Monday, December 19, 2011

Feline Inappropriate Urination: Acting out all over the house!

When medical issues have been ruled out, and husbandry issues have been resolved, if a cat is still eliminating outside the box, it is likely to be due to a behavioral issue.  Unfortunately, while litterbox environment and medical issues are relatively straightforward to address, behavioral issues can be complicated.

New furniture can stress your cat.
One of the most common causes of behavioral inappropriate elimination is stress. Stress can come from a variety of sources.  It can be due to a bold or aggressive animal re-establishing his territory or a timid, shy animal urinating because he is a “victim” of his social environment (being passive-aggressive). A change to the household that disrupts the cat’s schedule may also be a contributing factor to a cat choosing not to use the litterbox -- such as a new baby, visitors staying in the home, a child going off to college, a change in someone’s work schedule, a move to a new home, new furniture, a new pet, a family vacation, renovations to the home, a visit from a plumber or other repair-person, etc. In some cases, the behavior will resolve on its own after the event (such as vacations, visitors, and renovations), and in other cases, the behavior may be ongoing (new furniture, a baby, a new home). Each type of stressor may have several solutions.

For example:
If your cat eliminates inappropriately when you go on vacation, you may find that you can curb the behavior by boarding the cat while you are gone, hiring an in-home sitter versus having a neighbor stop by the house once or twice daily, or by taking your cat with you. Discussions with your veterinarian may even lead to recommendations for medicinal therapy while you are gone to alleviate anxiety.

If you are planning on getting a new pet or having a baby, preparing your cat for the new addition may head off any potential behavioral issues. Also, making sure to introduce the new pet to the resident cat on a gradual basis will help lessen the stress your cat may feel about a new addition.

When planning to move to a new home, it is often helpful to establish the cat in the new home prior to moving day, if possible, so that their first exposure to the new home is not amidst chaos. If your cat can be set up in a room with all his familiar things and you can avoid moving things into that room right away, that will also help. If your cat can’t be moved ahead of time, then moving your cats into a room that will be little-disturbed on moving day, such as a bathroom or walk-in closet may also help. Let the cat become accustomed to the moving-day room before allowing him out to explore the whole house. That way, if something about the new house is frightening, he has a safe place to retreat to.

Sometimes inappropriate elimination can become so ingrained in a cat that even once the stress has been removed, the behavior continues. If this is the case it is a good idea to seek advice from your veterinarian as to how to re-train your cat. 

Spraying posture - standing near a vertical surface, tail erect
If a cat chooses to eliminate near a door or window, it is likely that either the presence of feral/stray or wandering neighbor cats may be causing your cat stress, anxiety or frustration or stimulating your cat to mark his territory and warn off these tresspassers. It is important to determine if your cat is urinating or spraying, as these behaviors are approached differently. Spraying is generally performed in a standing position with the tail raised, and the urine is deposited on a vertical surface such as a wall or piece of furniture (though it may run down the wall and puddle on the floor). Spraying tends to deposit small amounts of urine as compared to the size of the urine clumps you find in the litterbox. The tail may appear to quiver or vibrate. When your cat is urinating, he will squat and deposit a large amount of urine on a horizontal surface.
Urinating posture - squatting

It is most commonly the male cat that sprays, but it is not unheard of for female cats to spray, also. Spaying and neutering your cats will help prevent this issue in most cats, as the lack of male and female hormones will dull the desire to mark and maintain territory, and the need to advertise sexual availability – which are the primary reasons that cats urine mark. However, about 10% of neutered males and 5% of neutered females also spray. In households with more than seven cats, the likelihood of spraying is high. 

If outside cats frustrate your cat, you may be able to address the problem by discouraging stray cats from visiting your house. A plant called Coleus canina, also known as the “scaredy cat plant” or the “pee-off plant” is a deterrent to cats, dogs and foxes. Coleus plants are those that you often see with brightly colored leaves. This species of Coleus has green foliage and small, spikes of pretty blue flowers in the summer. The plant only smells to the human nose when touched. In Michigan, Coleus plants are annuals, but can easily be propagated and cuttings can be kept in a frost-free place over winter. They prefer a dry, sandy soil and lots of sunlight and should be planted every 1-2 yards for best results.
Coleus canina flower

Cats also hate the smell of the herb rue. It has beautiful blue-tone leaves and tiny yellow flowers. Cats are also usually deterred by the smell of citrus, so placing orange or lemon peel in your yard may help deter strays. Similarly, coffee grounds, blood meal, cayenne pepper, lavender oil, lemon grass oil, citronella oil, peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil can be used near areas where outdoor cats like to hang out.

Avoid feeding birds or squirrels in your yard if your cat is bothered by stray cats.

Motion detectors that trigger sprinklers can be used to deter them from coming onto your property. Additionally, you can discourage your cat from looking outside by closing blinds or shades, or making the windowsill inaccessible. Double-sided tape, tin foil or strips of carpet runner on the sill may also deter your cat. 

Spraying can also result from territorial disputes between cats in the same household. They may need to be separated and reintroduced slowly, using food treats to reward and encourage peaceful behavior. This re-introduction can successfully develop good relations between cats in some cases, even if the spraying has been going on for a long time.

While the presence of other cats, lack of access to prey species or sexual maturity are the most common reasons that cats perform spraying behavior, other causes can be new or unfamiliar scents in the home (such as new furniture, or digging out the Christmas tree from the attic or bringing a live tree into the home) or frustration due to lack of mental stimulation. Often, spraying new items with a pheromone called Feliway can help lessen your cat’s desire to mark. This product mimics the scent of cat cheek gland secretions. Many cats will not spray on areas that have this scent. Increasing the amount of playtime for an under-stimulated cat may help ease frustration.

Behavior-related elimination issues are often addressed with anti-anxiety medications, such as Prozac (fluoxetine), BuSpar (buspirone), Elavil (amitriptyline), and Clomicalm (clomipramine). Anxitane is a neutraceutical (nutritional therapy) supplement of L-Theanine that has also been shown to aid in decreasing anxiety in cats. Medications are useful in helping to decrease behavioral inappropriate elimination, but they should always be used in conjunction with changes to the home or other environmental changes with the goal of hopefully weaning the cat off the medication, if possible.
More information about inappropriate elimination:
Lovin' the Litterbox: Husbandry Reasons Why Your Cat May Not Use the Litterbox
Kidneys and Crystals and Stones, Oh, My! Medical Reasons Why Your Cat May Not Use the Litterbox
Breaking the Cycle of Smell: How to Stop Habitual Elimination Problems


  1. How do you wean your cat off Amitriptoline?

    1. Weaning a cat off Amitriptylene can be a complex situation. Hopefully, if your cat is on the medication because of anxiety or stress with a housemate, you have also been working with your cat to address his or her relationship with the other cats in the house and help form a more positive relationship. If so, and the cats seem to be getting along better, you can try reducing how often you give the medication. If not, then it is a good idea to try a re-introduction of the cats having the conflict (tips here:

      If your cat is on the Amitriptylene for a different reason, there may be other steps to be taken to move your cat past the stressor that is causing the inappropriate urination before you can start trying to decrease the dose.

      Also, make sure to check out your litterbox situation (tips
      If you don't have a great litter set-up, or if YOU think you have a great litter set-up but your cat doesn't love it, your cat may resume urinating outside the box as you decrease the medication.

      Some cats will need medication their whole lives, despite our best efforts, because the source of their anxiety remains undiscovered or unresolved.

      Decisions to try weaning off the medication are very personal for each cat owner and their personal situation, and best decided with the advice of the veterinarian who is most knowledgeable about the particular situation.

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