Hillary Hart, D.V.M 
Vet with Hart Veterinary
House Call Practice LLC


Feline house-soiling can be a frustrating problem. Resolution requires patience, as it can take some time to determine the cause of these behaviors and may involve making changes to your cat’s home environment and care.  If you are experiencing house-soiling with your cat, first contact your veterinarian immediately to rule out a medical cause. Some common medical causes of feline house-soiling include: infections, feline idiopathic cystitis, arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes, or others.

Urine spraying is a normal part of feline behavior in which a cat marks to leave its scent.

Marking behaviors include: scratching, rubbing, urine spraying, and depositing feces. Unneutered male cats and most unspayed females will mark as part of their sexual behavior. Spaying and neutering dramatically reduces this behavior.

Cats often target items with new or unrecognized smells such as backpacks and shoes. Marking behavior at windows and doors often suggests the perceived threat is coming from outside the home.  Marking in stairways, hallways, doorways, or center of rooms usually indicates stress or threats from inside the home, such as other pets or new people in the household, active children, or remodeling.

By nature, cats are very clean and need adequate unsoiled locations to eliminate, especially in multi-cat households. When house-soiling occurs always evaluate the litter box. The general rule of thumb is to have one litter box for each cat, plus one extra box in multiple locations around your home. Socially affiliated cats, which are two or more cats that are familiar to each other, share a territory, and exhibit behaviors such as grooming, playing, or resting together, may be more willing to share litter boxes. Because more than one social group may occur in a multi-cat home, providing adequate resources for each group is important to decrease the chance of adverse behaviors. In general, when it comes to litter boxes, bigger is better and many commercial litter boxes are too small. Litter boxes should be 1.5 times the length of the cat from the nose to the base of the tail.

You may need to try different types of litter until your cat indicates its preference. For preference evaluation, provide multiple boxes with different litters and variable litter depths. Many cats dislike aromatic or dusty litters, litter deodorizers, and box liners. Most cats prefer soft unscented clumping litters.

Waste should be removed at a minimum of once per day and litter added as needed. The litter box should be washed weekly using soap and hot water only.  Avoid using strong chemicals or any ammonia-based products.

House-soiling may occur your cat has had a negative experience in or near the litter box.  The presence of a more dominant cat near the litter box area may cause a less confident cat to seek out other places for elimination.  Some other causes of house-soiling are: administration of medications near/ in the litter box, family members trapping a cat in the box for any reason, being startled by sudden noises or nearby loud appliances, changes in the primary area where the cat eats, sleeps, and plays.

Avoid placing food and water close to the litter box. Cats usually prefer quiet, private places.  Avoid busy areas of the home and locations where a cat could be cornered in, blocked off, or unable to flee. Keep the litter boxes apart in different locations because your cat considers boxes close to each other one large litter box.

If a cat is toileting away from its box, try placing an additional litter box at the new site (temporarily or permanently) to get the cat using a box again.  In a multi-level home, place a litter box on each level.

If your cat is a senior or has a debilitating medical condition, place a litter box on the level where your cat spends the most time, as it may not be easy for your cat to go up and down stairs each time it needs to use the box. Older cats need a low entry litter boxes.  You can cut down the side of the litter box, but inspect for any sharp edges.  Place the litter box in an area closer to your cat to reduce the distance your cat has to walk.

Clean urine-marked areas to reduce a cat’s habit of refreshing its scent on the marking site. Use a black light (UV) to find soiled areas. Clean affected areas sufficiently (three times the size of the soiled area) with a good quality urine odor and stain remover according to the type of surface that the cat has soiled to remove the odor. Avoid using ammonia-based cleaners, which smell like urine to a cat.

Never punish your cat for house-soiling. Punishment can lead to fear-related aggression, reduces the bond between cat and human, and encourages urine marking in less obvious areas.

Consider using comforting synthetic pheromones such as Feliway® spray on affected areas

After cleaning to reduce the likelihood of re-marking. Use Feliway® diffusers in rooms most frequented by your cat to reinforces your cat’s feeling of security. Ensure that your cat’s environmental and emotional needs are being met.

By understanding and providing for your cat’s environmental, emotional and medical needs, you can help your cat to overcome house-soiling and live a long and happy life.


For the Animals,

Hillary Hart, DVM

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