Feline Inappropriate Urination

Kevin Roeser, DVM and Jennifer Blair, DVM

Inappropriate urination or house soiling can be a challenging issue for cats, their owners, and veterinarians alike. For many cats, the underlying cause of this behavior is multi-faceted, making management more challenging. However, with patience and consistent behavioral modification, most owners can successfully manage this issue long term.

Cats that are exhibiting inappropriate urination should initially have a complete physical examination performed by a veterinarian followed by specific diagnostics that help to exclude an underlying medical cause for the behavior. Recommended diagnostics may include a) a complete urinalysis and culture to rule out infectious or inflammatory causes; b) radiographs (x-rays) +/- an ultrasound to identify stones, masses, or structural abnormalities; and c) baseline blood work to rule out concurrent or underlying diseases.

If these diagnostic tests are normal, our goal will be to address a behavioral cause. Common issues that can result in inappropriate urination include substrate preference or aversion (type of litter), litter box preference or aversion (including litter box type, construction, or size), anxiety, or marking behavior.

Your veterinarian may have you keep a journal of the frequency and location of any inappropriate soiling behavior to help determine which of these issues are playing a role. If possible, try to identify changes in the household that could be triggering the change in litter box habits. Did you recently add another pet or a new baby to the household? Is there a stray cat outside spraying your home or shrubs? Did you start a remodeling project or move into a new house?

Though more specific management recommendations can be advised on a case-by-case basis, the following are general guidelines that may help resolve inappropriate urination.

Improve the Litter Box Environment

1) It is essential to provide an adequate number of litter boxes. Ideally you should provide at least one more litter box than the number of cats in the household. In addition, litter boxes should be scooped daily and cleaned thoroughly every week using soap and hot water.

2) Litter boxes should be placed in inviting areas. It is important to avoid obstructing your cat’s path to the litter box with obstacles such as baby gates, flights of stairs, or closed doors. In addition, avoid placing the box near loud objects such as a washer or dryer.

3) In multiple cat households, position litter boxes in areas that are difficult for one cat to guard. For example, avoid placing a litter box in a room with only one entrance/exit. If this is not possible, several litter box locations are necessary.

4) Litter boxes should be large enough to allow your cat to dig, turn around easily, and bury the excretions. For some cats, this means that standard litter boxes are simply too small. You could try plastic storage bins intended for use under beds or modify larger containers to allow access by cutting a “door” into one of the sides. Both covered and uncovered boxes may be tried, but most cats seem to prefer uncovered boxes. Some cats are terrified of the self-cleaning litter boxes, so alternatives should be offered.

5) Most cats prefer clumping clay litter, though it is a good idea to experiment with other types of litter. Cat Attract litter or litter additive may be tried. Liners are generally discouraged.

Discourage Recurrent Elimination Outside of the Litter Box

1) Thoroughly clean all soiled areas with soap and water, then follow-up with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle or Anti-Icky-Poo to help prevent residual odors that may be perceived by your cat. Avoid ammonia-based cleaners – they can actually contribute to the problem because of the urine-like scent. NOTE: Enzymatic cleaners will typically cause the soiled area to smell worse during the first 24-48 hours after application.

2) For areas that are soiled repeatedly, make the area less inviting by covering it with a food bowl, piece of tin foil, or plastic carpet runner turned upside down so that the small spikes face upward.

3) Some cats gravitate towards soft surfaces such as piles of laundry or bedding for elimination. If this behavior is exhibited, be sure to restrict access to these materials. Closet doors and even bedroom doors may need to be closed.

4) Cats that have a long history of inappropriate elimination may require a period of confinement to re-establish litter box habits. Though each cat should be assessed individually, the typical time of confinement required is proportional to the time that the behavior has been occurring. Generally, cats will need to be confined for approximately 1 week for each month that the behavior has occurred. Your veterinarian will discuss specific confinement plans for your cat.

Decrease Stress

1) Increase positive interactions with your cat and provide behavioral enrichment with interactive and/or foraging toys, trick training, and regular grooming.

2) Provide ample hiding areas as well as cat trees, shelves, or perches placed high up within the cat’s favorite areas.

3) Diffusers containing synthetic pheromones (Feliway) can help to relieve anxiety and promote feelings of security within your cat’s environment. These diffusers plug into a wall outlet and cover approximately 500-700 square feet. Feliway diffusers should be used for at least 4-6 weeks initially and may be safely continued long term if helpful.

