One of our readers recently asked me to discuss feline inappropriate urination. This is a big topic, so I’ll give an overview and offer some suggestions to curb such unpleasant behavior.

The big picture: We first need to make sure it isn’t a physical condition causing Fluffy to potty outside the box. And if Fluffy isn’t spayed or neutered that should be done pronto to get rid of hormonal influences that causes a cat’s primal urges to mark territory. Next, take a mental note of any recent changes in the home. Is your cat displeased about something? It could be a new type of litter, a change in diet, a new human or pet in the home, etc. Think back to when your pet was using the box routinely. If it is something you can control, go back to those conditions and make adjustments slowly.

Before waiting, schedule a check-up with your veterinarian. You can bet a urinalysis will be the first diagnostic test performed! A urine culture may also be warranted. If your pet is middle-aged or older, orthopedic and urinary X-rays may be warranted. Finally, ultrasound is a great way to peek at the urinary bladder.

Medical conditions causing inappropriate urination could be a volume issue. Diabetic pet owners know this all too well! I swear sometimes pets might think, “Again? I just went. And the litter box is all the way over there”! Kidney disease is another common disease that could cause excessive urine volume. X-rays can show possible urinary or kidney stones that could cause painful urinations, and they can reveal arthritis which might make getting into and out of the box more difficult. Pain when urinating or defecating can cause aversion to the cat box and subsequent inappropriate elimination.

If the inappropriate urination appears to be behavioral rather than medical, here are some considerations to get Fluffy back on track:

Limit the area in the home where the pet is allowed and have litter boxes readily available. If your cat has an area that it frequently targets, inch the litter box to where the pet is already peeing, just a few inches each day, until the cat box is at your cat’s desire location. Or, since cats don’t like to eat near where they potty, put the feeding station by the area your cat has chosen to eliminate.

Inter-cat aggression may play a role. My cats are the best of buds, but that doesn’t stop them from pouncing on each other with regularity. As a veterinarian, I think I’m pretty in tuned with my felines, but cat politics can be subtle. If one of the parties isn’t playing nice, the cat box is a great place for an ambush. We humans usually tuck the litter box in a corner to control litter mess, but in these situations it may be best to have it in the open with 2 exit routes.

Next, be sure to clean any areas soiled with an enzymatic cleaner. Enzymatic cleaners neutralize the odor that mere humans may not be able to smell. Most pet stores and vet clinics carry them. Urine Off and Anti Icky Poo are two of my favorite brands. Just washing the area without an enzymatic cleaner isn’t enough. If it is a carpeted area I’d suggest injecting it under the carpet pad as well.

Do you have more cats than relatives? Lots of cats in a home is a recipe for inappropriate potty behavior. I am a cat lady. It’s ridiculous how much I love my felines. Nonetheless, I don’t have a herd of cats in my home. If your friends are starting to joke that you are a hoarder, stop now! When there is inappropriate urinations going on, we recommend a cat box for each cat in the house plus one. If this equation doesn’t work for your home you should not adopt any more cats!

The type of litter you choose may affect your cat’s choices. Offer a variety of boxes and litter textures to see if Fluffy has a preference. Most cats don’t like scented litter. The scent added is for human benefit. You may also try different types of boxes. Most cats don’t like lids on the box. Make sure the boxes aren’t scratched up as odors can get stuck in crevices of older boxes.

Clean the boxes. This would seem to be a no brainier, but it must be said. Really. A few years ago I promised a neighbor that I’d go feed her cat and scoop the cat box when she went on vacation. On the very first time there (the evening she left) I went to feed her cat and of course scoop the box. The box was hideously full. Not only that but it had a lid on it which trapped odors within. I was amazed that her kitty was so good about using it. It stunk. Even I had an aversion to that box. She deserved a good cat award for still using that stinky mess. Just as we humans don’t like going into a dirty porta-potty, cats want a clean box. I personally scoop my cats’ box twice a day.

Feliway is the synthetic version of pheromone from cat cheeks. When a kitty is rubbing its cheek on you it is marking you saying “This human is mine and life is good”! Feliway is available in wipes and spray, but my favorite option is the plug-in diffuser. It’s much like an air freshener plug-in except we humans can’t smell it. It has a calming effect on cats. If you have a big house you may need more than one, but you definitely want to plug it in near the areas of inappropriate urination. Don’t ask me why, but cats often like to hit an area repeatedly, probably because they can smell the urine and think the area is a dandy toilet. So, plug it in right near your cat’s favorite hit list!

Fluoxetine (aka Prozac) and other SSRI drugs are a good thing. A cat who is going potty outside the box is usually displeased about something. Prozac works particularly well if the kitty is spraying (urinating on a vertical surface). Don’t be afraid to use a little kitty Prozac! I’ve found for several cats that a smaller than normal dose will do the trick. I always start with a low dose and see if it is adequate. Of course try to figure out and resolve whatever was irritating Fluffy in the first place. Set good potty habits while your pet is medicated. Currently I usually prescribe a liquid version of fluoxetine that has virtually no taste and owners can put in the food. Some vets like using transdermal gels that can be smeared in the ear. There is an FDA approved version of this medication for cats as well.

Finally, if you live in a safe neighborhood, you may consider letting your kitty go outside if it is not already an indoor/outdoor cat. My own cats are indoor/outdoor but their “outdoors” is in a screened in area as I live in south Florida. Inappropriate elimination is the most common cause for cats being relinquished to shelters. I prefer house cats to be indoor or in a safe patio or yard area, but going outside beats the alternative of being sent to a shelter. Cats who are known to have inappropriate urination habits are difficult to re-home.

Whatever you do don’t dawdle. Once habits are ingrained they are hard to resolve. There are several good articles on the web regarding “house soiling” or “inappropriate urinations”. Also, have a good long chat with your vet!

As always, I enjoy getting emails from readers.

NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.