We’ve been getting this question a lot lately, so we thought we’d share some tips.
If your cat is (or was) potty trained to go in a box or outside, but has recently begun urinating or defecating elsewhere, you can bet there’s more reason to it than simply forgetting how to use the box.
Unlike the dog who may eat the couch, cats are subtle creatures when they are unhappy. The signs they give to show it often go undetected for long periods. They may shed more, gain weight, lose weight, stop playing, become destructive, over-groom and produce more hairballs, or under-groom and let their fur become matted, dull and dirty feeling. These signs are often missed all together or dismissed as aging. Meanwhile the cat falls deeper and deeper into depression and searches for new ways to show it.
Then there’s the breaking point for both cats and humans, which is usually when the random urinating and defecating begins. First, trust that your cat prefers the box to the floor on any day – it is more natural to them. So if your cat starts urinating or spraying on the walls, something is not only very wrong, but it is likely that your kitty is pulling out all the stops to tell you. This is a cat’s ultimate cry for help, and they’ll find whatever corner, closet, or pillow they can to waive their stinky yellow flag of surrender.
Why do they do it?
What else could they do? They can’t talk otherwise they’d tell you things aren’t right. So naturally, they use the only tools they have: their waste.
Your cat’s problem could be medical, behavioral, or both. While we recommend always checking with your vet to eliminate any medical issues with your pet first, never underestimate the power stress has on an animal’s health. Stress and medical issues often go hand in hand, so consider your pet’s mental well being too and avoid repeat trips to the vet to treat the same stress produced problems.
Lots of things can cause depression, stress, or general unhappiness in cats, but it usually boils down to one culprit: Change.
Most cats become very comfortable in their daily routines, especially when they are solely indoor pets. Their world is a small one and therefore very easily disrupted. Move a piece of furniture, remodel a room, move the cat box, adopt a new pet, or have guests come stay for a weekend; and you might get a stinky surprise out of your previously potty trained friend.
Finding the cause of the the problem can often be a difficult question to answer since cats are known and loved for their mysterious nature. The good news is resolving a problem with a cat is usually more about accommodating them. For example: You can’t help it when you have visitors that smell funny to your cat, but you can make sure your cat has a safe zone when they feel imposed upon.
Regardless of the mysterious (or not so mysterious) changes that may have sent your cat down the path of ammonia-scented destruction, focus on the good news: Happiness will prevail and your cat can learn to cope.
What makes a cat happy anyway?
Aside from constant worship? Lots of things!
1.) Healthy Diet and Clean Water
-Good food makes happy, healthy pets. It is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do for your animal. Chemicals effect behavior and health, so if you are buying cheap grocery brand food for your cat, spend a little more to change to a premium food and save yourself some money on vet bills in the long run. You’ll also spare your cat a painful and early death in the process. Introduce the new food slowly, mixing it in with the old over the course of a few weeks until the bad stuff is phased out. Also, clean their dishes daily, especially the water dish. Cats need fresh clean water and will shun a dirty dish no matter how new the water is.
2.) A Sanitary Low-Dust Cat Box
-If you had to wade through sewage every time you went to the bathroom, you’d pee in the corner too. Scoop the box, use a good litter that doesn’t produce a lot of urinary tract-upsetting dust, and provide more than one cat box (especially if you have more than one cat or a large home). Change out the litter entirely once a week. We don’t care what those litter makers say: nothing stays fresh for a month after being peed on every day, not even the super expensive stuff.
3.) Exercise and Mental Stimulation
-Cats are gifted and natural hunters. If your cat stays inside all day, life can lose purpose pretty fast. Set time aside every morning and evening to play a little. Get out the string, the mousie, or the little milk carton tab that they love to bat around and get them running. There are also some great games and challenges you can give your cat to awaken the tiger within. Check out books like 50 Games to Play with Your Cat. From food games to teaching them tricks, your cat may be more gifted than you think.
4.) The Safety Zone
-If you have multiple pets or lots of family like we do, you may find the need to give your cat their own space. They need a spot to feel safe and sleep during the day, especially if your home is prone to hectic activity and lots of visitors. This spot is safe from everyone: kids, dogs, noise, etc. It should be dark so they can sleep and covered to give a sense of security. Cats are famously simple creatures who often prefer cardboard boxes and paper bags to fancy store-bought beds. Experiment a little and see what they like. We covered a cardboard box in cute material once for one of our cats who would sleep in nothing else.
5.) The Importance of Tanning
-Sunlight is a natural anti-depressant, and something our cats need despite their nocturnal nature. Therefore every cat needs a peaceful spot in the sun where they can nap and work on that summer tan. Many kitties will bath in the sun for hours, allowing their fur to heat to almost untouchable temperatures. Seems crazy to us, but then again they probably think the same of us every time we dip ourselves into that giant tub of water.
6.) The Power of Cardboard and Catnip
-We’ve known a lot of cats, and almost none of them could resist this silly thing. Admittedly it is ugly, so if you don’t want it hanging around your cat’s living space, try other scratching options instead. Just know that even declawed cats need something to stretch their paws on and spread their scent.
The only thing that makes the Cardboard Cat Scratcher more attractive to a cat is cat nip. While we like giving our cats the fresh and dried stuff, we found the spray a while back and use it all the time to attract our cats to certain areas. Wherever we spray it, that is where they want to lay and roll about until they eventually pass out from cat nip bliss. Meanwhile they are not laying all over our burgundy couches because those no longer smell nearly as appealing as that cat bed covered in nip.
-We don’t mean teaching them to sit and roll over (although that is possible), but more importantly: how to coexist with us as a happy cat. The most important tool for training a cat is redirection. Scratch here not on my couch, potty here not in my plant, and repeat. Focus less on stopping a behavior and more on redirecting it so your cat knows where to do the things that come naturally to them.
-If your cat spends their entire life inside with the same people, animals, and things, it is safe to bet that they will be very sensitive to anything new. Expose them to new people, other nice cats and nice dogs, and desensitize them to change while they are young. It seems so simple, but it will impact your cat’s personality more than any other thing you do for them.
While no pet comes with an emotionally sound guarantee, doing these things for your cat will help you raise a confident and happy family member that can adapt to change gracefully – avoiding those smelly kitty blues all together!