Why are my cat(s) peeing in the basement?
August 18, 2010 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Yet another cat pee question. Bonus level of difficulty: multiple cats, culprit unknown.

My wife and I have three (indoor) cats, all female, ranging in age from approximately 5 (the youngest, a stray we took in) to 10. For several years they used the litter boxes in our basement the way they're supposed to, but a few weeks ago one or more of them started peeing on the floor in the basement, close to where the litter boxes are located. Absolutely nothing about their living arrangements has changed; same litter boxes (four for three cats, cleaned out every day), same brand of litter, same food, etc.

I suspect the culprit is the youngest cat, as she has a nervous disposition and a few times I've gone down into the basement to find her down there and a fresh puddle, but I have no direct evidence. I took her into the vet a couple of weeks ago because I had read that sometimes a kidney infection can cause this behaviour, and he prescribed antibiotics, but the peeing has continued. I still have no ironclad proof that she is the one doing the peeing, but don't want to have to take all three cats in to get checked out (because it's expensive and won't guarantee the desired result) unless I've exhausted every other option.

If anyone could shed any light on a) why they might have started peeing now, after all this time, b) what, if anything, I could do to identify the culprit, c) what I could do to stop her/them from peeing and d) the best method of cleaning up the mess (which is on carpet) I would greatly appreciate it.
posted by The Card Cheat to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you can some way get a webcamera down there (maybe on a laptop? Or powered usb hub that trails up to a computer).. there are ways to use time-lapse photography. Just have it take a picture every 30 seconds or so. next time you find a puddle, review the pictures.
posted by royalsong at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2010

I had a similar situation some years ago so I can feel your pain. There's nothing quite as lovely as coming home from a long day at work to the odor of cat urine filling the house. LOL!

On the recommendation of my veterinarian I placed an additional cat box in the location where the cat was relieving himself. Sure, it wasn't the ideal solution to the problem because I had an extra box to clean, but the cat eventually began going in the new box in addition to the original one. After a few weeks of this I removed the original box from the equation and the cat continued using the new box as if that was the only box in the house.

For the cleanup, I found a cleaner called "Kids 'N' Pets" at the local Wal-Mart. I first heard about it on Amazon but a reviewer there mentioned that Wal-Mart carried it. It apparently has enzymes that destroy the odor causing bacteria in the urine and it really worked wonders for getting rid of the smell.
posted by BrianJ at 12:04 PM on August 18, 2010

A well known reason why cats pee outside their box is a UTI. Are the all still pooping appropriately?

Natures Miracle is my go-to cleaner for all things kitty related.

If I was trying to find the culprit, I'd probably set up some elaborate webcam that starts uploading/saving a series of photos whenever there's movement. But I'm a geek like that.

Either that, or find some way of identifying the three cats after the fact. Pet-safe paint on the bottom of their feet, (different color per cat) so you can see footprints? (it has to be safe for cats though - they will lick it!)

If it's a consistent puddle in the same place, by all means put a new box there. If she pees in the new box, it may be behavioral - for some reason, she doesn't like peeing in the old spot. Have you gotten lazy in your scooping? Have the other boxes gotten stinkier due to another having digestive issues? Has the dynamic between the three changed? Is one getting bullied more than usual?

In a really desperate situation, I'd probably lock all three in their own rooms of the house, with a litter box each, until the culprit is found. But that change alone could be enough to cause inappropriate peeing, so not the first option.
posted by cgg at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2010

Are the puddles right next to the litter box? Is it possible the cat is standing in the litter box but not scooting forward / squatting enough and is actually peeing over the side and on to the floor? This started happening to us recently and it took a while to catch her in the act and realize the problem. Our solution was to find the highest walled box we could (a converted storage bin may also be an option), along with placing a puppy pee pad under the side they enter the box from. This, plus making sure the box is cleaned daily really seems to have cut down on outside-of-the-box accidents.
posted by platinum at 2:34 PM on August 18, 2010

Sadly, the puddles aren't right next to the litter boxes, they're in various spots 5-10 feet away from the area of the basement where they're located.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:49 PM on August 18, 2010

When the vet prescribed antiobiotics, did s/he test your cat's urine? That's important. In the interim, placing aluminum foil over previously soiled spots helps. Another litterbox may also help.
posted by analog at 3:50 PM on August 18, 2010

How do the cats get along?

