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House-soiling cats: How to stop the problem

According to the National Council Pet Population, 72% cats surrendered to animal shelters the United States are euthanized and the primary reason cited for them being relinquished is house-soiling.

The first step in resolving a house-soiling problem is to schedule an appointment as soon as you notice a problem because the longer the problem goes unaddressed the less likely it can be resolved.  The two main reasons for house-soiling are typically founded in behavioral or medical conditions.  Many of these cats, when they are evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist, are often diagnosed with medical problems as well.  A medical workup may reveal bladder stones, arthritis, bladder infection, bladder inflammation, or intestinal parasites.  Some cats can develop life-threatening urinary obstructions, mostly in male cats because their owners believe that their cat is acting out by not using the litter box.

First, know that it is important to understand the difference between marking/spraying and urinating.   Marking or spraying cats tend to stand upright and back up next to a wall or piece of furniture and eliminate a small amount of urine on vertical surfaces.  When cats actually urinate, they squat and urinate large amounts of urine on horizontal surfaces. 

Marking can be further divided into two categories: sexual, which is seen in unneutered cats, and reactionary, which is seen in neutered cats. Cats should be neutered or spayed at 6 months of age to help prevent sexual marking as well as other medical conditions.  Reactionary marking can be caused by a plethora environmental factors from new pets or people in the house, new furniture, backpacks with outside scents, and electronic equipment that can change the temperature; such as a toaster or stereo. 

Marking by an exterior door or window may be caused by another cat outside versus marking in the interior of the house which is caused by a stressor within the house.  Marking can also be caused by medical conditions like a bladder stone or stress, therefore, it is very important to take your cat to your veterinarian to rule out potentially life-threatening medical conditions.

It is important to stay positive and patient and not to physically or verbally punish the cat after a house soiling incident this only will increase stress and may cause the cat house soil-more.

Cats tend to house-soil the same areas over and over.  Over time the urine odor will dissipate so the cat will continue to mark the area to keep the odor consistent.  Therefore, it is extremely important to thoroughly clean the area with commercial natural enzyme-based cleaners that naturally degrade the urine odor.  Do not clean the area with household chemical cleaners because they may decrease the effectiveness of the enzyme-based cleaners.  Also, avoid ammonia-based cleaners because they smell like urine.

Pheromone treatment may work in up to 90% of cases to reduce or stop the urine marking.

As a last resort, some of these cats may need medications to help reduce or stop the urine marking.  Ask your veterinarian about medication or for a treatment plan.

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