Ruling out medical causes:
If your cat is not using their designated toileting area, the first thing you should do is get in touch with your vet to eliminate any possible medical causes. Ask your vet to take a urine sample, which will rule out bacterial infections or other medical problems, such as bladder crystals. Both of these illnesses can cause extreme discomfort while your cat is passing urine, and as a result, can cause them to toilet in places other than their litter tray. Arthritis can also make squatting to toilet uncomfortable for your cat, so make sure to ask your vet to rule this out as well.
Litter tray cleaning:
When cleaning your cat’s litter trays, don’t use any harsh chemicals or heavily perfumed cleaning products. The scent produced by these products can deter your cat from using their litter tray.
Cleaning soiled areas of your home:
When cleaning the soiled areas of your home, use a biological detergent or an enzyme-based spray marketed for getting rid of cat urine. If the soiled area still smells like urine, your cat will be more likely to continue to urinate in this area.
- Enzymes in products such as detergent work to break down the odour. It’s important to note that enzymes require moisture to work, so allow for the area to dry slowly after cleaning.
- To make sure that the odour is completely gone, try placing a damp towel over the area to keep it moist for at least 24 hours. This step is especially important if you’re cleaning a carpet as the enzymes need time to penetrate the layers of carpet and the floorboards beneath the carpet.
Other possible causes:
Inappropriate toileting is often linked to stress. To combat this, you can try placing pheromone diffusers (such as Feliway) in the areas your cat is soiling. The pheromones in the diffusers help to calm your cat. You can also place additional diffusers in the places your cat spends the most time in.
Cats can become stressed out by things you may not be aware of. Has anything changed in your home recently that could be causing your cat stress? This can be anything from redecorating or re-organising to introducing a new baby or pet to your home.
Inappropriate toileting in outdoor cats:
Does your outdoor cat exclusively toilet outside, and now they’re beginning to toilet inside?
- Try providing them with an indoor litter tray. While your cat is toileting, especially if they’re doing so outdoors, they’re vulnerable as they can’t be fully alert for possible threats.
- Something in your neighbourhood that your cat perceives as a threat could be causing them to toilet indoors. This can be anything from nearby construction work to a new cat entering their territory.
- If you have an outdoor cat who uses a catflap to enter your home, could another cat be entering your home and soiling it? If your cat is microchipped consider having a microchip-activated cat flap fitted. Or, try closing the cat flap for a few weeks, manually letting your cat in and out, and see if the soiling stops.
Litter tray 101:
The golden rule when it comes to litter trays is to provide at least one tray per cat in the household, plus one extra. If you live in a home with multiple floors, try providing at least one tray on each floor of your home as well. In multi-cat households, many cats will not like sharing a litter tray, and could also feel uncomfortable when they have to pass another cat in the house and as a result could feel trapped in an area of the house without access to a litter tray, thus causing them to toilet inappropriately. If you only have one cat, having a litter tray on each floor of your home can be advantageous for older, less mobile, and shy cats.
- If possible, try placing a litter tray in the spot your cat likes to urinate on.
- For general litter box placement, try picking a low traffic spot (i.e. not in a hallway), and avoid placing your cat’s litter tray near their food and water bowls.
- Aim to clean any soiled litter twice daily, as some cats will not use a soiled litter tray, which can cause them to toilet elsewhere.
- Try experimenting with different types of litter. For instance, a cat might prefer the litter they used when they were a kitten (if you had them then), and an older arthritic cat might have trouble squatting to go to the toilet, and therefore might find that soft, fine litter helps ease some of this discomfort.
- Never use scented litter. The perfume in the litter may cause your cat to avoid using their litter tray(s).
- Avoid using litter tray liners or lining the tray with newspapers. Cats are naturally clean animals and love to dig and bury their waste. Liners and paper can get in the way of this natural behaviour and upset your cat.
- Try different litter trays. Some cats prefer the privacy of a covered litter tray, while others prefer an open tray. An overweight or elderly cat might find an extra-large tray with low sides more comfortable to use. If your covered litter tray has a flap at the entrance, try removing it as it may be preventing your cat from feeling comfortable using the tray.
Is there anything in particular that your cat urinates on? For instance, if clothes are often left lying around and your cat urinates on them, make sure that they’re put away. For some owners, placing tin foil over the area the cat likes to urinate in/on can discourage them from using the particular area as they don’t like the way it feels on their paws or the sound that it makes.