Stop the pee!
June 20, 2008 9:01 PM   Subscribe

How do I get my cat to stop pissing all over my apartment?

Some details:
- He is a 14 year old male. I adopted him when he was 3. He's been scent-marking (pissing) for the past year.
- We've gone to the vet and everything is ok (no crystals, no UTI, blood + urine fine). Vet says "he's getting older and things like this happen".
- I've tried Feliway spray and diffuser: no affect.
- He is scent marking... he still uses the litter box for main urination.
- I have a second cat, but she has been in the house for 8 years and this is new behavior over the last year. As he has escalated, I have shown him more affection in case he is competing with her: no affect.
- I have gotten the advice to separate the cats and give them their own litter boxes: my apartment is not amenable to this (it is a floorthrough w/ no doors... only door is on the bathroom).
- He pees on anything new or that I leave out: my blackberry, wallet, laundry. He has peed on me, while curling up in my lap.
- Sometimes it is the very deliberate tail-curling, hunched back posture w/ a 10-inch stripe of urine on the floor, sometimes it is just a few random drops where he is lying.
- He does it in jags... like nothing for awhile, and then over an hour just walks around does it every seven feet or so.
- My apt has begun to stink despite my best efforts to keep on top of it. The instructions online are to not clean up the urine w/ any strong smelling soap, since this will make him pee more.
- As it is now, I'm not comfortable having guests over. My furniture basically reeks, and I'm approaching my wits end. Each time I wake in the middle of the night to the sound of him scraping over his latest spray, I fantasize of him catching a terminal illness, and feel evil.

Ugh... tell me what to do, AskMeFi.
posted by cgs to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Put him down? I don't mean to be cold, just pragmatic. You've already done what most people here will tell you to do, if my recollection of past questions about this sort of thing is at all on target. You could also get a second opinion about possible physical causes and then ask about kitty mental health.
posted by Stewriffic at 9:11 PM on June 20, 2008

14 is old for a cat. He's probably just a bit feeble.

What helped me with my old cat was reminding her every now and then where the litterbox was by setting her down right in front of it, and then rewarding her after she used it. (And cleaning it out right away.)

The constant hand-holding can be a bit of a pain, and there will be the occasional "while you were out" accidents, but it'll be at least reduce the piss reek somewhat.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:16 PM on June 20, 2008

You could contain the damage by confining him to the bathroom, or placing him into a large dog crate w/ a litter box - but what kind of life is that?

You've already done what most people would tell you to do. You've given him a good, long life and you've already put up with far more than most people would. It might be time to consider putting him down (after a week of belly rubs and lots of canned tuna).
posted by Ostara at 9:23 PM on June 20, 2008

We had a similar problem with one of our cats (though she's only 6). After a year of assorted strategies and tests our vet proscribed AMITRIP which is an antidepressant. Originally 5mg a day we've got her tapered off to 5 every 36 hours. It has completely resolved the marking issue. Miss a dose and it's urine city. Our vet said that her experience is that it works about 50% of the time once stuff like new litter has been tried.
posted by Mitheral at 9:35 PM on June 20, 2008

Ohhhh...I know that's going to be hard, but good advice aboe. Give him my love, and you too! :-)
posted by frosty_hut at 9:37 PM on June 20, 2008

One possible solution would be to move to a house with a spacious yard, and just allow him to be an outside cat. Finances may not allow that of course; just saying.
posted by crapmatic at 10:32 PM on June 20, 2008

I'm not going to tell you to kill your cat because he pees on things.

See if someone can adopt him. The local pet shelter probably can put you in contact with people who take in unwanted pets. If not them, see if friends or acquaintances or relatives have an outdoor option (a barn?) for him. He might be a very easy problem to solve for someone in different circumstances -- an outdoors cat for someone with land. Let him retire to the country. Send him his favorite food.
posted by pracowity at 2:58 AM on June 21, 2008

17 year old cat - problem solved with a cage. Previously.
posted by plinth at 3:57 AM on June 21, 2008

cgs, you have my sympathy. This is a horrible issue and I'm sure the stench of cat pee is driving you to distraction. Your vet is right, your cat is older and even though these days 14 years old is not full on geriatric, there are changes that can happen that can bring on this type of behaviour.

As your vet has ruled out the urinary tract stuff, it's worth taking a look at your cat's eating and drinking habits are. What's his coat like? if it looks open and a bit ragged, he's extra hungry or thirsty and maybe losing a bit of weight, ask the vet about a thryoid function blood test. Sometimes hyperthyroidism in older cats can lead to cognitive decline and escalating behaviours.

Cognitive function in older cats, can decline and give rise to behaviour where the cat has simply forgotten that he's already marked something. As in all mammals, the cat's sense of smell deteriorates with age. Other influences that can compound a failing sense of smell can be air fresheners, human toiletries such as strong perfume or strong smelling cleaning materials. All these things can have notes that are very similar to cat scent (that you can't smell) and again this can add to older cat confusion. The fact that he's peeing on you and your beloingings so much, hints that this is probably a security issue combined with cognitive decline and a deteriorating sense of smell. Imagine if your route to work seemed radically different each day, without warning, it is going to cause you anxiety, your anxiety will show in human ways, your cat is showing his confusion and anxiety in cat ways because every route in his life smells - not quite right.

