Cat pee, spraying, going outside the box – whatever you call it, dealing with the problem can drive even the most ardent cat lover to tears. Inappropriate urination is one of the top reasons cats are turned into shelters or kicked out of the house.
If you live with only 2 or 3 cats, chances are good that the cat pee problem will never be an issue. But if you live in a multiple cat household with lots of cats, chances are that you are dealing with this issue on an ongoing basis. Maybe you are even reconsidering your desire to have lots of cats!
Well, it is a well known fact that misery loves company so before you give up and get rid of all your cats, we wanted to share the misery of dealing with the cat pee problem and offer a glimmer of hope by giving you some ideas and solutions that have been successful for us in managing the problem. We have been rescuing cats for many years and believe it whan we tell you, there have been times that we felt like we were living in a litter box! But with a bit of detective work and some creative problem solving, we have been able to minimize the cat pee problem down to just a trickle…so to speak.
First, we want to share the misery part by listing some of the places (and we are sure this list doesn’t include every place!) that we have discovered that cats have been urinating: Walls (all of them!), carpets (especially corners!), couches, chairs, table legs, table tops, artificial plants, refrigerator door, refrigerator top, cupboard door, inside cupboards, drawer fronts, inside drawers, on shelves, on stuff on shelves, on walls behind the stuff on shelves, microwave, coffee maker, can opener, basically any small appliance on the kitchen counter, kitchen countertops and backsplash, kitchen sink, bathroom sink, toilets (on them not in them!), bedspreads, blankets, bed pillows, couch pillows, windows, curtains, draperies, blinds, dirty laundry, clean laundry, the laundry basket, inside closets, inside shoes, in empty boxes, in full boxes, on boxes, the computer, the printer and fax machine, the TV, VCR/DVD players, stereo, stereo speakers, wall heater, portable heater, floor vents, wall vents, washer, dryer, inside the dryer, doors, bathtub/shower, lamps, anything on a tabletop, stove top, oven door, throw/area rugs, their own cat scratchers, cat trees and cat condos, basically, anything within a foot of the floor, table, countertop, whatever they are standing on. Bottom line – if it is within cat reach, it has been hit with cat pee!
There, now after reading that, you should feel a bit better! If you have a cat pee problem, you are not alone! We can help! We do not like living with cat pee all over the house so we have discovered some creative ways to curb the problem. Our house does not smell like a litter box. People who come by often comment that if they hadn’t seen them, they would never know that we have lots of cats. They comment that they are surprised that the house does not smell! What they don’t know, is that getting to that point involve some detective work, lots of patience and understanding, and a willingness to do a lot of cleaning. We find that, with cat rescue, staying ahead of the cat pee game is not easy but it is well worth the effort to have healthy, happy cats living with us in a clean, healthy home!
It is important to understand that there is a difference between cat spraying and urinating outside the box. Spraying is usually done on vertical surfaces like walls, doors, etc. and there is a smaller amount of urine. Going outside the box involves larger amounts of urine, usually found in puddles in corners or near a litter box. Solving each of these problems requires a different technique so you need to know which one you are dealing with.
Another important thing to know is that the most comon problem, spraying, is not isolated only to male cats. Female cats will spray also. So if you discover cat pee on your walls, don’t just assume it is one of your boys doing it. Your baby girl is also a suspect! In fact, unless you witness the act, all of your cats should be considered suspects!
Finding puddles of urine usually indicates a litter box issue. Either a cat is ill, or is experiencing litter box avoidance for another reason. When this occurs, the offending cat should always be checked by your vet to insure he or she does not have a urinary tract infection or some other illness that is making it difficult for the cat to use the litter box. If the cat is not ill, then he or she could be going outside the box for a variety of other reasons. A major reason in multiple cat household is one cat preventing another from getting to the litter box. Since we have already addressed litter box issues elsewhere on our website, we won’t go into it again here. If your problem may be litter box related, click on Cat Litter Box
In a multiple cat household, the most common cat pee problem is spraying. Cats spray urine for a variety of reason. It is a method of Cat Communication and to your cat, peeing on the wall is perfectly normal behavior. He or she is communicating information to someone, either you or another cat. It could be something simple like “This is my spot – keep off!” or something more complex like “I am unhappy!” The best thing to do in the case of urine spraying, is to find out why the cat is doing it. Once you figure that out and correct the problem, the spraying issue will go away. The problem is that it is not easy to figure out the underlying issue. In fact, you may never figure it out. So, what do you do?
