Inappropriate Urination in Cats

Urination in cats – when does it become a problem?

Urination is a very natural and necessary behaviour for cats as it is for humans, but, according to the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors analysis of feline behaviour problems, 55% of cases in 2012 were due to urination on vertical and horizontal surfaces. So why does a natural and necessary behaviour in cats become such a problem for humans and when does it become a problem for the cats themselves?

My cat has started urinating in inappropriate places. What can I do?

This cat is urinating normally in a litter tray

This cat is urinating normally in a litter tray

A cat will relieve itself by squatting and urinating usually onto loose earth or into litter trays and it generally causes little concern. However, it may become a concern to you if your cat begins to empty its bladder in the soil surrounding the Yucca plant, on a newly washed duvet or into that handy hole in the bath or sink. For your cat this is natural behaviour, as the earth around the Yucca is no different to the earth in the garden and it is a bit chilly out there at this time of year! The fluffy duvet feels squishy beneath the paws and your cat might simply associate that squishy feeling with the relief of going to the toilet and can’t help itself. The sink and bath have a very handy hole for the urine to drain away into, thus keeping the paws dry and it does have that familiar smell of urine about the place.

In these scenarios it is more of an issue for you. However, if you started to stalk your cat every time they began to look for a place to urinate and were armed with a water pistol, then this is likely to cause an increase in stress for your cat and may result in an increase in urination. One way to address this would be to simply encourage your cat to urinate in more appropriate places, such as offering extra litter trays and a specific dug over area in the garden.

If on the other hand, your cat’s normal behaviour changes and they suddenly begin to urinate inside the house, or are no longer using their litter tray, then you need to understand why. The first stop is a trip to your vets to check for underlying medical reasons such as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease; a term used to describe the many conditions that affect the lower urinary tract of cats, so that this is ruled out or treated.

If your cat has been given the all clear, or has been successfully treated but still continues to urinate in areas you feel are unusual, then you may be referred to a clinical companion animal behaviourist.

There are many reasons that cause changes in urination behaviour such as…

  • The perceived threat of a neighbouring cat
  • The appearance and stress of a newly introduced kitten or human baby
  • Negative associations with the litter tray
  • The pain of urination
  • A change in litter type

Even when these stressors have been addressed, your cat may continue to use these areas due to habit and the lure of the lingering smell of urine. The behaviourist will work with you and your vet to establish the underlying reasons for the change and discuss ways to help modify your cat’s behaviour and reduce any related stress.

My cat has started spraying in the house. Why is this and what can I do?

If your cat suddenly starts spraying closer to or at home, it may signal anxiety

If your cat suddenly starts spraying closer to or at home, it may signal anxiety

The same goes for urinating onto vertical surfaces (spraying). Spraying is a normal behaviour used in scent signalling by both entire and neutered male and female cats. Your cat will back up to a chosen vertical surface, raise their hindquarters and squirt a small amount of urine, usually accompanied by a quiver of the tail. As with bladder urination, this is generally a normal behaviour for a cat but may become an issue for you, especially if you are a fastidious gardener, if your cat begins to spray against the box hedge topiary causing it to turn brown or the paint begins to peel off the picket fence! But when does it become an issue for your cat?

If you notice a change in your cat’s urination habits, you should contact your vet for advice

If you notice a change in your cat’s urination habits, you should contact your vet for advice

If your cat suddenly and out of character begins to spray closer to or within the home area, it may be an indication that your cat is feeling anxious. Has a new cat moved into the area? Are the neighbours building a new extension? Have you just brought home a new puppy, kitten or baby? A visit to your vets for a referral to a clinical companion animal behaviourist may be advised and they will work with you and your vet to understand why your cat may be feeling anxious and suggest ways to help them cope better.

Thus, a sudden change in the frequency and placement of normal cat urination and spraying is a likely indication that something may have changed emotionally for your cat.

Any use of aversive techniques such as spraying your cat with water or getting cross and stalking it around the house is only going to make things worse and may cause further problems, so seek help from your vet as soon as possible.