Short guide to Feline Elimination Problems

Surrounded by their own familiar scent, cats feel secure, calm and confident in the home environment. Take away a familiar object or add an unfamiliar object and the scent pattern is disturbed.

Feline inappropriate elimination
This is one of the most common behaviour complaints representing 30% to 60% of behavioural problems. If not resolved it often leads to rehoming, relegation outside the home, abandonment, or euthanasia and has a huge impact on feline-human relationships.


It is important to differentiate between spraying and inappropriate urination. The two represent completely different behaviours and hence, require different treatments. Spraying occurs on vertical surfaces such as windows and doors, and is a marking behaviour observed in both male and female cats. Inappropriate elimination occurs on horizontal surfaces and can involve both urine and stool.
In all cases, it is imperative that medical diagnoses are made and medical conditions eliminated before proceeding to behaviour therapy. Even when a medical diagnosis is made behaviour problems can arise as a result of the medical condition.

What stresses can cause inappropriate elimination?

There are probably hundreds of these, but the more common ones are as follows:

• Medical problem

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

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

• New furnishings (i.e., carpet, drapes, furniture)

• Rearrangement of the furniture

• Moving to a new house

• A new pet in the house

• A pet that has recently left the house

• A new cat in the neighbourhood that can be seen by the indoor cat

• A cat in heat in the neighbourhood

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


The first step in dealing with house soiling is to rule out underlying medical problems. Lower urinary tract infections and bladder stones are common medical causes of urination outside of the litter tray. It may be observed as an increase in frequency of urination, straining, vocalisation, or even blood in the urine. Other problems that can lead to inappropriate urination include: pain that prevents access to the litter tray (for example, arthritis), diarrhoea, kidney failure, constipation, and diabetes.


Spraying is a 100% normal behaviour in cats, representing a form of communication between them. Neutering is the most effective way of stopping unwanted spraying behaviour – effective 90% of the time in males and 95% of the time in females. Early neutering at the age of four/five months is recommended, not only to prevent the spraying behaviour from developing, but also to protect the future health of the cat.

By targeting your bed or clothing, your cat is trying to get close to you to say, "I'm stressed!"

In multi-cat households, stress related spraying can be diminished by creating different areas for food, water and litter trays. A spraying cat may be provoked by free-roaming neighbourhood cats. Keeping the cat away from windows and doors, or blocking this view, may help to keep stray cats out of sight. It is also helpful to remove urine from surfaces outdoors with an enzymatic cleaner and remove anything that would attract outdoor cats, such as food and water.


What are behaviour 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, and the following steps have proven successful in a high percentage of cases.

1. A product to neutralise the odour of 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 odour will be in the pad. This usually means soaking the carpet with the neutralising product so it penetrates into the pad. In some cases, the carpet or carpet padding may need to be replaced.
Don't reach for the bleach! Bleach contains ammonia or chlorine and both are found in urine. The area will smell clean to us but a confused cat will only want to over-mark the spot.

2. Cover the area(s) with aluminium foil (a surface on which most cats will not walk) and secure it to the carpet or furniture with masking tape.

3. If the soil in potted plants is being used, place a lavender or lemon-scented air freshener at the base of the plant. This will usually repel the cat.

4. Limit access to the area where the cat inappropriately eliminates. Alternatively, you can place the litter tray in the area preferred by the cat, and once use has become consistent, the tray can be gradually moved to the desired location.

5. The use of a phenomenal spray containing facial pheromones in an alcohol base (such as Feliway) can help deter some cats from urinating in particular locations. It is thought that this delivers a message of "peace and love" rather than the angry "keep away" message of territorial urine-marking. The use of natural flower essences may also help.

6. Clean the litter tray at least once daily. Washing it thoroughly on a weekly basis. Don’t use a strong smelling disinfectant, and rinse the tray well after washing it. The litter tray should be cleaned more often and if using a covered tray, the cat may prefer the cover be removed.

7. If you catch your cat in the act of urinating or defecating outside of the tray, use a remote correction. This means doing something to startle. It is best if the cat does not associate you with the correction, but thinks it 'comes out of the blue.'