The first and most vital thing to do as soon as you discover an area or object that has been peed on is to clean it up – completely and thouroughly – including removing any lingering odors. Cats have an acute sense of smell, even more refined than dogs. It is the odor of cat pee that keeps cats returining to the same place over and over again. Keep in mind that just because you can’t smell it doesn’t mean your cats can’t smell it.
To clean and remove the odor, use an enzymatic cleaner specifically designed to neutralize the odor of cat urine. We use Urine Out! powder for carpets and furniture, and Smells-No-More! liquid for everything else, including the wash. Both of these can be purchased over the internet from Planet Urine. While there are many products available, and we have tried most of them, the products from Planet Urine far exceed anything else for removing stains and getting out the odors. They also excell at getting out vomit and blood, pretty much all biological stains. We refer to it as “crime scene clean-up stuff”. It really helps to discourage cats from urinating in the same spot over and over again.
As you might imagine, with so many cats and frequent new arrivals, we do a lot of cleaning! We go through tons of paper towels, cloth towels, and do several loads of laundry on a weekly basis. As soon as a mess is discovered, especially if it is cat pee, we mop it up as much as possible with paper towels, clean the area with plain dishwashing soap and water, then use Urine Out! or Smells-No-More! depending on the surface. We also use a Little Green spot cleaning machine for deep cleaning small areas of carpet and furniture. We also use a Bissel ProHeat carpet cleaner periodically to clean the entire carpet. And just to keep things fresh, about once a month or so, we use the Urine Out! powder over all the carpeted areas of the house. We just sprinkle it on, sweep it in, let it sit, then vacuum it up! It is easy and really freshens up the carpet. Ideally, with lots of cats, experts recommend that all carpeting be removed. But we like carpet so it is worth the extra effort to have carpet in the house. Without carpet, the house just feels too cold.
For things that will be easily damaged by cat pee such as electronics or books, prevention is the key. As much as possible, keep these things up off the floor and above anything your cats can stand on. An energetic cat can easily spray urine up to about 18″ from anything they are standing on!
For other things that you use daily like your toothbrush or hairbrush, keep them shut away in a cupboard, drawer or container that your cats can’t get into. We would never use a toothbrush that a cat had peed on no matter how much it had been cleaned! It is much better to simply keep these things locked away to avoid even the possibility that a cat can urinate on them.
Things that can’t be placed up high or locked away require a “better than nothing” approach. For example, we have a TV in the kitchen that sits on a shelf easily accessible to any cat. To avoid damage by cat pee (which ruined our old TV!) we keep it covered with a towel when it is not in use. This way, if a cat sprays urine on it, they spray on the towel and not on the TV itself. We also keep the toilets covered with a towel. For some reason, our cats seem to like peeing on toilets. And few things are as disgusting as stumbling into the bathroom in the middle of the night to use the toilet only to sit down on a cold, wet toilet seat covered with cat urine! An unexpected benefit is that since we started covering the toilets with towels, the cats seem less interested in peeing on them!
When dealing with cat pee, there is a basic scientific principle you should always keep in mind. Cat urine behaves like water. Sometimes, you can smell the urine but can’t find it. We kept smelling urine in the kitchen near the refrigerator. We cleaned and cleaned in and around the fridge but still couldn’t seem to remove the source of the odor. We finally realized that a cat had been peeing on a cupboard above the refrigerator and the urine was running down the back of the fridge! After cleaning the fridge and floor completely, including the wall and floor behind the fridge and the back of the fridge itself, we were finally able to rid the kitchen of the cat pee odor!
