cat chatter head


You want to address the problem promptly. Do not let this continue for weeks or months.  The longer you wait, the more embedded in the cat’s behavior this will become.  You also need to know who the culprit is if you live in a multi-cat household.  For urine marking, you can use fluorescein stain, the same dye your veterinarian uses to find corneal ulcers.  See your veterinarian for the supplies.  You place 4 to 6 strips of the fluorescein paper in a plain gelatin capsule and give it to your suspect.  Then you check your house (carpet especially) with a black light for the next 3 or 4 days and see whether anything fluoresces.  If not, move on to the next suspect.  For stool, grind up one or two orange or yellow crayons and feed them mixed into canned food to your suspect. Check the stool which you find out of the litter pan for the next one to two days for crayon specks.  You also can separate the cats to try to identify the culprit.  Confine one cat to a room for several days and see if the problem stops.

Once you have found your culprit, do NOT punish him.  It only increases his anxiety and teaches him to be more secretive.  Do NOT rub his nose in it!  This is a myth!  But DO make an appointment with your veterinarian since many cases of house soiling are caused by medical issues.  It would help if you took a urine sample with you.  Collect urine by isolating the suspected cat in a bathroom with a litter pan with a thin plastic bag (like a dry cleaner bag) patted completely over the litter.  Wait up to 12 or 14 hours or more. Hopefully, the cat will hop into the litter pan, feel the litter through the bag, and urinate on top of the plastic.  Pour the urine into a clean, dry container and refrigerate.  This type of sample is fine for any testing other than culture.

Next, address the management of your litter pans.  Are they clean enough?  Are you scooping the pans daily?  Washing them once a week?  If you are using liners and covered pans, get rid of the liners and lose the lids.  Is your litter soft underfoot?  Is it too heavily scented?  Are you using enough litter?  Are the pans themselves large enough?

The next step is to play detective.  What are the circumstances?

Is there a particular surface on which your cat prefers to eliminate?  If the cat is using soft surfaces, you may be able to modify your litter to match it.  Use a softer litter like Ever Clean ES, sand, or even a carpet remnant in the litter pan.  If the cat is using hard surfaces, maybe use a very large litter pan (like a large cement mixing tray) with a small amount of litter.  You also can try a “litter cafeteria” approach.  This is like consumer preference testing. You isolate the cat from the other cats and fill 4 or more litter pans with different types of filler – two different kinds of clumping litter, potting soil, and sand, for example.  Let your cat “vote.”  See which one he prefers.  Then during week 2, you use the winner from week 1 plus two or three new fillers.  You can try shredded newspaper, paper towels, and baby diapers.

Is there a certain location he prefers?  Put a pan in the preferred location. “But I don’t want a litter pan in my dining room!” you may say.  That’s understandable, but consider that you are negotiating with the cat.  Once he’s using the pan in the new location reliably (say 2 weeks or more), gradually move the pan a few inches a day to the desired location. If this is a very young or very old cat, you may need to live with the pan in the cat’s location at least for a while.

Is another cat terrorizing the cat while he’s in the litter pan?  You need to study the dynamics in your household to see if this is a likely scenario. If so, use a pan with a 360 degree view, not a covered litter pan.  Or use multiple pans in different areas.  The bully cat can’t be in two places at once!  I had this situation in my house.  Rufus, a rather timid cat, began to use the dining room for his toilet.  We observed that Tabitha, a fairly assertive that's my tailcat, liked to sit at the top of the stairs near the entrance to our library where the litter pans are located.  We watched as Tabitha, like Cerberus guarding the entrance to Hades, challenged Rufus when he had to use the pan.  He was too timid to face her, so he started to use the dining room.  The solution? A pan in the dining room.

Is your cat telling you he hates the litter?  He may cry, refuse to cover his waste, perch on the edge of the pan, or eliminate near the box.  Be sure your pans are clean. Maybe your pans are too old and, despite washing, are holding too much odor. If your cat is super fastidious, consider an electric litter pan.  It is always clean!  Maybe the pan itself is the offender – too small or too high.  Try different things for litter pans.  A low-sided storage container for gift wrap may work well for a low-sided pan.  A cement mixing tray works well for chunky cats.  You may need to add litter pans.  Remember the rule of thumb – one litter pan per cat plus one. Extra pans increase the amount of litter available.



What if your cat is spraying urine?  You need to identify the culprit. You can use the fluorescein dye method discussed earlier. If the cat is not altered, take care of that first.  Try to identify what triggered the spraying. Look for the source of anxiety. When did it start?  Did it start when someone moved in or out?  When a new pet arrived?  With the start of lower urinary tract disease?