8. Punishing is counter-productive. The cat will only learn to avoid the owner and may even become more anxious which could increase the problem

The purpose of attraction therapy is to make the litter tray more desirable than the inappropriate site. The following are usually successful:

1. Purchase a new litter tray; even well-cleaned litter trays have odour deep in the plastic.

2. Try switching to a sandier, unscented litter (Many cats do not like the scented kind), and a milder cleanser that is free of ammonia. Use different litter types until the cat is happy and at ease using the tray.

3. Place the new litter tray near the area of inappropriate urination until it is used for several days, and then move it 2-3 feet (0.7-1 m) per day back to the desired location.

4. Some cats may not like where a tray is located. It may be located too close to their food or water. It may be in a high traffic area where they cannot have privacy. It may be in an area where they can be easily ambushed by another cat. It may be on a different level of the house than where they spend most of their time.

5. Place numerous litter trays around the house. The golden rule being: the number of litter trays in the household should be at least equal to the number of cats, with the addition of one or two extra.

6. Keep the existing litter tray in the normal location in case the aversion therapy causes your cat to return to it.

7. Try different depths of litter. Many people put too much litter in the tray. Some cats like only a small amount and vice versa.

8. Feed the cat where she is inappropriately eliminating. Many cats will not urinate or defecate in the area in which they are fed.

9. Take your cat to the tray frequently, and if she uses it, praise her, or even give her a treat.

10. In general, extra reassurance and attention helps; try to create some extra time for play.

There are a few effective home remedies that work well in removing cat urine odours. What seems to work for one person doesn't work for another. Perhaps this is because different urine-soaked surfaces require different methods or solutions. Most people try dozens of things before finding something that does the job and agree that bleach, perfume-based products, and ammonia-based products do not work and likely to make the problem worse.

Here are a few home remedies that some people have found useful (I have not tried them all myself!):

Lavender and citron smells normally repel cats, so cleaning products with the essences or simply water with these essences in may help.

Vinegar and Baking Soda - First soak up as much of the urine as you can, and then soak the area with a mixture of 1/3 cup of white vinegar with 2/3 cup of water and a little soap. With a clean rag, soak up any excess liquid pressing firmly and repeatedly until dry. Repeat this process using fresh water, and then use another rag to soak up the remaining liquid. After this, sprinkle some baking soda on the area and vacuum up in 24 hours.

Listerine Mouthwash - A number of people claim this helps eliminate cat urine odours when a few drops are added to your water & vinegar solution. It can also be mixed with just hot water and dabbed on the area. Most likely this is because of the amount of alcohol in Listerine.

Do use a warm solution of biological detergent on the affected area. When this has dried, a quick scrub with a little surgical spirit (or other alcohol) should finish the job.

After cleaning, if possible, restrict access to the affected areas. This can be done in many ways, by simply closing the door on the room concerned, blocking access to the affected area or placing obstacles such as aluminium foil paper around the area (cats traditionally don’t like walking on this but you can experiment with different textures!)

As you can see, the issue of cleaning cat urine is complicated and there are no easy answers or quick fixes. You must be willing to consistently balance preventative measures with adequate cleaning methods and know that your efforts will resolve the problem with time and persistence.

I started looking into Cat Behaviour more deeply as many owners surrender thier cats to refuges or simply abandon them, because they cannot cope with behaviour problems.

There is no one-stop solution for all, and ruling out medical reasons at the very start is essential.

Gaining the advice of a cat behaiourist as soon as possible afterwards, also helps.

I have heard of some people living with inappropriate elimination problems for years before saying enough is enough! These problems generally take more time to solve, but even then, all is not lost.

Basic understanding of the cat's natural behaviour is key, in many cases, owners make the situation worse! Cats are extremely sensitive creatures, once they start spraying, the owners gets tense, which in turn makes the cat more stressed, and so the circle begins.

Thank you, Lynn!

Although I have never experienced any of those mentioned problems with my own cats, I am fully aware that they exist and cause a lot of stress and upsets amongst their owners. I fully agree that any medical reasons should be ruled out first!

I also think that keeping cats under as natural conditions as possible can make a difference in their behaviour! After seeing how much my cats enjoy their freedom and their natural rythm (getting up at 4.00 a.m. and spending most of the night outside during the hot summer months), I doubt that I would ever want to have a cat that is confined indoors all the time.