Feline Inappropriate Elimination

Inappropriate Elimination refers to depositing urine and/or feces outside of the litter box for reasons other than for marking purposes. There are 4 primary reasons for inappropriate elimination in cats:

  • Surface Preference - Development of alternate surface material preferred over the provided litter material. Kittens develop these preferences at several weeks of age and these preferences can be very difficult to change. Preference for soil, sand, granular vs. clumping litters, paper, etc. can occur. Alternate surface preferences can also occur secondary to aversion (discussed later). If a cat turns away from its current litter choice for some reason (pain, frightening event surrounding the litter box, poor cleaning habits, etc.) it can develop other preferences to replace the original one. Sometimes providing a choice among several litter types at one time (a litter "buffet") may provide a clue as to the type of litter the cat prefers.
  • Location Preference - In addition to finding a preferable type of surface material, cats can also develop a location to eliminate which it finds more acceptable than the provided one. Cats who are timid may rather eliminate in a secluded area such as a closet while other personality types could care less. Offering multiple litter boxes in various locations may help in determining a preferred location.
  • Surface Aversion - Certain surface materials may be found to be objectionable to certain cats. A dirty litter box, pain associated with a urinary tract infection or after declaw surgery and the use of liners or a covered litter box may cause a cat to retreat from consistent use of its box. Better cleaning habits, trying a variety of litters and various types of boxes may allow you to find a more suitable combination.
  • Location Aversion - Litters boxes placed in areas in which the cat may associate with a negative event may cause the cat to avoid that location. The hallmark for diagnosis is to take the same litter box and place it in a different area. If this is a location problem, the cat will begin to use the box in the new spot. Litter boxes in a high traffic area or near a load piece of machinery such as a furnace may cause an aversion wit the development of a secondary location preference.

Other treatment suggestions for treating an elimination problem includes cleaning the urine spots with an odor eliminator, covering the spots with furniture, changing the function of the area by turning it into a feeding or resting location. 

Feline Marking Behavior

As mentioned in the article on Feline Inappropriate Elimination, Elimination Disorders in cats can occur for two broad reasons. One is Inappropriate Elimination which is, essentially, the cat finding a more appropriate place (from its perspective) to eliminate. 

The other reason for an Elimination Disorder in cats is marking behavior. In this case it is not about the biological or physical needs to void waste material, but rather a need for the cat to communicate. The need to diagnose and distinguish Inappropriate Elimination from Marking is critical because, in the case of Inappropriate Elimination, the behavior is managed by trying to reacclimate the cat to a more suitable (for the owner) litter situation. However, with Marking behavior, the cuase is commionly some relationship issue in the household. Cats deposit urine in marking behavior as a means of communication. They are depositing "Pheromones". These are chemicals found in urine and in secretions from skin glands found in variousareas of the body (face, tail, paws, etc). So, when treating Feline Marking Behavior (which is a normal behaivor in cats but just not suited for most domesticated settings) the relationships between cats and people in the home need to be explored.

Feline Marking is characterized by:

  • Urine spots found on multiple surface types (not just on carpet or rug, for example)
  • Urine deposited commonly on vertical surfaces such as walls, furniture, etc. Some cats will horizontally urine mark by placing urine on personal items such as clothing, suit cases, beds, etc. Note: Domestic cats rarely, if ever, mark with stool. So, if you are finding stool outside the litter box it is likely NOT a marking problem.
  • Cat uses the litter box normally for most urine and stool eliminations. 

Treatment Options:

  • Provide alternate methods of marking. This can include scratching posts placed in areas where you are finding urine marks and any area where the cat tends to spend a lot of time. You can also provide items such as Cat-A-Combs, which are brushes which can be placed on the corners of walls for the cat to facial mark.

  • Explore relationship issues such as aggression between cats within the home or between the cat that is marking and potential exposure to outdoor cats coming around your property.
  • Use of synthetic pheromone sprays, such as Feliway or Comfort Zone, which act to provide synthetic pheromones to decrease the need for the cat to deposit its own pheromones in these areas. 
  • Medication. The appopriate use of anti-anxiety medication in marking cases can be VERY effective at reducing the degree of marking in cats safely and effectively. At times these medications can be used temporarily while the other household issues are corrected. At other times these become lifelong treatments. Having your veterinarian perform blood testing prior to and after beginning medicaiton can help decrease the chances of rare medical problems with these medications. More commonly we can see less severe side effects such as mild sedation and decreased appetite which can be corrected with a change in dose.