Despite the cat’s reputation for fastidious cleanliness, house soiling is the number one behavior problem of our feline friends. Many cats are turned outside, given away, or even put to sleep for this behavior problem, and it behooves the veterinary profession to address it.

Urinating in odd places can mean either a behavior problem or a medical problem and sometimes the difference is not clear cut. Cats often urinate in unusual places to get their owner’s attention when they are feeling unwell. Further, cats often urinate in unusual places in an effort to reassert their claim to territory, this need often arising from psychological stress and psychological stress can easily lead to a disease state called idiopathic cystitis or feline lower urinary tract disease. Some cats have purely behavioral motivations without illness. Some cats simply have litter box aversion.

Should The Approach Be Medical?

Feline lower urinary tract disease (also called feline idiopathic cystitis and formerly referred to as feline urologic syndrome) involves straining to urinate, genital licking/discomfort, bloody urine, and often urinating in unusual places. There are many causes for this syndrome, including psychological stress.

It may be hard to determine if a cat urinating outside the litter box has this syndrome and it is important to observe for the signs listed in addition to inappropriate urination. Cats with this syndrome often (but not always) receive a medically oriented approach addressing inflammation in the bladder. Your veterinarian should evaluate your cat before you conclude that the problem is behavioral and you embark on a long-term behavioral approach.

Urine Marking / Territorial Anxiety

Cats use urination and defecation as a means of communication with other cats. By leaving their mark, they are telling other cats “I was here on this date at this time.” Other cats may then know this land has been claimed (or has not been recently claimed) and may act accordingly. Psychological stress, such as the presence of other cats, prolonged absence of the owner (who is usually viewed as a parent by the pet cat), or other problems may create a need for a cat to reassert a territorial claim.

Signs that this kind of stress is causing the problem might include some or all of the following:

  • Spraying on an upright surface.
  • Urinating in the litter box sometimes and sometimes urinating elsewhere (as opposed to never using the box at all).
  • Defecating in the cat box but urinating outside the box.
  • The cat (either male or female) is not neutered.
  • There has been a change at home leading the cat to feel he/she must reassert his/her territorial boundaries. (Examples: a new pet has been added, a new roommate has been added, a recent move to a new home has occurred, remodeling has been done, the owner recently returned from a vacation, other neighborhood cats are visible or can be smelled in the yard.)
  • The area marked is near a door or window.
  • The problem did not start until new furniture was added or the furniture was rearranged.
  • The cat appears to be responding to a punishment for another behavior.
  • The area marked involves the owner’s bed or laundry.
  • The area marked is the same each time.
  • If any of these scenarios seem to fit, anti-anxiety medications may be tremendously helpful if the source of stress cannot be identified or cannot be altered.