I lived in a situation where one cat, also the youngest one, was peeing outside the door to the room where the catboxes were. Turns out that the older cats were ganging up to bully the youngest cat, and were physically preventing his entrance into Catboxland. So, he had no choice to pee and poo on the floor. (Unfortunately, our 'solution' was that one of the bully cats later died when he was hit by a car, and the other bully cat lost interest.)

Are the catboxes in the same area of the basement, like in a row? Maybe mix them up a little bit in case there's a territorial issue going on here.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:28 PM on August 18, 2010

The vet gave me a syringe to try and collect some of the urine, but this is proving to be impossible because it soaks into the rug. I haven't noticed any bullying...the cats do seem to have a pecking order of sorts, and the suspect is in the middle, but there's no serious bullying as far as I can tell and all three seem to go down to the basement without harassment from the others. I'll try moving the boxes around (they are all close together) and getting another one.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:32 PM on August 18, 2010

I had this problem a few months ago. Tried everything. As a last straw, I randomly tried new types of litter. That solved the problem for good.

Incidentally, a friend of mine who'd been using the same brand litter had the same problem at the same time and solved it the same way. We suspect that a chemical that was offensive to the cats had gotten into mix they were using to hold the wood pulp together.

This was after over 3 years of using the same brand litter, so it just didn't occur to me to try switching it. "She's been using that litter for 3 years, how could that be the problem?"

So, I'd suggest putting out two more litter boxes with other brands of litter and see what happens. That $30 was easier on me than the $300 I spent on vet tests and medication that didn't help anyway.
posted by krisak at 7:00 PM on August 18, 2010

Okay, I am not a vet, but the four causes of this behavior that I have had experience with are as follows:
1) Bacterial infection/UTI - Urine test is required. If you can't collect urine, you can leave your cat with the vet and they can cath them. Antibiotics are usually what are prescribed.
2) Cystitis - Urine test generally ruled out UTI and if you are sitll having problems, Cystitis might be the diagnosis. With our cat, the urine had a VERY strong odor and was a chronic condition. The fix was a steroid shot to lessen irritation during flare-ups and switching food to Hill's Prescription feline CD. Expensive, but way better than dealing with cat pee outside the box.
3) Cat wanted to go outside - Seriously. We had an outside cat that we wanted to be an inside cat. He wanted to rid our back yard of bunnies and was miserable for two years. Letting him outside to satisfy his hunting urges has stopped all marking/inappropriate urination and made him happy. Yay!
4) FIV - We had a very sick cat, but had no idea. We think the poor guy was trying to tell us something but the many vets we took him too didn't even think to test him until we had spent $1200 at an Animal Emergency Center. By then, there is nothing anyone could do.

So, once you figure out what is going on, deal with the carpet - Don't do it until then or you will go broke. We ended up replacing our carpet with a PET version (made from recyled soda bottles) that we can literally spill bleach on if we need to, and opted for a non-absorbant rubber padding. This would enable us to pull up the section of carpet and clean up any other cat messes in the future without the urine being soaked up by either the carpet or the pad.

Our tried and true method of getting rid of the urine mess and odor is a combination of repeated applications of URINE-OFF (get the black light to locate messes), blotting and drying with fans. Once dry, we sprinkle Ex-Stink over the carpet, which is volcanic ash dust. We leave it on the spot for 24 hours and vac it up and the odor is totally gone. I have a finely tuned nose to cat pee, so when I found this formula, I heard angels sing.

I thought I would mention one other thing that has helped with any urinary issues, and that is getting a water fountain with a carbon filter for the cats. Fresh water encourages them to drink more and makes for happy cats. And owners.

Good luck!
posted by inquisitrix at 8:41 PM on August 18, 2010

How high are the sides of your litter box? Is there a possibility it is actually your oldest cat, and she is starting to have trouble climbing into a too-high litter box? This happened to my oldest cat when she turned 14 this year. I got her a low-sided box and the problem stopped immediately.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:37 AM on August 19, 2010

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