Look at where the spray is found.  If it is beside windows or doors, look for an outside cat hanging around.  You can try motion detectors (like the Scarecrow – that trigger sprinklers or noise.  Or you can block your cat from seeing the interloper by using opaque contact paper on windows or patio doors.

Are there territorial disputes within your house?  These will usually involve the boldest and the most timid cats.  If you have more than 6 cats, consider dividing them into two groups with doors between the groups.  Divide up the bullies.  Or you can separate the aggressor for a week or more and then slowly reintroduce him by feeding the cats successively closer to each other.  Or you can try giving the marking cat his own space for some time each day.  If you cannot separate the cats, you can alter the environment to let them avoid each other more.  This includes using more vertical space such as shelves, perches, and climbing trees.  There also is a commercial product called Feliway on the market.  This is a synthetic version of the cat “friendly” pheromone that cats use when they cheek rub.  It is available as a spray and as a diffuser.  This may help the insecure cat feel more reassured.  If the cat has a conflict with a particular person, you could have that person feed the cat.  Experts also recommend keeping the anxious cat indoors because outdoor access often triggers urine marking.

Discuss with your veterinarian using an anti-depressant medication for your cat.  Spraying is more responsive to anti-anxiety drugs than are other types of house soiling.  But medication is only part of the solution.  You also need to address the social issues such as the social grouping that have led to the spraying behavior.  The main drugs used at this time are amitriptyline, clomipramine, fluoxetine, diazepam, and buspirone. All of these drugs have problems with dosing, administration, and side effects.  I have discussed this last because this is a difficult area.  The pet may be very sleepy for the first few weeks on medication and the owner may feel guilty that he is “drugging” his pet.  Once the initial induction period is complete, the pet will be much more like himself.  Medication will help with the problem but it may not eliminate it.

You may want to consider placing the pet in a new home.  Sometimes these cats do well in a new home and do not spray.  They are away from the other cats or the person they conflicted with.  Sometimes with a new diet and more to do they do very well.



Cats live in a world dominated by scent to an extent that is difficult for humans to understand. Most experts, therefore, recommend that you clean the affected areas thoroughly with enzyme-based cleaners to remove all scent cues which may prompt the cat to return to the scene of the crime.  These cleaners include Vet Strength Outright (my personal favorite), Nature’s Miracle, Anti-Icky-Poo, The Equalizer, and Urine-Off.  You may need to clean the area three or four times with drying times in between to remove all odor.  You may even need to inject the cleaner through the carpet.  If the underlying floor is damaged and soaked, you may only have success if you remove the carpet, carpet pad, and wood floor – the surgical approach.  Some of my clients only have had success after the carpet was removed.  Once you have cleaned thoroughly, keep frequently sprayed objects and any new objects out of the area.

You also can place objects which discourage the cat from getting to the area which he soils – several solid air fresheners (especially citrus), heavy builder’s plastic, sandpaper, contact paper sticky side up, carpet runner with nubs up, aluminum foil, or a Scat Mat (see or try pet supply stores). You also can use a motion detector to keep the cat out of the area. Radio Shack sells a small one for about $25 that works well with cats (cat. no. 49-425). Some of these tips are aimed at changing the texture of the surface.

You can try to change the significance of the soiled area.  Feed the cat on the preferred spot, for example.

You can close the area off.

You can try to catch him in the act.  Put a bell on him so you know where he is.  If you catch him as he starts to eliminate, startle him with water from a water pistol or plant sprayer or shake a jar of pennies.  Try to stay in the background as if the environment punished him.

DO NOT PUNISH the cat.  Do not even scream at him.  If anxiety is the cause of his house-soiling, it will only make things worse.



House soiling is a common and frustrating problem.  It is best to try to see it from the cat’s point of view.  Usually anxiety is the root of the problem.  In my experience, the top reasons are a dirty pan and/or poor location.  Other top contenders are pans which are too small and multi-cat households with social stresses.  Medical issues often are lurking in the background, as well.

Many people may not understand why you would want to keep a cat who house soils.  Many times additional stress comes from a spouse who is screaming at you because the cat is house soiling.  But now you have a plan of attack.  Many cat owners are highly motivated to solve the problem and play the game of chess.  The cat makes a move, you make a move, and the cat makes another move!


© Jean B. Townsend, VMD, 2/25/06,
© Revised, Jean B. Townsend, 6/11/08.




Excellent, comprehensive website about cats and behavior.

Behavior pamphlets available on line as well as information on vaccines, senior care and medical disorders.

The Ohio State Veterinary College behavior website.

Training information and products.






Links to return to

Part One -
Why cats miss the litter pan


Links to return to

Part Two -
Decision analysis for causes of housesoiling in cats






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