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Why is cat urinating in the house?

Species: Cat
Breed: Domestic short hair
Age: 1-2 years
Hi Dr. Marie,

Recently, my one cat Habibi has started urinating outside of the litter box. It has been happening for about a month, but generally only once or twice a week. I know it's Habibi because my roommate keeps catching him do it, and he acts more cooly toward me than my other cat does when I return home. The problem is, he pees right outside of the litter box, either on the litter-catching mat or the rug underneath the mat/box Once, he peed on our kitchen rug, but I was watching him do it and stopped him.

It seems to happen when I need to leave the house, and especially if I need to be gone all day or overnight. The cats are never alone overnight, though, because my roommate is here if I'm not. She doesn't let them in her room, though, and they're usually allowed in mine.

The only things I can think of that maybe relate are (1) the fact that I was home much more frequently during May and June because of a work schedule change and a month off of school, and (2) they seem to get very upset when we have more than one or two other people over. When Habibi peed on the kitchen rug in front of me, it was the day after we'd had a few friends over the night before. A couple of friends slept in our living room, since they'd driven a long way to visit, and the closet with the litter box is attached to the living room. The cats hid under my bed all night, only coming up to sleep with me and then slink back under the bed. The day after this, I was gone for most of the day. When I came home, he started peeing on the rug. The other times he's peed, though, seem to correlate with the times I need to leave for a while after spending more time at home.

I'm willing to take them to a vet once I actually have a day off, but I don't know if it's medical. If it were an infection, wouldn't he be peeing in multiple places, doing it more frequently, or acting sick and lethargic? I don't know if it's anxiety related or if he's just mad at me, but it can't keep happening. I'll be working 70 hour weeks once the fall starts, and can't have him peeing on the floor every few days. I don't want to get rid of him, because my other cat, Falafel, is his littermate, and they're very bonded. Falafel is just more easygoing and loves most people who come to our apartment. Habibi is more standoffish and only seems to let me pet him, and chooses when he wants me around (i.e. while I'm sleeping, he's started rubbing up against me and curling under the covers with me).

I'm sorry to give you so much information, I just want to make sure I give you as clear of a picture of what's happening as possible. Thanks so much for your time. I hope you can give me some tips! I've been reading about the feliway diffuser, but didn't want to shell out a ton of money (I'm a grad student, after all) unless it'd been recommended by someone other than an online reviewer.

Take care,

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thank you for your detailed question. It is definitely very frustrating when your cat starts urinating in the house. And, unfortunately, it is very common.

I can tell you that I have dealt with many cases like this. More often than not, there is a medical component that needs to be dealt with.

There are some medical issues that present with really obvious signs like constant straining in the litter box, etc. But, some can have very vague signs that are not as obvious. If a cat has, say, urinary tract crystals, or a condition called interstitial cystitis, it can cause some minor irritation in the bladder that comes and goes. The symptoms can be made worse by any type of stress. So, let's say you have been away all day. Perhaps that causes Habibi some minor stress which contributes to the inflammation in his bladder.

When a cat's bladder is inflamed, then they will often urinate in places that are unusual. I'm not exactly sure why this happens. It could be that he is trying to get your attention (i.e. "Mom, look! I need help"). Or it could be that he associates urinating in the box with pain and he wants to pee elsewhere. But, regardless of the cause, we know that cats with irritation in their bladders will urinate in places that they shouldn't.

I can't tell you how many times I have had a cat present for what the owner was positive was a behavioral problem. Then, after testing his urine we found out that there actually was a medical issue.

For this reason I would highly advise having a vet visit as soon as possible to get his urine checked.

Now, if the urine tests come out as normal, then we know we have a behavioral issue. I have written a full article about things that can be done which you can read here: Why is my cat urinating in the house?

The basic ideas though are:
-keeping the litter box clean
-adding one or two extra litter boxes
-getting rid of the old boxes (that could be trapping odors that you are not aware of.
-experimenting with different types of litter
-experimenting with different sizes of litter boxes

If these things aren't working and the cat still has inappropriate urination that is because of a behavioral problem then it can be very helpful to have your vet prescribe a medication that may help. I have had good success with Reconcile. Some vets use Clomicalm and others use a medication called amitriptyline. Often times, we can use a medication for a few months and then eventually wean a pet off of the medicine once the problem is resolved.

Regarding Feliway, it's something that can be an added benefit (to help reduce stress levels). But Feliway on its own is not likely to completely take care of the problem.

I hope that helps!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.