Inappropriate Urination in Cats

24 05 2011

Inappropriate Urination in Cats

When a cat is not urinating in a litter box the first step is to make sure there is not a medical reason for the abnormal elimination.  A complete history, physical exam, urinalysis and blood chemistry should comprise the minimum data base.

Information that may be useful regarding the history of the behavior includes how long has the behavior been going on, has the amount of urine increased, has water consumption increased, has a new pet been introduced and the locations where the pet has now decided to eliminate at. Additional useful information involves the location of the litter box, the type of litter including texture and whether it is scented or not, frequency that the litter is changed and the total number of cats in the household.

Particular items of interest on physical examination is the general age and condition of the cat, the presence of mouth ulcerations or halitosis, general hydration status of the patient and general abdominal palpation which may help evaluate the left kidney and bladder size.  An early renal disease detection test may necessary to conduct on the urine.

Blood chemistries should include a BUN (blood urea nitrogen), phosphorous, and creatine to evaluate the kidney function and a blood glucose to rule out Diabetes.

Osteoarthritis as a cause of inappropriate elimination has largely been overlooked.  Sudden inappropriate elimination in an older, indoor-only cat  that does not have a history of bladder problems should set off alarms.  It’s been reported that social pets become less social and nonsocial cats may become more social when battling arthritis.

When a medical reason cannot be established for the abnormal pattern of urination it can usually assumed a behavioral problem is at hand.  First it should be determined if the cat is actually spraying urine. Females and neutered males will also spray urine at various times. If the urine spots are on vertical surfaces usually at a level 1 to 2 feet off ground level or specific items are being targeted such as dirty clothes or an owner’s pillow a behavior problem is most likely the answer. If only one person’s items are targeted the cat may have a problem with that person alone.

Castration will eliminate spraying in approximately 87% of Tomcats.  Spraying is most commonly described as a problem during mating season which usually occurs during the spring and fall of each year.  A resident cat, although neutered , may spray if it becomes uncomfortable with its surroundings.  Sometimes the comfort level will change if an unaltered cat begins to frequent the home, effectively marking it as their territory although house cats remain therein.  It is not uncommon for a free roaming male cat to spray someone’s front or back poarch.  The strageic placement of mouthballs in these areas may eliminate the visiting of these areas.  Other situations that will stress a cat into marking include the introduction of a new cat or family member to the household, a decrease in attention, change in routine or punishment.  The behavior may be changed in one of three ways:

  1. eliminating the environmental stimulous
  2. isolating the resident cat from the offending environment
  3. changing the hormonal and stress influences involved

Most cats would prefer an unscented litter at a depth of 1 to 3 cm in their litter box.  Cats are much more sensitive to odors than are humans. When a cat does not dig enough in the litter box, they are sending the owner a warning signal that a problem exists.  Normally cats like to dig in the litter and cover up their elimination.  When cats dig in scented litter they tend to release additional odor which they may not appreciate.  Covered litter boxes also concentrate any odors in a small area and may be distasteful for a cat, especially when not cleaned frequently.  The litter box should be scooped daily and clumping litter should stay in the box no more than one month. Electronic litter boxes may effectively scoop the litter for you, allowing for a less frequent disposal of the scooped material.

Other litter box problems may include lack of privacy in multiple cat households.  It is not unusual for one cat to take advantage of another when they are in a compromising elimination posture.  Some cats may not appreciate sharing a litter box and will refuse to use it when it has been previously used by another.  With especially younger kittens, the litter box may not be in a convenient area and they will seek out a more readily available location in which to eliminate.  In these cases, the litter box may be moved to the site of elimination and gradually moved to a more out of site location.  Kittens, just like children, may become too wrapped up in what they are doing to seek out the bathroom facilities until it is too late to make it to the bathroom itself.

A host of new products are now available to attract cats to the litter box.  One such product is called Cat Attract® which is a formulation of herbs that may be used to literally “attract” the cat to the litter box area.

Spraying or the marking of territory with cats may be eliminated through neutering.  Multiple cat households often incur incidences of stress related marking.  Products for stress related marking includes Feliway® which mimics facial pheromones that give the cat a feeling of well-being and thereby eliminates stress.  When natural therapy is not enough, drugs are available to decrease stress and tension among cats in the household.  Your veterinarian will be able to help you with an appropriate choice of medication.

One of the major overlooked signs of osteoarthritis in cats in inappropriate urination, particularly in a cat that has never had urinary problems.  Sudden inappropriate elimination in an older, indoor-only cat should set off alarms.  It’s been reported that social pets become less social and nonsocial cats may become more social, although I have not seen this in my patients.


Millis, Darryl Moderator.  “The Latest Developments in Joint Health Support, A Roundtable Discussion of Chondroprotective Agents.  Veterinary Learning Systems.  Sponsored by Nutramax Laboratories. 2007. Pp. 1-12.

“A Veterinary Medicine Interview Dr. Jacqueline C. Neilson”. Veterinary Medicine.  July 2007. p 436.

Norsworthy, Gary.  “Understand Inappropriate Elimination, then Treat It.  Veterinary Practice News.  April 2009. Vol. 21/No. 4. Pp. 1, 35, 39.

“Assist Owners in Selecting the Best Pets for their Lifestyles”.  The Compendium Continuing Education for Veterinarians. Vol 29(10). October 2007. Pp. 678.




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