Moving the refrigerator in order to clean back there was a lot of work! Needless to say, we never wanted to have to do that again. But, since we were not sure who was doing it and since several cats like sleeping on top of the fridge, we started keeping a towel up there to catch any urine before it dripped down the back side. This is a classic example of a “better than nothing” approach to cat pee prevention.
The point of this is to remind you that urine acts like water and as a result, it tends to follow a path of least resistance. So while you may find it on a countertop, be sure to follow any path the urine may have taken in order to clean up all of it. Dried urine crystalizes but just because it has dried doesn’t mean the odor is gone so don’t assume you got it all when you clean up the crystalized spot of urine. Remember that it was like water when it started!
We focus a lot on cleaning because when you have lots of cats, you will have, at least at some point, an issue involving spraying or inappropriate urination. Cleaning is absolutely vital to controling the problem. Since we do cat rescue, we risk a cat pee epidemic everytime we bring in a new cat or kittens. Knowing this, in addition to ongoing cleaning, almost everything we own is washable or cheap enough to throw out and replace.
Curtains, drapes, bedding, etc. can all be tossed into the wash. Tables, shelves, dressers, storage cabinets, and so forth are all laminate so they can be easily wiped clean. We don’t spend more than a few dollars on bed pillows so they can be be thrown out without guilt and we keep a couple of spares on hand just in case a kitty decides to “leave a message” on one of our pillows. Even the walls are painted with washable paint!
While what we do may seem excessive and even inconvient, we made the decision years ago to turn our home into a free roaming sanctuary for cats in need and knew that coping with cat pee problems was going to be an issue. And it is definitely not the lifestyle for everyone. But for us, sacrificing a bit of convience and a bunch of elbow grease is a small price to pay for saving lives and giving cats a safe, healthy and happy home that both they and us can live in together!
Now that the cleaning and prevention work is done, it’s on to the detective work and behavior modification techniques. When cat pee is discovered in an unexpected place, you need to turn up your powers of observation and try to determine which cat is doing it. Keep in mind that there may be more than one cat involved. If you are lucky, you will catch them in the act. Otherwise, you’ll just have to make a “best guess”. If you do catch a cat in the act, no matter how upset you are about it, DO NOT! NEVER!NEVER!!NEVER!!! yell, scream, hit, rub their nose in it, or inflict punnishment on the cat in any way!
Contrary to how it makes you feel, the cat that pees on your pillow is not doing it out of malice or vindictivness. He or she is trying to communicate something. Stress is a major cause of spraying or inappropriate urination in cats. Punnishment only heightens the feelings of stress making the problem worse. So don’t do it! Instead, use your powers of observation, intuitivness, familiarity with the cat, and understanding of cat behavior to help you discover what it is that may be causing the cat stress.
Since litter boxes are a common trigger, make sure they are kept clean and scooped daily, and that there are plenty of them in different areas to make them easily accessible for all the cats.
Another common stressor in cats is illness. A variety of illnesses, including urinary tract infections, stones, stomach problems, constipation, pain, even sensitive paw pads, may first manifest when a cat uses the litter box. The cat begins to associate the problem with the litter box and sets out to find another place to go in order to avoid the discomfort. Once the cat is well again, it may still take some time before he feels comfortable using the litter box so patience is a must. Unless you know the cause of the problem for sure, a trip to the vet is never a bad idea when a cat is first discovered spraying or inappropriate urinating outside the box.
If it is not illness or litter box aversion, it is time to start investigating the 1001 other stressors that can trigger a cat pee problem. Cats hate change so anything that disrupts their routine or is different can cause them stress. Visitors in the home, a new person or pet, a change in your job or work hours, a trip to the vet, new furniture or carpet, workman in the house, moving, cat on cat agression, a strange cat in the front yard – almost anything that is different, changes or causes frustration can trigger a cat pee episode.
