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Dealing with the Stress of Inappropriate Elimination in Cats

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When you are a cat owner, few things are quite as distressing as when your beloved feline pet is eliminating inappropriately in your home. Finding piles of poop or smelling cat urine that you can’t see is upsetting, and figuring out how to get everything cleaned up and prevent it from happening again is downright stressful.

While we can’t remove all of the stress that this situation is likely to cause you, we can give you some information about how to deal with it that can shorten the duration of the problem.

Head to the Veterinarian Right Away

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It’s essential that you have your cat checked out for a medical problem as early on as possible. When you first realize that your cat is eliminating inappropriately, visit your veterinarian for a complete check-up, including a fecal sample and urinalysis.

If a medical problem is the culprit, nothing will solve the problem faster than getting it correctly diagnosed and appropriately treated. The longer it goes on, even if it was medical to begin with, it can become behavioral, lengthening the duration of the problem. In other words, no matter what triggers inappropriate elimination to start with, the longer it goes on, the more it becomes a habit for your cat that can get progressively harder to break with time.

Evaluate Areas of Feline Stress in Your Home

Next to a medical problem, the most common cause of inappropriate elimination in cats is stress. Cats can become stressed out by many things, and here are the most common ones:

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  • The addition or subtraction of other pets or people in the home.
  • Change in schedule of the primary caregiver.
  • Remodeling or re-organization of the home.
  • Traveling, moving, vet or groomer visits, or boarding stays.
  • Not enough resources in the home, such as scratching posts, litter boxes, and food and water dishes.
  • Being declawed is highly stressful for cats and can result in inappropriate elimination both because of that stress and because digging in the litter box becomes painful for them after the surgery.
  • Flea infestations.
  • Parties or other loud noises.
  • An outdoor cat hanging around.

It can be challenging to sort out whether your cat is stressed and what could be causing it. If your cat is stressed, in addition to inappropriate elimination, you might also see these signs:

  • Inappropriate scratching
  • Over-grooming
  • Chewing on inappropriate items in the home like shoes, door frames, and walls

First, think about any recent significant changes in your household. Next, consider whether you have enough scratching posts, litter boxes, toys, and food and water dishes for the number of cats in your home. Think about whether you see signs of problems between the cats in your home. Do they fight, stalk, or hide from each other?

You can reduce stress for your cat in the following ways:

  • Make sure they have enough resources.
  • You should also act calmly yourself, even if that’s difficult because of the inappropriate elimination problem.
  • Feliway can be extremely helpful for decreasing stress in cats.
  • Increase interactive playtime with your cat because that can help your cat blow off physical and mental steam.
  • Play classical music, which has been shown to calm cats down.
  • Add more scratching posts to your home. Scratching is highly beneficial for cats, especially when it comes to stress relief.

You can learn more here: “Stress in Cats.”

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Litter Box Aversions Commonly Cause Inappropriate Elimination

If your cat doesn’t have a medical problem and you can’t identify any sources of feline stress in your home, it’s time to turn a critical eye toward your litter box placement, cleanliness, and care. Cats can develop aversions to their litter boxes for several reasons, and the result is that they look for another place to eliminate. That place is often your carpet, a pile of clothes, or a piece of furniture.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re evaluating whether your cat might have a litter box aversion:

  • Do you have enough litter boxes? You need one on every floor of your home. You need at least as many boxes as you have cats plus one (four boxes for three cats).
  • Are your boxes clean enough? A cat’s litter box, when it contains clumping litter, should be scooped out twice a day, emptied and washed with soap and water once a week, and the box itself should be replaced every six months or so.
  • Are you using the wrong litter? Most cats prefer litter that is fine and soft like sand. They usually dislike scented litter. If you recently changed litter types, consider changing back. If you want to change litter types, do so gradually to give your cat time to adjust to the new one, so you don’t trigger a litter aversion.
  • Do you have the wrong litter box? Most cats dislike covered litter boxes because they trap offensive odors inside them, and those can irritate your cat’s nose and eyes. The box must be large enough for your cat to turn around and dig in comfortably. It should also be shallow enough for a cat with any kind of ache or pain to climb in easily. Large sweater boxes can work well.
  • Is your litter box in the wrong spot? Cats prefer quiet areas in which to eliminate. Don’t put the box in an area where a loud noise, like a dishwasher or dryer buzz, might startle her. Be sure your cat can’t be bothered by dogs or children while she is in the box.

How to Clean the Soiled Area

It’s essential to thoroughly clean up the area in which your cat has inappropriately eliminated. Otherwise, your cat might continue to return there to mark over the spot. Poop is easier to clean up than urine, but you should be sure to do a good job with both.

To properly clean up cat urine messes, soak up as much of the liquid as you can first, and then apply an enzymatic pet mess cleaner like Nature’s Miracle to the area. Follow the instructions on the bottle.

You also need to make sure you find all the spots that your cat has urinated, which can be harder to do than you might think. A black light can really help you with this task. You can darken the room and use the black light to look for spots that glow. Be sure to check under furniture and on baseboards.

You may wish to do what you can to make the area your cat has soiled unattractive for your cat to return to. Many cats dislike citrus, so you can try a citrus spray.

How to Manage Your Own Stress While Dealing with Feline Inappropriate Elimination

One thing to remember while you are solving the problem of inappropriate elimination in your cat is that getting upset with, yelling at, or striking the cat will all make the problem worse because it will cause her stress. Not only that, but it also isn’t good for your stress levels.

Be sure to take time to use any stress relief and relaxation techniques that work well for you as often as you need to while you are dealing with your cat’s inappropriate elimination. Take time for exercise, deep breathing, yoga, and whatever else makes you feel calmer.

Remember all the beautiful ways your cat enriches your life, and spend some time playing with her. That will help decrease stress for both of you.

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