Inappropriate Elimination (Cats)

What is Inappropriate Elimination?
This is a term that means that a cat is urinating and/or defecating in the house but not in the litter box.
What causes it?
After medical causes of these problems have been ruled out, the source of the problem is considered a behavioral disorder. Behavioral causes of inappropriate elimination fall into two general categories:

  • A dislike of the litter box and/or litter

  • Stress related misbehavior (including territory marking or spraying).

What would a cat not like its litter box?
One of the main reasons for this is because the litter box has become objectionable in some way. This usually occurs because it is not cleaned frequently enough or because the cat does not like the material used. The latter is called substrate aversion; it can occur because the litter was changed to a new, objectionable type or because the cat just got tired of the old litter. Cats may also dislike the size or shape of their litterbox. Be sure the cat can easily access the box. Senior cats or small kittens may need a lowentry box. If using a box with a lid, be sure that the cat can stand upright, enter and turn around once inside the box.
What stresses can cause inappropriate elimination?
There are probably hundreds of these, but the more common ones are as follows:

  • A new person (especially a baby) in the house

  • A person that has recently left the house (permanently or temporarily)

  • New pieces of furniture, new drapes, or new carpet

  • Rearrangement of the furniture or litter box

  • Moving to a new house

  • A new pet in the house

  • A pet that has recently left the house

  • A cat in heat in the neighborhood

  • A new dog or cat in the neighborhood that can be heard by the indoor cat

  • A litter box that is not being cleaned frequently enough

  • Some kind of incident that makes a covered box undesirable (cat is too large now, smell, stressed by surroundings or other animals while inside the box, etc)

Can the problem be treated?
Yes, in most cases. However, the treatment is more likely to be successful if several of the following are true:

  • The duration is less than one month when treatment begins

  • There only one or two locations in the house which the cat uses for inappropriate elimination

  • It is possible to identify and relieve the stress-causing situation

  • It is possible to neutralize the odor caused by the urine or stool

  • You have only one cat

What is involved with the treatment?
Most successful treatments rely on a combination of behavior modification techniques and drug therapy.
What are behavior modification techniques and how are they used?
They can be described as Aversion Therapy and Attraction Therapy. The former repels the cat from the inappropriate location, and the latter encourages the cat to choose an appropriate location. The purpose of Aversion Therapy is to make the area of inappropriate urination or defecation undesirable for the cat. There are many ways to do this, but the following steps have been proven successful in a high percentage of cases.

A. A product to neutralize the odor of the urine or stool should be used in places where inappropriate urination or defecation has occurred. If the objectionable location is on carpet, it is necessary to treat the carpet and the pad below because most of the odor will be in the pad. This usually means soaking the carpet with the neutralizing product so it penetrates into the pad. Test an inconspicuous piece of carpet for staining before using any odor neutralizing product.

B. Cover the area(s) with aluminum foil and secure it to the carpet or furniture with masking tape. Aluminum foil is a suface on which most cats will not walk.

C. If the soil in potted plants is being used a few things can be tried to repel the cat:

  • Spray Bitter Apple around and on the pot.

  • Fill an un-penetratable object with moth balls. Poke holes in the container so the smell is apparant.

  • Place orange peels at the base of the plant.

  • Place a bowl of vinegar near the plant

  • Place larger pebbles on top of the soil in the pot. This will deter any digging by your cat.

The purpose of Attraction Therapy is to make the litter box more desirable than the inappropriate site. The following are usually successful:
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A. Purchase a new litter box; even well-cleaned litter boxes have odor deep inside the plastic. It is important to remember that although we like our privacy, some cats find a hooded litter box undesirable.

B. Purchase non-scented clumping litter to start. If your cat has not been using this kind of litter, it will usually find it more desirable than the scented clay types. This increases the chances that the new litter box will be used. In the instance that your cat has a substrate aversion, there may be some trial and error in finding the substrate your cat will use. Fortunately, there are many types of litter to choose from: dirt, sand, pine pellets, newspaper pellets, shredded paper, crystal balls, non-clumping clay, clumping-clay, scented and non-scented of most types...and the list goes on. Once you find something that works- stick with it!

C. Place the new litter box near the area of inappropriate elimination until it is used for several days, then move it 2-3 feet per day back to the desired location.

D. Keep the existing litter box in the normal location in case the aversion therapy causes your cat to return
to it
What drugs are used?
There are several that have been tested. Generally they fall into three categories:

  • Anti-depressant and/or anti-anxiety medication (amitriptyline, buspirone)

  • Tranquilizers, including diazepam and phenobarbital

  • Hormones, including megesterol acetate and medroxyprogesterone acetate

Are these drugs approved for use in cats?
No. All of these drugs were developed for use in humans. However, most have been used on enough cats to give us reason to believe that they are very safe.
Buspirone has gained popularity lately. What's this drug?
Buspirone (trade name Buspar) is an anti-anxiety drug prescribed by physicians; it is a human drug, not a veterinary drug, although it has been used very safely in cats for several years. It has been shown to be effective in a significant number of cats with elimination behavior problems.
What is its success rate?
Its success rate is not 100% but, for the intended purpose, it has been shown to be more effective than many of the other drugs.