So what can be done about it? Well, it is worth it to try some of the methods mentioned in all the cat books – upsidedown sticky paper, foil, upsidedown plastic carpet runners, etc. because for some cats, sometimes, they work. But, in a large multiple cat household, what we have found is that there is always one cat that likes to play with these things. So, while one cat shreds the foil or rolls in and chews up the sticky paper you put down, another cat pees in the spot you were trying to deter them from! With lots of cats, you need to get creative.
Ideally, if you can figure out which cat is doing it and can figure out the stressor for the cat, and you can fix the stressor, the cat pee problem will fix itself. But, chances are good that even if you know the offending cat and figure out the stressor, it won’t be a problem that can be fixed. But all is not lost!
We had a particulary difficult time solving the problem when we found out several cats were peeing on a chair in our living room. Because we really didn’t want to put a litter box in the living room, we tried everything before resorting to placing a litter box there.
After throughoughly cleaning, we put down sticky paper. Cats aren’t supposed to like the feel of sticky on their feet so the theory is they will stop going to that spot to pee. Well, apparently our cats didn’t get that message! They had no problem standing on the sticky paper and peeing! They even chewed on it! And one morning we found Frankie walking around with sticky paper stuck to his back!
Next, (after more cleaning!) we tried plastic carpet runner placed spicky side up. Again, the theory is that they wouldn’t like walking on it because it hurts their feet. Well, not only did our cats not mind walking on it, they actually napped on it! And, of course they peed on it! Cat scratcher – peed on it! An end table to block the chair – peed on it! Moved the chair to a different spot – still peed on it! Tried things that smelled bad, things that smelled good, cat friendly pheromones…nothing worked. We finally gave up and placed a litter box there. They used the litter box but no more pee on the chair!
Wall mounted cat scratchers work in some areas. Several cats had decided that a wall in the common area of the hallway between the living room and kitchen was a great place for establishing a cat pee communication zone! We tacked up a cardboard cat scratcher and every few days, rubbed it with catnip. The cats would go by, rubbing and scratching on it but no one peed on it! And they didn’t start peeing in another area of the hallway either which we worried about. (We had pictured the entire hallway lined with cat scratchers!) We aren’t sure why they didn’t simply pick another spot in the hallway to “communicate” but frankly, to us it doesn’t matter. We are just happy the one scratcher worked!
A similar method worked for our front entry door. Feral cats, skunks, racoons and other wild critters pass this way on a frequent basis. And stray cats looking for help also show up at this door from time to time. This is also the door that we humans use to come and go. The different sights, smells and activities upset or excited some of the cats and they started spraying on the door. We put a 2 foot sisal rope scratching post in front of the door. We also rub this with catnip every few days. The cats love the scratching post and it stopped them from peeing on the door! And, we can easily move it out of the way when we need to. But we always make sure to put it back or we end up with cat pee on the door again!
Sometimes, a method to stop a cat from peeing on something is doscovered by accident. Our Freddie kept spraying in the corner of our kitchen counter under some cupboards. We had no idea why he liked this spot. We had tried everything we could think of to stop him short of putting a litter box there. No way were we going to have a litter box on our kitchen counter!
One day, we had accidentally left a spray bottle of Windex in that spot. In the morning – no cat pee! We figured it was just a fluke and that the bottle being there had nothing to do with it. But we left the bottle there anyway to see what would happen. Day after day, no cat pee there! To test the theory that the bottle was acting as a deterrent, we moved the bottle. Sure enough, we had pee there in the morning. Needless to say, we put the spray botttle back. This happened over a year ago and to this day, we still have a spray bottle there – and never any pee!
We were so excited thinking we’d hit on the miracle cure to the cat pee problem, that we decided to test its effectiveness. We moved the cat box next to the chair in the living room and put a couple of spray bottles of cleaner in the spot. Well, we are sorry to say, spray bottles are not the cure for everything – they peed on the bottles! So, the litter box is back in its place and the chair is safe from cat pee once again.