Think back a year, did anything significant happen in his world? Did strangers frighten him, did you go through a period of extended stress yourself? Were you away from your apartment longer than usual for a protracted periods? Have you used a pet sitter whilst you are away? Was there any change at all in the dynamic between him and the younger cat? Did you rearrange your apartment?- these type of events can cause an initially small response from the cat, but over time, an insecurity develops and escalates into the behaviour you are seeing now. Asking you all the above is to get you thinking about how you can make adjustments in his world so that he feels secure in yours. He needs some good beds/lounging spots where can have a sun following sleep schedule. He's gotta be able to get to them too. Some kind of steps or chairs placed where he needs them could be useful. Your anxiety levels about this hell can also add inadvertantly to the cycle of marking. Giving extra love when your world is full of terrible cat pee stench that is keeping you from being happy to have friends around, is tense and hard, but the right thing to do.

There is nutrional supplement called Activait on the market (from vets) which can be useful in slowing down cognitive decline in felines and canines. It was initially developed for cognitive decline in dogs but has also proved useful in felines. If you use it, it won't be a speedy change, but given a few weeks you might see a reduction in his marking cycles.

I'm going to suggest that you go back to Feliway, but in a bigger way. I'm always pushing this stuff, and it has worked for me with old cats, helping in changing behaviour. Sometimes you do need more than it says on the can. Think of his sense of smell, it's failing so he needs extra hints. One diffuser in every room at least, place them as near as you can to his regular major marking spots (bonus points for getting them in places that the stuff is carried by air flow) and use the spray at his peeing height on less frequently used places. Redo the spray every 3 days initially.

Cleaning is vital for your sanity. Get hold, if you can, of a less scented biological washing powder, lots of it and make a strong solution. For the things that are saveable (be ruthless and get rid of what isn't) use it on fabrics by making a strong solution, two cups per litre. Keep fabric wet for about three days (make sure it stays wet, replenish) then wash it/rinse well. If carpet use a wet and dry machine to blast all the stink out. Wash down all other funiture with the powder solution too. The idea is, is, in one long session to both get rid of the pee reek and replace it with chemicals that smell to him, of him. Make sure all his sleeping places smell of him too. Don't keep washing his bedding, unless it's pee'd up, if it is, wash it and use that feliway spray on it when you give it back to him.

As he's an indoor cat, it's worth checking out his claws. If he finds trying to make his mark on his manor by scratching, uncomfortable, then he's going to mark the other way more. Get his claws trimmed regularly if he needs them doing. Make sure he has a few scratching places, legal ones, give them a blast of Feliway for good measure. Encourage with praise, but keep it chilled.

Good luck.
posted by Arqa at 5:34 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

We had a cat who just started pooping on everything in his old age. Kitty Prozac (not sure of the actual antidepressant used) totally eliminated the problem. It's worth a shot, anyway.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:56 AM on June 21, 2008

Is his litterbox easy for him to get to and enter? I had an elderly cat with a similar problem that stopped right away when I moved his box from an out-of-the-way spot to a more central location; it turned out that he just didn't want to (or couldn't) make the trek anymore.

If all else fails, they do make diapers/stud pants for cats. I can't imagine my cats putting up with wearing them, but it might be worth a try.
posted by magicbus at 6:17 AM on June 21, 2008

The actual antidepressant is indeed Prozac, or even Xanax or Valium. It's definitely worth a try. I wouldn't give up on a cat without going that route. Here is a good book about cat behaviour issues and how they were treated. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by neblina_matinal at 6:22 AM on June 21, 2008

Nthing the kitty prozac. Amitriptyline is what I am trying now with with my cat, the root of all evil. Success so far (with the pee problem, she still punches the blind dog in the face). I think it is your best bet. If you haven't already, go to an exclusively feline vet rather than a regular dog & cat vet. I think they are better suited to deal with this sort of cat issue, personally. They might consider other medical conditions that a 'general' practitioner vet might not think of. Good luck!
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:35 AM on June 21, 2008

Kitty drugs work wonders. Our cat started marking the sofa nightly, after which we took her to the vet and got her on Clomicalm. Nothing since then.
posted by Gortuk at 6:42 AM on June 21, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! thanks for all the advice and support :-) I just looked through my records and he is actually 12, not 14 (I thought he was older when i adopted him). There were two big changes to his environment:
- I did some remodeling that removed one of his favorite perches (last fall)
- I started spending two - three nights a week at my girlfriend's house (over the past two years)

I think the peeing started before the remodeling, so had my money on the time away. I am now single and at home, but he is carrying on despite me being there. Does it take awhile for him to wind down?

I will give the prozac a shot... is it a pill? 10-year cat owner and I can only rarely get a pill down their throats when they're squirming and flailing. I normally try the towel-burrito technique, to limited success.

