A kitty sits in its litter box.

Inappropriate Urination in Cats

Inappropriate urination is a point of frustration for many cat owners. It can become a severe problem and lead to cats getting surrendered to shelters if not addressed and corrected. Inappropriate urination is defined as any act of urination that is not conducted in the litter box. Though there are many medical reasons that lead to this issue in cats, it is typically a behavioral problem. Identifying this issue and addressing it quickly is key to minimizing and eliminating further episodes.

Diagnosis and Clinical Signs

The first step in multicat households is identifying which cat is causing the accidents. To identify the culprit, separate the cats to individual areas and monitor urination habits. Setting up a nanny cam can also be useful in monitoring multiple cats. For those in need of additional assistance, a non-toxic dye can be administered to each individual cat, isolating the offender. This dye is often provided by your veterinarian.

Once the offender has been identified, your next step should be ruling out medical conditions. Cats with a medical reason for urinary accidents need veterinary care to identify the cause and address their ailments.

Medical conditions that lead to inappropriate urination include:

Your veterinarian will want to do blood work on any cat that has inappropriate urination to rule out underlying medical issues. In addition, they will examine a urine sample to look for bacteria, crystals, white blood cells, and red blood cells. They may also want to do radiographs (x-rays) to look for bladder stones. Further diagnostics may be recommended, such as abdominal ultrasound or further endocrine (hormonal) testing. Treatment will be individualized based on results of diagnostics and final diagnosis. If an underlying medical cause for inappropriate urination is ruled out, behavioral causes will be investigated.

Behavioral Causes

Marking Territory

Spraying is the act of marking territory, commonly presented in urination on inanimate objects. This is a common problem in male cats if they are not neutered, and any intact male cat that shows signs of behavioral issues should be fixed. Indoor cats may also spray if they become aware of or see outdoor/feral cats. If outdoor cats are causing a housecat to inappropriately urinate, closing the blinds or windows can help.

Cats may also urinate on the clothing or bedding of a specific individual in the household. This is common when a new significant other enters the picture and disrupts a routine or a cat’s perceived personal space. Encouraging positive interactions between the offending person and the cat is very helpful in easing territorial markings. Also, minimal disruption to the cats routine is encouraged.

Environmental Changes

Cats will inappropriately urinate if major changes occur to their environment. This can be adding new humans or animals to the house dynamic or moving from a house entirely. Any major change to the household can set off a pattern of inappropriate behavior.

Before the addition of a new baby into the household, begin to slowly introduce baby furniture and items in the nursery to your cat. Also, make sure that a private space is preserved and protected for your cat, which is an important way to maintain normalcy during major changes. Bringing new animals into the home should also be done gradually, so that both parties can get used to each other. Each cat should be allowed their own space including litter box, sleeping area, and food/water to avoid any competition for resources.

Litter Box Aversion

Litter box aversion is another reason for inappropriate urination. Cats can be very particular about the types of litter boxes they like and what type of litter they prefer. Test out whether your cat prefers a litter box with a lid or without. Some cats prefer privacy, while others prefer to be able to see their surroundings. Most cats like fine granular substrates, and some of the different substrate litters may bother them and cause them to avoid the litter box. Another key point about litter hygiene for cats is that they like clean and plentiful boxes. Some cats will avoid using dirty boxes and urinate or defecate out of the box if it isn’t up to their cleanliness expectations. The general rule of thumb for number of litter boxes is: # of cats + 1 = # of litter boxes that should be available in the house (so 1 cat, 2 boxes etc.)

Bullying Between Pets

Multiple cat households or households with dogs can lead to bullying in the hierarchy of pets. Monitor intrapet interactions in the house to make sure pets are not bullying each other. Sometimes, cats will prevent another cat from going into the litter box or attack them when they come out and cause an aversion to the litter boxes, which can result in inappropriate urination.

If anxiety or stress seem to be the underlying cause behind inappropriate urination, there are cat pheromone diffusers that can help alleviate stress. In some cases, behavioral modification medication can be prescribed by your veterinarian to help manage inappropriate urination habits.

Inappropriate urination is an annoyance, but with thorough evaluation of medical causes and modifications in the household, it can be managed. Please seek veterinary care at any point if inappropriate urination is noted. Early intervention is always best when treating behavioral and medical issues.