I love cats. I like them laying on my lap and purring when I pet them, I really like when they greet me when I come home, and I can even respect their “on my terms” life philosophy. But I really hate cat urine. I would love cats substantially more if they went outside on a leash and lifted their leg on a tree like a dog. We had a cat who started peeing in a corner of our basement many years ago. I don’t think the first time it was even her fault. She got locked down there accidentally by one of our boys, and I’m sure crossed her legs and did the ‘potty dance’ as long as possible until she had no other choice. The problem was that she kept peeing in that same spot, even after we pulled up the carpet and replaced it with tile to reinforce the fact that her chosen corner was not, in fact, a toilet! But she still kept at it and I became neurotic about keeping her out of the basement until she passed away a few years ago.

Inappropriate elimination (when a cat pees or poops outside the litter box) is a tricky situation and once it has started, can be terribly difficult to stop. Because of my previous experience, when we adopted our new kitty (Gulliver), problematic peeing was definitely on my mind and I did everything possible to prevent a repeat of the situation we had with the basement corner! So any issue, whether seemingly minor or a big problem, is worth addressing as early as possible.

Litter smorgasbord

If your cat is urinating inappropriately, or even if he’s not but you just want to make sure he doesn’t start, the best thing you can do it set up a kitty litter buffet. Think of it as a one-cat science experiment! Purchase some inexpensive litter boxes and multiple types of litter. In one room of your house, put out the various boxes containing different types of litter and let your feline choose his (or her) favorite. Be sure to fill the boxes with at least 2 inches of litter. Some cats prefer clumping litter, some like the natural pellets, some prefer the crystals, but almost all cats DO NOT like highly fragranced litter. I once actually saw an ad for pumpkin spice scented litter! (Gross) I’m certain anyone who purchased said litter soon had a cat that was peeing outside the litter box. Once you figure out which box your kitty uses most frequently, stick to that type of litter. (And you can always donate any excess bags of litter they don’t like to your local animal shelter.)

Goldilocks the litter box

Standard Rubbermaid storage binIt’s also really important to get the type of litter box just right. Most cats hate covered litter boxes, as they are often dark, smelly and too small. Generally, felines prefer large, shallow boxes. Those heavy-duty plastic, under-your-bed storage containers (minus the lid of course!) are perfect. Now I’m going to amaze you with some expert math skills…A good formula for the number of litter boxes you need is ‘x + 1’ (with x being the total number of cats in your household). We have one cat, but two litter boxes, one on each level of the house. And those litter boxes need to be scooped regularly, as in daily regularly, to make sure your kitty has a clean place to go. The boxes should be scrubbed out at least once a month to keep them sanitary and decrease (hopefully eliminate) any odors. Gulliver actually prefers the large, standard Rubbermaid storage bin that we’ve filled with litter. And I love that it has higher sides so he doesn’t get litter everywhere!

Medical problem?

So you have the right litter and the perfect box and your cat is still peeing in a corner of the basement. I know how you feel! It can be really stressful to deal with inappropriate elimination. The next thing you need to do is to visit the vet and make sure your cat doesn’t have a urinary tract infection or some other medical issue. A few weeks after adopting Gulliver, I found a spot in our bedroom where he’d recently peed. I about lost my mind and we actually considered taking him back to the shelter because I did NOT want to deal with a lifetime of scrubbing up smelly cat urine. But my sanity returned with a few deep breaths and I took him to our veterinarian. She checked his urine, and believe it or not, he had a rip-roaring infection! Antibiotics cleared it right up and he’s still a member of the family. So be sure to give your kitty the benefit of the doubt and have them checked out by a professional before you take drastic measures.

Erase the mistakes

Natures MiracleAny areas that have been soiled need to be cleaned excruciatingly well. There’s a product called ‘Natures Miracle’ that neutralizes the urine and is really the only product I use. If the area is carpeted, be sure to pull up the carpet and saturate both the underlay and the carpet itself. After spraying and cleaning, make sure the affected area is completely dry before allowing your feline access. (It helps to set up fans to circulate the air and dry the area faster.) There must be NO trace or smell of urine or your cat is likely to repeat the behavior. If there is, repeat the cleaning and drying process as many times as necessary or seriously consider replacing the section of carpet (and underlay). You can also discourage repeat offences by either putting a litter box or their food directly on top of the spot they’ve been marking. I’m assuming you don’t like to pee at your kitchen table, and cats don’t either! (This isn’t always feasible, but it does tend to help.)

Who’s the culprit?

CatioMale cats and multi-cat households tend to be breeding grounds for inappropriate elimination. A kitty can just see another cat outside in the yard and freak out enough to spray and mark his territory. Male cats like to prove how big and tough they can be by claiming their territory with their urine. (Hmmm…My boys at home must really want me to know the toilets in the house belong to them, because I’m always cleaning their urine off the sides of the bowl and floor in the bathrooms!) The goal is to make your feline friend feel at ease. It can help to close the blinds in areas he might see other cats lurking outside. If possible, have a separate isolated area for each member of the kitty tribe in your household so they can retreat and get some “me time” when they feel the need to be alone. This can be as simple as a room they can call their own, or as fancy as a personal ‘catio’ for some fresh air and seclusion.

Keep things laid back

Because I’m overly paranoid about cat urine, there are many strategies I employ to decrease the likelihood that Gulliver will decide to make my carpet his toilet.

  • Calming Collar – These purple bands look like old-school flea collars and emit pheromones to help your feline feel carefree and happy. They need to be replaced once a month and actually give off a nice smell (at least I think so). An added bonus is that grumpy or bipolar kitties tend to be much more affectionate and sweet when they have these collars!
  • Feliway – These wall plug-ins are a different version of the same concept. They look like the scented plug-ins people buy (this would be a better way to get your pumpkin spice fix) and you replace the liquid about once a month. I have one plugged in our basement where our old cat used to pee to help discourage our cat from getting any ideas. They emit pheromones into the air and make your kitty feel safe and secure, supposedly without a care in the world. I wish they made these for people – I would totally market them to parents of teenagers!

You are what you eat

Kitty water fountainA proper diet is also important for your feline. Hill’s Prescription (Science) Diet makes a type of cat food called ‘C/D Stress’ that helps maintain a healthy ph balance in your feline’s urine so she’s less likely to have crystals or urinary blockages. Plus it includes other natural ingredients like tryptophan (an amino acid) to help your kitty feel good about life.

Cats should also be offered canned food on a daily basis to make sure they’re getting enough liquid in their diet to decrease the incidence of stones or crystals in their urine.

And to get your cat to increase their water intake even more, consider purchasing a kitty water fountain.

When it comes to cats, the more moisture (in their diet, not on the floor), the better!

The big guns

If all else fails (including the suggestions above), there is still hope! Your veterinarian can prescribe Prozac or Xanax to help your cat really chill out. Many felines with inappropriate elimination problems that are stubbornly resistant to change may also have underlying issues with anxiety. These heavy-duty drugs do come with some side effects though, so they should only be used as a last resort under the supervision of your vet.

Inappropriate elimination is the number one reason cats are surrendered to animal shelters. Unfortunately, many of them are put to sleep before they’re given a second chance. If your feline chooses to turn his nose up at the litter box, I advise you try the techniques outlined above to save not only your sanity, but possibly your kitty’s life! Cats are wonderful creatures that provide companionship and love (granted, often on their terms), so we should do everything we can to ensure they’re happy in our care!