I will also buy two more diffusers. Does anyone know if they need to be in an upright position to work properly? Because my outlets are not in the appropriate places to work effectively, and I'll have to put the diffusers on extension cords (picture them lying on the floor, on their side).

Thanks again-
posted by cgs at 7:23 AM on June 21, 2008

cgs, your problem with your cat sounds a lot like one described in the book I refered in my previous comment. In chapter 7, "the writing on the wall", Dr. Dodman writes of a cat who behaved like yours. Basically he was peeing on anything new or that smelled of the owner, and on the owner himself - just as in your case. Just like you, the owner was changing habits and had someone new in their life. Kitty's peeing is their way of saying "hey, your ass is mine and don't your forget it. I looove you". The cat was prescribed an anxiety drug and after treatment all was fine.

Go to a good vet, who handles cat behaviour issues. They'll prescribe the appropriate drug at the appropriate dosage, and I bet your kitty will be just fine. As for pilling, you should try Pill Pockets. Many people swear by them.

As for the Feliway, I'd say you should keep them in an upright position, yes.
posted by neblina_matinal at 7:44 AM on June 21, 2008

Ooo- don't use Nature's Miracle for the stains and smell-- the only miracle is its price.

I use Anti-Icky Poo. Not cheap. It is, however, the only thing I have used that works in 1-2 applications (couches may need 3-4 since the chemical has to seep deeply into the cushion).

We just buy the kit every year or so. It comes with a full spray bottle, a gallon on the stuff, and an evil-looking syringe for rugs and cushions. Worth. Every. Penny.
posted by oflinkey at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2008

cgs writes "I will give the prozac a shot... is it a pill? 10-year cat owner and I can only rarely get a pill down their throats when they're squirming and flailing. I normally try the towel-burrito technique, to limited success."

The stuff our car is on is available in a pill and also as a gel that is rubbed in the ear. The pills are like $0.05 a dose and the gel more than a dollar. The pill is bitter so if the cat chews instead of swallowing they get a nasty taste in their mouth. While our cat runs away when she hears the pill bottle she doesn't struggle much anymore when we do catch her. The first couple weeks until we got the pill giving technique down were a bit of a struggle.
posted by Mitheral at 8:36 AM on June 21, 2008

For taking care of the smell, try an enzyme cleaner like Nature's Miracle.

The only thing I've ever used that actually worked for the smell is this stuff called Dumb Cat.
posted by kindall at 9:59 AM on June 21, 2008

Here's another approach if prevention (e.g., medication, etc.) fails:


Our ancient 20+ year old cat occasionally near-misses the litter box. We put trash bags on the floor under and around it, and paper towels on top of the trash bags so that they surround the box. Kitty misses - paper towels soak up urine - moisture does not penetrate trash bag. Throw away and replace. Carpet/floor does not get soaked with urine. No permanent reek. The paper towels technically aren't necessary. You can adapt the strategy to furniture, or to an entire apartment.

You could conceptualize this as an external diaper. It would change the decor. But hey, you can work with it. Polyethylene sheets (a.k.a., vapor barrier) might look better than trash bags, and would be more durable and cleanable. Put washable rugs or towels on top.

And it sounds like he's been a good cat all these years -- think of it as installing some ADA modifications for a senior citizen.


Footnote 1: Petastic is another enzyme-based cleaner.

Footnote 2: if urine has soaked through to the wood, the odor-elimination problem can become more complex.
posted by coffeefilter at 12:29 PM on June 21, 2008

Does anyone know if they need to be in an upright position to work properly? Because my outlets are not in the appropriate places to work effectively, and I'll have to put the diffusers on extension cords (picture them lying on the floor, on their side).

I'm pretty sure it has to be upright. Many powerstrips have holes in the back to hang on the wall, and could be tacked up in the correct position.
posted by krix at 12:58 PM on June 21, 2008

cgs, Feliway diffusers definately need to be in an upright position, there's a real fire risk if they are laying down or upside down. They also need to be in a position where the stuff inside can circulate to the rest of the room, so try not to situate it behind armchairs/couches. krix's idea of tacking a powerstrip to the wall is great. Do use the Feliway spray as well on your furniture. At 12, he's still an older fella so some of the sense of smell loss might be part of the issue, especially if there are regular smokers about now or have been in the past. The remodelling and the regular nights away sound like very real reasons for the change in his behaviour.

I'd give some of the environmental changes and the major cleanup a chance to work before you start you on the Prozac route. Sometimes, environmental changes are all that's needed to restore the confidence of the cat. Sometimes the cat needs a break from the stress to be confident to change his behaviour, that's when the drugs are useful.

Money saving tip: biological washing powders contain enzymes that will deal with cat pee, but you do need to keep the area wet for 2 to 3 days, then wash and rinse.
posted by Arqa at 3:35 AM on June 22, 2008

We had a much less serious issue with urination outside the box. The vet suggested an open (not covered) box with clumping, unscented clay litter and no liner. That stopped the peeing for a while.
posted by mingshan at 4:51 PM on June 22, 2008

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