If your cat is good about using the litter box and suddenly stops using it, this can be a signal of an underlying medical problem like FLUTD that needs to be addressed immediately. When the core problem is dealt with, the aberrant behavior usually goes away. In this article, we'll assume that physical problems have been ruled out by your veterinarian, and the problem is behavioral in nature.
Stain and Odor Removal
For any fresh urine/stool spots, first, blot with paper towels, then pour either white vinegar or plain seltzer water or club soda on the spot. Let it soak for about ten to fifteen minutes and then blot it up with absorbent towels or paper towels. If the urine has soaked through onto the backing of the carpet, your cat is likely to be able to smell the urine through the carpet and go back to that spot. At this point, best bet is to soak the area thoroughly with an enzyme-based cleaner. Keep the area wet, you want the cleaner to penetrate all the layers and do its thing. Often the cleaner will spread out to the side and not get down where it's needed, so you will need to reapply vigilantly.
If you can, block access to this spot by covering it with some material your cat does not like, such as aluminum foil. This will give the cleaner time to soeak in properly. Sometimes (alas, not always) it is as easy as just blocking access to a preferred peeing spot to stop spraying in that area.
For older urine spots, if you can smell urine but cannot pinpoint the exact area where your cat went, get a black light. It is readily available at most hardware stores as well as at pet stores. When you shine the black light on the suspected area, any urine stains will fluoresce. There can be false positives from saliva, vomit etc. but you can tell the difference based on the amount, location, splatter pattern etc. much like a CSI-type:> Be sure to soak all these areas with an enzyme cleaner/stain remover.
Getting to the bottom of things
Rule out not just physical problems such as FLUTD or locomotor issues e.g. trouble getting in and out of the litterbox (can cut out a U shape in the front of the box if this is the case), but also:
- type of litter – some cats prefer clumping to pellet or crystals, and others like my Trikki lion are okay with #1 in any type of litter but only clumping will do for #2. Some litter scents/perfumes can be off-putting as well.
- Litter box – # of boxes, cleanliness, placement, covered vs uncovered.
[Andrea's Thomas stepping out smartly]
Andrea's Thomas stepping out smartly
If you suspect it's the litter, you can try something like Cat Attract litter; they also have an additive which on my list has not been as much of a hit as the litter itself.
Spraying and Marking
Once you have ruled out medical problems as well as litter box avoidance issues, you're down to spraying/marking behavior. If your cat is soiling certain areas, you can spray Feliway on them as well as use a plug-in diffuser in all non-litterbox areas. For just one specific spot, you can even try feeding your cat there because s/he is less likely to soil in an eating area.
Spraying is pretty unmistakable in two ways:
- Stance - the cat will emit small amounts of urine, and typically have an erect tail with some level of quivering with his/her back up to a vertical surface e.g. a wall or edge of furniture.
- Location - less likely to be in out of the way spots, more likely to be around/on the human whose attentions might be divided among other cats, and/or a rival cat/other animal.
On the other hand, soiling behavior where a cat isn't spraying, but is eliminating outside the litter box, is quite different. In those cases, the cat pees in a squatting position on horizontal surfaces e.g. on a rug/carpet, and there are larger quantities of urine
It can be confusing though because some cats do mark on horizontal surfaces e.g. on clothing. So location and/or target objects can be an important clue as territorial marking can occur with squatting posture.
Flower essences can be very helpful along with Feliway for dealing with situations like this. The challenge is to identify the underlying reason because in some cases the "marker" is the top cat who feels threatened, and in other cases it's a cat lower on the pecking order who marks as that is his/her only voice.
To find the right one or 2 or 3 or 4 remedies, it takes stepping back a bit and really digging deep as to potential cause of (mis)behavior. It is well worth taking the time to read up on individual essences as this will offer a higher chance of success.
Sometimes a cat's past can give clues e.g. in case of a feral cat with trust issues, an addition to the family in any way can dredge these up. Or abandonment issues can resurface when a human leaves on vacation only to find unwelcome gifts upon their return. However, if a cat was an only child, then some new human/other species came along and now (s)he has to jockey for position, there's a very different reason for marking.
