Brightwood Animal Hospital

9640 Old Johnnycake Ridge Rd
Mentor, OH 44060


Feline Inappropriate Elimination Disorders

What does "inappropriate elimination" mean?

Elimination in this case means passing urine or feces ("going to the toilet"). Inappropriate elimination means that the cat urinates or defecates in the house but not in its litter box.

Why does it occur?

There are various medical conditions that can cause a cat to urinate or defecate in a place other than its litter box. But when medical reasons have been ruled out, the problem is considered a behavioral disorder. There are two basic behavioral causes of inappropriate elimination:

1. Dislike of the litter box.

The cat may come to dislike its litter box because the litter is not cleaned or changed often enough or because the cat does not like the particular litter material being used.

2. Stress-related misbehavior.

There are dozens of things that could cause a cat to become stressed enough to develop inappropriate elimination. The most likely triggers involve changes in the cat's surroundings, such as:

  • a new person (especially a baby) in the home or loss of a person from the home
  • new items of furniture or rearranging the furniture
  • new carpet or drapes
  • moving to a new house
  • a new pet or loss of a pet
  • a new cat or dog in the neighborhood that your indoor cat can see or hear
  • a cat in heat in the neighborhood

Can this problem be treated?

Most cat owners cannot tolerate this problem. It is disruptive to the household and can be destructive to furnishings and other belongings. This problem can be very frustrating and often leads owners to consider getting rid of their cat. But the good news is that this behavioral problem can be treated successfully.

Treatment is most likely to be successful in the following circumstances:

  • the behavior has been present for less than 1 month
  • there are only one or two places in the house in which the cat will urinate or defecate (other than in its litter box)
  • the stressful situation can be identified and corrected (or at least improved)
  • there is only one cat in the household

What does treatment involve?

Treatment usually involves behavior modification, with or without medication. Behavior modification uses a combination of two techniques:

  • Aversion therapy - the location in which the cat is inappropriately eliminating is made to be unattractive or repellent to the cat
  • Attraction therapy -- the cat is encouraged to use an appropriate location (i.e., a litter box)

Aversion Therapy

There are several ways of making a location undesirable to the cat. The method outlined below is usually successful:

After cleaning up the urine or feces, neutralize the odor where the cat has inappropriately urinated or defecated. For carpet, be sure to soak both the carpet and the under-padding with an odor neutralizer. (But test a small piece of carpet to make sure the product won't stain before using it on a larger or more conspicuous area.)

Cover the area(s) with aluminum foil, securing the foil to the carpet or furniture with tape. (Most cats will not walk on aluminum foil, so it is a good physical deterrent.)

Place a lemon-scented air freshener at the base of any potted plants the cat has been using as a sand box. (This scent will deter most cats.)

Attraction Therapy

The following steps are usually successful in encouraging the cat to use a litter box:

Buy a new litter box, and choose one that does not have a hood or cover. (Even well cleaned litter boxes may have an odor that the cat finds offensive.)

Buy non-scented clumping litter. (Most cats prefer this litter to the clay type.)

Place the new litter box near where the cat has been inappropriately eliminating. Once the cat has been using the litter box for several days, slowly move it to the desired location (e.g., move it 2-3 feet per day).

Keep the old litter box in its usual place, cleaned and filled with non-scented clumping litter. If the aversion therapy causes the cat to seek its normal place, there should be a clean litter box there for the cat to use.


Several drugs have been used in an attempt to control this behavior in cats. They include antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs, tranquilizers, and hormones. None of these drugs were developed or are approved for use in cats. But extensive use has shown us that the commonly used drugs are quite safe in cats.

These drugs are not available over-the-counter and must be prescribed by your veterinarian. But you should consult your veterinarian for inappropriate elimination disorders anyway, because your cat could have a medical problem that requires different treatment.

by William M. Fraser, D.V.M.

Brightwood Animal Hospital serves Mentor, Concord, Painesville and the surrounding communities.

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