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HELP, my cat is peeing outside of the box! Part 2

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

It is important to take a breath and realize that your cat is not maliciously peeing on your things because they’re mad or hate you. I don’t for one second believe that your cat is spending their evenings plotting against you. Even if funny internet memes would tell you otherwise. What is happening, is your cat is stressed by something and is communicating this with their urine. It might seem like they’re mad at you for not being home much this month and that’s why they're peeing on your clothes but what’s actually happened is that they are scared and stressed because their routines have changed and they’re trying to tell you that by peeing on that soft pile of clothes (that smells like you) on the floor.

Everyone finds these situations exasperating, even me! It’s a tough and oftentimes infuriating thing to live with! I get that, believe me, but getting mad at kitty is not going to help to solve this problem and will probably only make it worse. You can hate their behavior and yet love them to death at the same time! I am also assuming here that getting rid of the cat is not an option for you. I am writing this to the people who want to work with their beloved kitty and find a solution that keeps them home. I’ve tried my best to make my advice here as clear and unambiguous as possible if that comes off as preachy or scolding, I’m truly sorry, that is not my intention at all! The last thing you need is someone telling you a bunch of things that do not apply or advice that just doesn’t make sense. I’m trying to make things easier and clearer, not harder for you! Who needs even more work?!

So, you’ve followed all the healthy litter box rules and it’s still happening, now what…

Now you put on your investigator hat and pay attention to where and what is being hit. Make a pee journal if it helps you to see the pattern. Most likely there is a pattern, but it may not make any sense to you. And it doesn’t have to, cats are going to see things and be sensitive to things that are just not on our radars. They live in and perceive the world differently than us.

A lot of house-soiling advice depends on where it’s happening, therefore I’ve divided it up by category:

Pee on (re)movable objects: Get rid of the target or eliminate access to the target. Like before if the kitty is peeing on dirty clothes on the floor, then the clothes must always be put away in a laundry basket that has a top. This was always one of Chandler’s favorite targets. Instead of the standard low square baskets, I bought the tall rectangular ones with a hinged top. If the target is a bathroom rug, then the rugs come off the floor or the bathroom door needs to be closed at all times. If we know what the target is, leaving it out merely tempts them to hit it again.

I lived without a bathroom rug for many years. I did miss them on those cold winter nights, it would have been nice to have a warm fuzzy rug on my bathroom floor but that was not really an option. My option was either to have a rug with pee on it or don’t have a rug. There was no third option in which I could have convinced him to stop peeing on the rugs. I did figure out that the softness of the rug was directly related to his desire to pee on it. I was able to find a really low pile, not soft almost commercial-grade throw rugs that I could have in the bathroom that he had no desire to pee on whatsoever.

Also, anything that was shaped like a litterbox was in fact a litterbox in Chandler’s world. For example, baskets or Rubbermaid containers (no matter how small), and bowls all counted as pee receptacles. I eventually described it as anything with sides and an open-top was free game.

Pee on wall-to-wall carpeting: Clean with Anti Icky Poo, it is the only urine-eating cleaner out there and is often used to clean up crime scenes, yikes! Then put a nice big uncovered clean litterbox right in that spot, make sure it’s an additional box and not a current one you just moved to that spot. Yes, you may end up with a litterbox smack in the middle of your living room. But your choices here are pee on the carpet or a litterbox in the living room. This doesn’t mean it will be there forever! Over time (months) you can slowly move it to a slightly more desirable location. Like against the wall of the living room, or the corner of the room. You’re unlikely to ever move it out completely of that room. There is probably a very good reason that they need to urinate in that room, maybe another cat is bothering them or blocking them from using the pans in the basement. Maybe they’re getting older and it’s harder to get to the box in time. Maybe they have developed a negative association with their regular box from an illness. It might be something that we just can’t see or understand, something that seems too small and insignificant to us that it would never even occur to us that it was a problem but please believe that something is going on.

Pee on furniture: This is a tough one. Furniture is hard to cut off access to and you generally can’t just put a litterbox on it. One question to ask is there something unique about which pieces of furniture get hit vs ones that don’t? Chandler would on occasion pee on a guest bed and a sofa in my basement. What was interesting is he never once peed on my bed or the sofa in my living room that I sat on every day. I suspect that they did not smell enough like people to dissuade him. Also, I eventually l figured out that he would not pee on the guest bed if it were unmade and “naked”, only when it had sheets and a quilt on it would he pee on the quilt and pillows. If I left it naked, he left it alone. The sofa in the basement which we weren’t using just had to go. Something that I could have done was to cover that sofa with plastic or something that repels liquid. Fabric waterproof covers come made for sofas or beds. For soft furniture items like beds and sofas, your best bet is to cover them while you figure out what the trigger is.

Another question to ask is, was there something additional on the piece of furniture? As an example, I once put a pile of wrapping paper on my dining room table and left it there for a few days. As you can probably predict Chandler peed on the table. I couldn’t just get rid of my table or close a nonexistent door to the dining room. But it was not the table that was the trigger but something that he deemed did not belong on the table. And he wasn’t wrong, I left some stuff out because I was too lazy to put it away and that triggered his house-soiling behavior. I eventually learned that I had about a 12-hour window to put stuff away that did not belong out before he would pee on it. Ultimately, I came to believe that if Chandler had been a human he would have been diagnosed with a severe case of OCD. Things that I left out of place stressed him out and his only means of communicating that to me was to pee on it.

Even if you can’t see a pattern, I would advise you to just try some things and experiment a little. Something is not working for them or else they would not be peeing out of the box, so start changing litter types, or boxes, or where the boxes are. Even if what you’re doing has been working for years and is suddenly not working now. As an example, I had a client who had an older kitty who suddenly stopped using his litterbox. After talking to her for a little bit I discovered that she also had a dog and kept the litterbox in a closet behind a baby gate so the dog couldn’t get to the box. Well her kitty had also just turned 16 and very likely had some arthritis and jumping over the gate was not as easy or pain-free as it had been when he was younger. So, she changed the gate so kitty could crawl under it versus having to jump over and problem solved. She had a setup that worked just fine for 16 years, but life isn’t stagnant right, we age, kitties age, and sometimes we have to make accommodations for them.

Now I’m not saying what worked for Chandler will work for everyone, but it does demonstrate how paying attention and taking notes helped me to understand what his triggers were. Which allowed me to change the environment in ways that would not trigger the house soiling. This comes back to the part where I said: if nothing changes then nothing is going to change. I had to change, for Chandler’s behavior to change. My only other option was to get rid of Chandler and that was just not going to happen, I loved that crazy boy with all my heart.

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