ABSTRACT: Nursing staff have a particularly important role to play in general practice. Nurses tend to have closer, more frequent contact with owners than veterinarians and are viewed as an essential source of advice and support. This can be crucially significant in cases of feline house soiling, which tends to cause extreme distress to those affected.

Although some owners tolerate the problem for considerable periods of time before seeking help, others are less understanding and/or well-bonded to their pets and quickly lose patience.

However, irrespective of the category into which a client falls, the probability is that by the time he or she raises the issue, their owner-pet relationship is considerably strained. It may have reached the point of relinquishment and/or euthanasia. Therefore, despite pressures and time constraints any professional consulted must adopt an interested attitude and give good quality advice.

There are many reasons why cats start to soil in the house – a problem behaviour that greatly distresses most owners

Client support is crucial

Under most circumstances – for instance, if a client mentions the problem when visiting the surgery to make a routine purchase or a pet is discharged after an unrelated procedure – it is impossible to do more than give basic first aid advice. The beneficial impact of this should not be underestimated.

If desperate owners feel supported and are given straightforward measures that will prevent further deterioration in their situation, their relationship with the affected pet(s) is likely to stabilise. This is generally helpful, as many house soiling cases, whatever the underlying motivation(s), are complicated by feline stress.

Empowered owners usually relax, which has a beneficial effect on their cats. They also start to think more clearly about their circumstances, take a more helpful approach and make better observations, which is instrumental in identifying the cause(s) of the problem behaviour.

It is also essential that any misunderstandings they have that the cat is aware that its behaviour is unacceptable or motivated by spite, stubbornness or perversity are dispelled. There is always a reason for house soiling, no matter how incomprehensible it appears. Explaining this to a distressed owner is the first step towards resolution. Nevertheless it is important to stress that initial first aid measures are unlikely to adequately deal with the problem and to arrange a behavioural consultation, either in-house or by referral.

In addition, as a range of medical conditions can cause and/or contribute to house soiling, immediate veterinary examination is always required.

Multi-cat homes, comprising unrelated adults, are often affected by unrecognised feline tension, which can contribute to inappropriate elimination and indoor urinary marking

An increase in house soiling cases may well be seen during adverse weather conditions

Distinguishing behaviours

Inappropriate elimination and scent marking with urine and/or faeces can both be seen with house soiling. Sometimes one individual will exhibit both behaviours, concurrently or sequentially. It is essential that owners have sufficient information to correctly assess the evidence.

With inappropriate elimination, pools of urine and normal faeces are usually seen, generally deposited in areas that represent appropriate feline latrine sites, such as the corners of rooms that are little used or places that are easily reached from the cat’s preferred resting or hiding places – a bathroom or the owner’s bed, for example. If the cat is observed performing the behaviour, it will typically adopt a squatting stance.

Urinary scent marking is usually characterised by small volumes of urine aimed a few inches from the ground at vertical surfaces. Sites often have significance in relation to physical, scent or social stressors, for instance around the cat flap and entrance/exit doors and on windowsills from which other cats can be seen or smelt. Electrical equipment and newly introduced possessions/ purchases may also be affected.

If observed, cats generally adopt a typical spraying stance, backing up to the surface, squirting urine and paddling with their back feet. With ‘middening’ faecal markers tend to be deposited in exposed not private locations, such as elevated kitchen work surfaces.

Owners should be advised to keep a diary detailing the nature of the problem and mark affected locations on a plan of the home. They should also be made aware of the most common contributing factors in house soiling cases so that they can accumulate accurate evidence necessary for diagnosis.

Changes associated with the physical environment, indoors and outside, and social composition of the household and locality are especially important. Relating them both to the onset and/or worsening of the problem behaviour will be helpful. Factors include:

   new and/or large objects or rearranged furniture

   weather conditions

   noise stressors, such as fireworks or building works

   introduction and/or departures of family members, visitors, other pets

   intrusions by neighbouring cats, especially if they enter the home.

▼I An increase in house soiling cases may well be seen during adverse weather conditions


Amassing photographic evidence can be valuable and video footage is particularly useful in multi-cat households and/or where the presence of other cats in the neighbourhood may be contributing to the problem.

Practical measures

It is vital to stop punishment immediately. Clients must also avoid subtle negative reactions to problem incidents, such as sighing or vocal comment.

Stress is often a contributory factor and such human response can have a negative effect on the cat or other cats in a multi-cat home.

Owners should ensure, however, that they do not overwhelm their cat(s) with inappropriate, intrusive attention – for example, in trying to atone for previous punitive actions or ill-advised attempts at reassurance.

Predictable owner behaviour is essential, with for instance clients restricting interaction to gentle vocal exchanges and hands-off play with fishing rods, only petting sociable cats when they are relaxed.

Suggest litter tray(s) too. Even in suspected marking cases, cats may be stressed because they are scared of going outside and/or moving around the home to seek a latrine. The following points should be born in mind:

   indoor only/multi-cat homes need one per cat plus one extra

•< span style="white-space:pre;">   placed in private locations – split up where there are several animals

   most cats prefer deep, clumping litter

   good tray hygiene is essential.

Repeated, effective cleaning using disposable cloths is critical, otherwise retained scent encourages further problem behaviour. Proprietary preparations or 10% biological detergent solutions, followed by careful raising and drying are ideal. Short-term covering of affected areas with plastic sheeting (taped down) can help limit damage.

Access to problem areas and/or vulnerable locations, such as rooms containing electric items, should be restricted; taking care to ensure that welfare is not undermined by enforced proximity to problematic individuals such as a puppy or toddler!

In multi-cat homes, suggest splitting essential resources, food and water stations/latrine facilities to reduce any unrecognised tension and help determine which cat/cats is/are behaving inappropriately. Also enrich the environment – hiding places, especially high and/or dark retreats are important and should be duplicated in multi-cat households.

Pheromone products are usually helpful as long as clients know how to use them properly, and nutraceuticals may be of value.


House soiling is understandably one of the most distressing problem behaviours people are likely to encounter with their cats.

Consequently first aid advice that is relevant and practical – and which they can immediately implement – will usually prove invaluable in preventing further deterioration to their property and the relationship with their pet(s). This is also a useful way of ‘buying time’ until a dedicated behavioural consultation, aimed at resolution, can be carried out. 


Francesca Riccomini BSc(Hons) BVetMed CCAB MRCVS


Francesca qualified from the RVC, London in 1974. She is an experienced small animal clinician, author of two cat books and gained a postgraduate Diploma in Behaviour Counselling from Southampton University in 2001. A member of the FAB's Behaviour Expert Panel and of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, she now specialises in the subject and runs a behavioural referral service based in south-west London.

Further reading

BRADSHAW, J. W. S (1994) The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat. CABI Publishing, UK.

BOWEN, J. and HEATH, S. (2005) Behaviour Problems in Small Animals, Practical Advice for the Veterinary Team. W B Saunders, Edinburgh. HORWITZ, DEBRA F., and MILLS, DANIEL S. (2009) ed. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behaviour Second Edition. BSAVA Publishing, UK.

TURNER, D. C. and BATESON, P. (2000) ed. The Domestic Cat – the biology of its behavior Cambridge University Press, UK.

Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 25 • No9 • September 2010 •