Also there is what a cat perceives as enough attention and love as opposed to what we think is a lot. So be cognizant of the fact that some cats just need more TLC than others.
A very common occurrence is where a cat will jump on the bed and mark the human or bed. This is significant. In other words, there's a difference between spraying someplace else in the house when no one's looking (and on some neutral object), and on a human's bed which is definitely not neutral, if that makes sense. With the latter, a cat's enhancing his sense of security. Marking objects/areas around the house is a sneakier type of marking behavior. Scaredy cats or those lower on the totem pole will do this.
If your cat ever sprays in front of you, do not punish him. Also don't tell him off because if he's looking for attention, he'll have found it and take it as reinforcement for the next time he thinks he's not getting enough of your attention. To break the cycle, you should block off access to the bed. If your cat is upset with another animal in the house, do not allow that animal or any other 4-legged one in the room while kicking just him out, or it will exacerbate matters. Limit or disallow everyone's access till you have time to clean the areas peed on, and enough time to give flower essences time to work.
It is possible by blocking access to the room/bed, your cat might go someplace else and mark surreptitiously. He is even more likely to do this if you catch him peeing on your bed, and scream or shout at him. If you know of any other target areas, spray them with a shot of Feliway to be on the safe side.
Eventually, when you do resume access to the bedroom, first of all if you like the smell of lavender, I'd spray all bedding with lavender hydrosol. And the next time your kitty jumps up on the bed, offer some food on that spot to break the association a bit. Plus some extra attention to boot so he doesn't feel he needs to mark to get attention. Positive reinforcement is always a good way to go with cats, dare I say the only way.
Essence selection ideas
Scaredy-cat and/or cat lower on the pecking order - In cases where the initial introductions didn't quite "take", there can be lingering, or rather unresolved issues. Some cats will not show any overt signs of aggression. These are cats who don't usually greet strangers at the door, will hide or disappear into the background. At the same time when they feel like they're chopped liver, they communicate the only way they know how.
A cat like this is not likely to spray so much as leave "presents" around the house to make his presence known. So you might want to think about an essence that will give him more self-confidence e.g. FES essences Sunflower and/or Larch which Bach also makes. In addition, Violet is excellent for cats who seem to get lost in a group where the others have stronger personalities causing these guys to hang back. Meanwhile, they're feeling under-appreciated and unloved.
High-strung cats - Lavender essence is of particular help with high-strung cats. Calming them down can address the marking behavior but would need another essence as well to address specifics of marking.
Mercurial cats - Chamomile is worth a shot fors moody cats i.e. with highs and lows, one day all happy, next day crabby. With these cats, something happens that upsets them causing them to mark e.g. an unwelcome outside cat.
Don't forget to also examine the other cats/animals in the house, and see about giving them something too for their behavior issues (if they have any).
We're barely scratching the surface here, but this should get you started. If you wish to read more details about each remedy, here's a summarized guide from FES (lots more detail in the FES Repertory): http://fesflowers.com/pdf/Choosing_Flower_Essences.pdf
Consistency with behavior modification as well administration of flower essences will give you the best results. Please check out the flower essences article for more information, and remember flower essences need to be diluted (e.g. 2-3 drops in 1 oz of spring water) due to the alcohol content. They can be given internally this way in food or water or via syringe. It can also be spritzed onto bedding and in the air.
If your cat is hard to handle, then incorporate into petting sessions by applying to paw pads and on the tops of the inside of ears where the fur is thin. For the first 4-6 weeks, you should administer essences several (at least 3-4) times a day. Then when you see the desired behavior change, you can cut back to 2x a day for 2-3 weeks, and later to once a day. Once the marking/soiling behavior stops completely and all is well, you can discontinue. If something sets your cat off, and s/he's back to soiling, go back to the above-mentioned schedule.
If you'd like help with a behavioral issue, click here for a consult.