scent mark the bed , further indicating that she saw the "other woman" as an intruder (perhaps because she could not see the person whose scent it was).
I am not suggesting that another person's cat's marking behaviour is due to marital infidelity! However, a scent brought in from outside (colleagues, other animals) or a newcomer to the house (baby, new partner, lodger) may trigger marking behaviour in an insecure cat. It is important to socialise the cat with newcomers. Also, certain outdoor articles (shoes, coats etc) may pick up smells which attract marking behaviour - if so, do not leave these things lying around; shut them in a cupboard/closet or closed room!