The spray bottle method did work again when we discovered that both Louie and Wendy were peeing on the wall while standing on the dresser in our bedroom. We put a spray bottle there and they both stopped spraying there. We have no idea why this method works we just know that it does. Not everywhere but in many places, especially on top of tables, counters, dressers, etc.
We also found out that plain bottles don’t work. They have to be decorated in some way. Again, we don’t have any scientific explaination for how or why this works but you won’t hear us complaining! You will however, see colorful spray bottles stragically placed throughout the house!
In addition to preventative/protective measures and clean litter boxes, to manage the cat pee problem you must try to deal with the stress that heightenens the cats need to spray urine on things. Bach Flower Essences and Spirit Essences can help to calm the emotions. We keep a supply of these on hand and use at least one or more of them on an almost daily basis. Attention in the form of petting and brushing will also help a cat to feel calmer and more secure. Our cats get individual attention every day in the form of petting or brushing, which ever the cat prefers. A few minutes of positive attention from their people makes most any kitty feel good and goes a long way toward managing the cat pee problem.
But nothing works better to curb cat pee issues than cat play Cat play burns off kitty stress and builds kitty confidence both of which help to minimize a cats need to comfort his or her self with the scent of their own urine. We know we have said this before but it bears repeating…A tired cat is a happy cat!
If there is a cat pee problem in your housefull of cats, play, play, play! String toys, fishing pole toys, cat dancers, Panic Mouse, Da Bird, a napkin tied to a string, ping-pong balls, fuzzy mice, feeder balls – the choices are endless and the benefits immeasurable.
Our cats get play time with us every day either in the house or, when the weather is nice, outside in their yard. We keep toys hidden around the house and pull them out unexpectedly for some impromptu play time. We schedule time for group play an get creative with it. One method for group play is to hold a string toy in each hand along with some ping-pong balls, spin around swinging the string toys around then occasionally let a ping- pong ball fly out and watch the cats go after it!
Another fun method of interactive play with the cats is to tie several napkins on strings around the waist (we modified a belt just for this!) and run through the house or yard occasionally letting a butterflied napkin fly out like a tired bird and watch the cats pounce on it! Yes, we have tons of shredded paper napkins to pick up but by playing with them regularly we find we have much less cat pee to clean up!
Because we are a rescue sanctuary, our cats have to cope with new arrivals, strangers in the house, and crazy hours from their people all the time. Add to this day to day things like lawnmowers, vacuums, loud trucks going by, etc. and, as you can imagine, our kitties have a lot of stressors in their lives.
We use all of the strategies discussed here to help manage problems with spraying and inappropriate urination. But no matter who has the problem or what the cause is, we make a point to insure that all of the cats get plenty of one on one attention from us and that everyone gets to enjoy playtime. Yes, sometimes we are tired or it’s inconvient for us but we do it anyway. A few minutes of petting and/or brushing makes both us and the cats feel better. And, after 5 minutes of playtime, the cats are jumping and stalking, we are laughing at their antics and marveling at their grace and athletic prowess. By the time we are done everyone feels good. The mood of the whole house is lighter making both cats and people feel better. And no one feels the urge to pee! (Well, except maybe us but we always use our “litter boxes”!)
Breaking the nasty habit of a cat or cats peeing all over your house can be a frustrating and difficult process. But before you kick your cat to the curb, remember why you decided to open your home to lots of cats in the first place. Then try everything mentioned here, get creative, and try several other things! And, of course, clean! clean! clean!
We believe that no cat deserves to be punnished, abandonded, kicked out or turned over to a shelter just for doing what comes naturally. The key is to use behavior modification techniques to get the cat to perform this natural behavior in more appropriate places. With lots of patience, consistancy, creativity, and lots of love, it can be done. Oh, and of course, lots of cleaning supplies!
If you are having a problem in your House Full of Cats, post it on our Ask A Cat Question page or send us an email. Between all of the other cat lovers who visit our website and us, you are sure to find an answer!