4) Some cats are quite stressed if outdoor cats can be visualized through the windows or doors. Self-adhesive window coverings may help eliminate this trigger. The Scarecrow motion-activated sprinkler can also be used to deter stray cats from your yard.

5) Behavioral medications are appropriate for use in cats with chronic inappropriate elimination that is unresponsive to other therapy. Baseline blood work is recommended prior to starting any behavioral medication, and regular monitoring (every 6-12 months) is recommended. Please consult your veterinarian for more information and recommendations regarding these medications.

6) Avoid punishment at all costs – punishment rarely results in improvement in symptoms and can damage the trusting bond between you and your cat.

Inappropriate urination in cats can be a difficult problem to manage. With a little diligence and patience, there are plenty of ways to get your cat thinking inside the litter box.

Employee Spotlight: Jennifer Blair, DVM, CVA, CVFT

Each month, we will spotlight one of our team members in order of years of service at St. Francis Animal Hospital.

Dr. Jennifer Blair began working at St Francis in December 1999 as a Veterinary Assistant. After receiving her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in May 2002, she was hired as an Associate Veterinarian and went on to purchase the practice in December 2006. In the past three years, she is proud to have expanded St Francis’ services to include Integrative Services and Hospice & Palliative Care Services.

Jennifer’s professional interests include geriatrics, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), hospice/palliative care, and pain management, as well as internal medicine and preventative care. She is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA) and a Certified Veterinary Food Therapist (CVFT). She is continuing her studies at the Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine in Reddick FL to earn her Certified Veterinary Chinese Herbalist (CVCH) and Certified Veterinary Tui-Na Practitioner (CVTP) certifications.

She shares her home with her cats, Neve, Whitney, and Raven. In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys traveling, dancing, music, reading, writing, and spending time with family and friends.

Why do you love being a veterinarian?

As a veterinarian, I get to spend my days doing work that I love – caring for animals and building relationships with the humans that love them. As a general practitioner, I find great joy in caring for an animal throughout his or her life, from the eight-week puppy or kitten visit to the time we say goodbye as they cross the Rainbow Bridge. As a specialist, I am honored to provide additional therapies such as acupuncture or herbal therapy to help alleviate pain or anxiety or provide palliative care for patients with terminal conditions. I love being a veterinarian because each day I get to go to work and make a difference in someone’s life.

Why do you love working at St. Francis Animal Hospital?

I love working at St Francis because we have an exceptional team of veterinarians, technicians, and assistants who work together to provide the very best care for our patients and our clients. Everyone is always striving to learn more and to be on the cutting edge of patient care, allowing us to offer unique services such as massage therapy, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, laser therapy, behavioral training, and hospice/palliative care. Every day, I have the honor to work with dedicated, knowledgeable, caring and compassionate individuals who share my goal of providing excellent veterinary care to the pets in our community --- it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Acupuncture Case Study: Koda

Koda is a 12 year old female spayed Shih-Poo who initially came to St Francis Integrative Services in April 2018. She had been diagnosed with both liver disease and kidney disease and had struggled with intermittent gastrointestinal issues (vomiting/diarrhea). Her owners were hoping that acupuncture would be a way to provide comfort care.

We have been providing acupuncture to Koda every 1-3 weeks since that initial visit.

Her kidney and liver disease have remained stable, she is eating on most days, and has even done some running and playing.

Koda shares her time between Minnesota and Arizona and now has an acupuncturist in both locations. She loves her spa days and we love to see a spring in her step.

We often think of acupuncture only for the management of chronic pain. However, it is very beneficial in providing support to patients with any chronic disease, especially those with kidney disease. In our experience, patients receiving acupuncture feel better --- they tend to eat better, maintain their hydration, and are more active and engaged with their owners.

Acupuncture has been practiced in China in both humans and animals for thousands of years. Acupuncture involves the insertion of small, thin, sterile needles into specific points in the body to cause a therapeutic change to occur. In addition to dry needling, electroacupuncture (pictured here), aquapressure, acupressure, and hemoacupuncture may be used.

To learn more about acupuncture and its benefits for your pet, please contact us at (651) 645-2808.

News Briefs


Thank you so much for voting us ‘Best Place For Pet Care’ in the Lillie News 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards and ‘Neighborhood Favorite’ on Nextdoor. We are so grateful to you!

Pet Loss Library

We offer a pet loss library at St Francis Integrative Services. If you need any resources to help you with the loss of a loved one, please reach out to us at (651) 645-2808.

Everything DiSC

Our team recently participated in DiSC training to learn how our personality type affects our communication with others. This is yet another way we are always striving to be the best!