Feline House-Soiling

House-soiling is one of the most common reasons why pet owners abandon or relinquish their cats. Unfortunately, these cats frequently end up in shelters where they often are euthanized.

House-soiling can be a complex problem to solve, but there are ways to prevent, manage, or resolve feline house-soiling behaviors. Your cat does not urinate or defecate outside the box due to spite or anger towards you, but because its specific physical, social, or medical needs are not being met.

Four Basic Causes of House-Soiling

Environmental and Social Factors

Marking Behavior

Medical Causes and Problems

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis

Treatment and Management of House-Soiling

The design and management of the litter box are critical for encouraging acceptable toileting habits. When house-soiling occurs always evaluate the litter box.

Designing the Optimal Litter Box

Number – The general rule of thumb is to have one litter box for each cat, plus one extra box in multiple locations around your home. Socially affiliated cats, which are two or more cats that are familiar to each other, share a territory, and exhibit behaviors such as grooming, playing, or resting together, may be more willing to share litter boxes. Because more than one social group may occur in a home, providing adequate resources for each group is important to decrease the chance of adverse behaviors.

Location – Take a look at the floor plan of your home and where your litter boxes are located:

Size – In general, bigger is better and many commercial litter boxes are too small. Litter boxes should be 1.5 times the length of the cat from the nose to the base of the tail. Suitable alternatives can include concrete mixing trays or storage containers. You can place the lid behind the box to protect the wall (Photo A). Older cats need a low entry so you can cut down the side but inspect for any sharp edges (Photo B).

Litter – If your cat is exhibiting house-soiling behaviors, you may need to try different types of litter until the cat indicates its preference. For preference evaluation, provide multiple boxes with different litters and variable litter depths (Photo C). Many cats dislike aromatic or dusty litters, litter deodorizers, and box liners. Most cats prefer soft unscented clumping litters.

Managing the Litter Box – Remove waste at a minimum of once per day and add litter as needed. Wash the litter box every 1-4 weeks using soap and hot water only. Avoid strong chemicals or any ammonia-based products.

Remove Marking Triggers

Additional Considerations

Feline house-soiling can be a frustrating problem. Resolution requires patience, as it can take some time to determine what is causing these behaviors and may involve making changes to several aspects of a cat’s home environment and care.

If you are experiencing house-soiling with your cat, please contact your veterinary practice immediately. The sooner these issues are addressed, the happier everyone will be, including your cat. Working with your veterinarian to identify the causative factors for the house-soiling behavior, and effectively addressing those factors, will dramatically increase the chance of resolving the house-soiling issues.

By understanding and providing for your cat’s environmental and medical needs, you can help your cat to live a long and happy life.

You are an important member of your cat’s healthcare team. You can be instrumental in helping with the success of treatments and improved healthcare.