Dr. Utchen, we recently had a 3rd child and since then our cats have decided to pee throughout the house. Help! What do we do?
Answer: Changes in a cat's living situation, whether it is from a new baby in the house or another new cat or dog, or just moving to a new home, will sometimes cause a cat to urinate around the house instead of in the litterbox.
Whether this is an expression of territoriality or just a manifestation of psychological stress in a cat is hard to know. However, there are several things that can be done to try to reduce a cat's tendency to do this.
First and foremost, have your cat evaluated by your veterinarian. It is important to be sure this is not something like a bladder infection, which will also make a cat urinate in unusual places around the house.
However, presuming your cat is urinating around the house in reaction to your new baby, here are a few suggestions:
To discourage a cat from using one particular area for urination, try placing food in the inappropriate location. Cats generally will make a distinction between places to eat and places to urinate, so putting a bowl of food in the areas where a cat urinates may help them think of it as an eating spot instead of a spot to urinate.
Cats typically do not like citrus smelling air fresheners, so if your cat primarily uses one area of the house to urinate in, then use citrus scented air freshener in that room.
Another way to deter a cat from using one particular spot for urinating is to place a vinyl carpet runner with nub side up in that location.
In terms of trying improve a cat's attraction to the litterbox, remember that most cats prefer finely particulate (i.e., clumping), unscented litter material in a large, unlined, uncovered box. There are powdered attractants that can be mixed in with the litter in the litterbox to attract a cat also.
A litterbox cafeteria is an effective way to establish a cat's litterbox preference, using various combinations of litter material (clumping, clay, pelleted, crystals, etc.), open vs. covered litterboxes, and lined vs. no liner. Sometimes a change of litterbox scenery this way is all that is needed.
Litterbox hygiene is critical. Scoop boxes twice a day, and change litter weekly for non- clumping clay litter, or every 2 weeks for clumping litter. Many cats are particularly picky about having a clean place to eliminate. After having a new baby, it is easy to let some routines slide, but less frequent cleaning of the litterbox could be part of this problem.
Be sure there is one litterbox for each cat, plus one additional litterbox. These should be spread out in different locations to maximize accessibility.
For difficult cases, a cat may need to be confined to a restricted area with litterbox cafeteria.
As far as what to do with the soiled spots in the carpet, you can clean them with Mr. Max's Anti- Icky Poo. Yes, that really is the name of what is probably the best urine cleaner-upper there is. Pet stores carry this. However, cats should not be punished "after the fact" if urine or feces is discovered out of the box. This will only increase their anxiety and will likely make the problem worse.
You can also actively encourage other types of territorial marking. For example, cats commonly mark their territory by rubbing their cheeks and foreheads on furniture, walls, etc. (even on you!). The pheromone that cats secrete from their skin there, which is how they mark their territory, has been mass produced in spray bottles and in plug-in room diffusers, like an air freshener that you plug into an electric outlet. It is called "Feliway." Most veterinarians and pet stores have this. Apply the facial pheromone to the previously marked urine spots which will encourage a cat to change its method of marking those locations to facial rubbing instead of urinating.
Additionally, place numerous scratching posts/pads around the house. Many people presume a cat is only trying to sharpen their claws when they scratch, when in fact this is one of the ways cats leave their scent on things. Providing plenty of scratching posts/pads around the house may encourage this type of marking instead of urine marking.
And lastly (but not least) cats can take a medication called Fluoxetine —better known as Prozac—to help reduce anxiety and diminish their tendency to mark their territory by spraying urine. It can be given as a piece of a tablet or as a liquid, and has shown an 80-90% success rate at significantly reducing urine marking. It may take 3-4 weeks to see improvement, although reduction in urine marking is sometimes noted during the first week. Treatment is suggested for 2-3 months, and then you can try gradually weaning off the medication. Long-term therapy may be necessary. In cases where this medication is ineffective, other medications can also be tried.