Inappropriate Urination, The Feline Patient

                                            By: John Crumley DVM

I love my cat like a son, but when he started urinating in my shower I’d be lying if I said I never questioned my affection for him. Many an early morning I have stepping into a dark, wet shower and cursed his name, Steven Bartholomew Crumley!

Unfortunately, feline urination problems are the number one behavioral reason cats are turned outside, relinquished to the pound, or put to sleep. It is a complex disorder that can be understood by dividing it into 3 categories: 1) physical problem, 2) substrate preference, or 3) territorial marking.

A Physical Problem: Many times our cat will urinate outside the litter box when they have a pain in their bladder, have too much urine to hold in, or have an orthopedic condition that prevents them from climbing into the box. The most common physical conditions we see are diabetes, urinary tract infections, spasmodic bladder, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, bladder stones, and even bladder tumors. A physical exam is imperative at the first signs of a litter problem to identify these physical causes. Sometimes diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound, urinalysis, and/or bloodwork are indicated.

Substrate Preference: If your cat prefers table tops, the floor, or the bed to their usual litter box, this is a sign they don’t like their litter box anymore. Why they would change their minds, only they know, but they can change their mind anytime they want (their cats right?) The “key” to figuring this out is that the preferred sites of urination are on horizontal surfaces, not the walls or sides but the top of the table, chair, or bed. Treatment is changing the litter box situation. We need to figure out what litter situation the cat prefers, so we need to do some detective work. I add litter boxes (my formula is # of litter boxes = # of cats + 1) and begin to clean daily. I add different types of litter (clumping, not clumping, colors, not colored, scented, or not scented), different boxes (covered, not covered, tall sides, vs low sides), and place them in different locations in the house. Once we figure out which box they prefer, then we can slowly move it to the location or style we prefer (we have to outsmart our pet!)

Territorial Marking: This situation is easier to identify and manage than the two listed above. Most commonly the urine is found on vertical surfaces, such as the baseboards, the wall, on a chair leg. Often a change in the cat’s environment will set off this behavior, such as new pet, new furniture, or a new person in the house. Intact male cats are most often the culprit and they should be neutered. However, females can and do respond to stress and mark their territory as well. Reducing stress by adding hiding places, “cat condos”, products like Feliway, and even anxiety medication can and do help the situation.

The Indoor Cat Initiative Website ( is an excellent resource for ideas on enriching the indoor environment for your cat. I know it has helped me and my kid, Steven.