Preventing Soiling Problems With New Cats

Our friend Kathy has been caring for a stray cat that has “adopted” her. Kathy lives in a rural area, and Sam has been staying in her barn, but Kathy would like to bring Sam into the house and integrate him into the family with her other two cats.  The couple of times Kathy has brought him inside, Sam has gotten along with her other cats and is friendly with people, but he has urinated in her house more than once. A discussion with Kathy revealed that Sam had two problems. He was spraying (urine marking) in some places and when he used the litterbox, his urine would go over the sides. Sam was only half-squatting when he relieved himself in the box.

Kathy wanted to know how to prevent the soiling problems so Sam could regularly be inside, and become more a part of the family.  These problems aren't uncommon with newly adopted cats and need to know how to prevent litterbox and marking problems.

Sam has no problem going to the litterbox, but his posture causes the urine to go outside the box. Kathy can deal with this by giving Sam a litterbox with high sides that will keep the urine in the box. One way to do this is to use a tall plastic tote container with a hole in one side that will allow Sam to easily go in and out.

To prevent spraying and other problems, it’s a good ideawhen introducing a new cat to your household, to isolate the newcomer in his own room with water, food and a litterbox for a few days. This is what we recommended to Kathy. At first, Sam can come out to visit only when he has a chaperone until he seems comfortable with his new home and demonstrates he isn’t going to spray or eliminate outside the box. This gradual introduction helps him to acclimate to his new home with minimal stress and to show that he will use the litterbox provided for him.

During the short forays out from his room, Kathy should make the experiences fun and pleasant for Sam by pairing his visits with the other cats and people with play and/or food treats. Sam’s exploration of other rooms in the house should also be pleasant and calm, so he doesn’t associate the new places with fear or excitement. Antagonistic interactions with other cats or highly excitable experiences may lead to spraying.

Since Kathy has seen Sam spray in her house, we recommended that she talk to her veterinarian about a prescription of short-term anti- anxiety medication for him. This may inhibit the spraying and facilitate Sam’s integration into the household. We also recommended that Sam not be allowed to go outside without direct supervision, since he has been known to fight with other cats outside. Such antagonistic interactions outside can trigger marking behavior inside.

While there are no guaranteed ways to prevent elimination problems with cats, if their behavioral needs are met, most cats will use a litterbox reliably.

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