What causes cats to do their business in places other than the designated areas (litter tray or in the garden)?
The first piece of advice for owners is to OBSERVE YOUR PET. You need to examine the cat’s attitude and the position it adopts when relieving itself to try and better understand the reason for this very unpleasant behaviour.
Admittedly, when someone says “my cat is peeing everywhere” this often means the cat has a urinary problem. The first thing we general practitioners will want to do is to find out whether or not your pet does indeed have a problem such as cystitis, urinary crystals, bladder stones, a tumour or another disease such as diabetes or kidney failure. The vet will first carry out a full general examination and conduct some extra tests, such as a scan, an X-ray or taking blood and urine samples, before he or she can make the correct diagnosis.
If your pet does not have diabetes or a urinary problem, we need to find out the real reason for this behaviour. To do this, we must understand how cats “operate”.
First, we need to differentiate between pets marking their territory and peeing in the wrong place.
If they are just urinating, both male and female cats follow the same behavioural pattern. They identify a suitable spot by sniffing out an area where the substrate is loose and easy to scratch, such as earth, litter (as in a litter tray), sand or fabric. They make a little hole in it with their front paws, turn round, squat, do their business, stand up and turn round again to smell their excretion, and then cover it up as best they can by scratching with their front paws. They adopt the typical position: crouching but not touching the ground, with their tail horizontal and parallel to the ground. The urine flows down vertically onto a horizontal surface.
If they are using their urine to mark their territory, cats adopt a typical but quite different position. Standing up with their tail vertical and vibrating, they turn their backs on the vertical surface they are going to mark and release a horizontal spray of urine that is more visible in males than in females. Contrary to what many owners – and even some vets – think, marking territory is not a cleanliness problem but a communication issue. So all cats do it, male and female, whether they are sterilised or not.
To truly understand how cats “operate”, it is vitally important you pay attention to how they perceive and organise their living environment.
Cats carry out various activities – eating/drinking, sleeping, playing and toileting (doing their business) – within their own territory. Some of these activities, such as eating and toileting, must absolutely not happen in the same place. Think of it like cats refusing to eat in their bathroom!
Some cats follow basic criteria when they’re looking for somewhere to urinate. The place must be quiet, absorbent and somewhere they can scratch. It must be cleaned regularly but still retain the urine smell. Based on these physiological behavioural needs, we cannot really say that the cat is “dirty”, contrary to what disgruntled owners think, but simply that they have chosen other places to do their business that do not suit their human cohabitants.
To summarise, the main cause of cats peeing everywhere is territorial stress. It is therefore a good idea to reduce their anxiety by giving them supplements (e.g. Zen Supp TM), pheromones or essential oils (e.g. Zen Miloa TM), which can be very effective. To combat this problem, you are strongly advised to apply all the “tips” at the same time to have a chance of success. If the behaviour persists, your vet or animal behaviourist may prescribe medication.
Which just goes to show that a simple pee in the wrong place is not always so easy to deal with!
Dr Eric Witvrouw
DMV | Animal Behaviourist
Veterinary Center ÉducaVet’s