Differential Diagnosis in Housesoiling Cats
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2004
Patrick Pageat, DVM, PhD, Dipl Behaviourist FVS, DECVBM-CA

Housesoiling is considered as the most commonly observed behaviour disorder among cats. According to most of the published studies, being a very clean pet is regarded as the main quality of the cat by owners. Thus, every disorder which will include soiling is regarded as specially unacceptable and bothering by our clients. Housesoiling cats cannot be regarded as a homogenous population since it is a collection of very different cases. According to the ethological criteria, it is possible to identify 3 main groups of behaviour problems between them. Under the qualification of housesoiling cat, the vet will be supposed to distinguish soiling related to inappropriate elimination from emotional urination and/or defecation and urine marking behaviour (spraying). In each of these groups, owners have more or less the same claims but the behaviour of the cat is completely different and related to very different conditions. Thus, the way to treat each of them is really different and adapted to the specific condition of the cat. This lecture will try to provide a pragmatic and precise approach to these disorders.

The "soiling behaviours"

According to its way to behave and its adaptation, the cat emits urines and faeces in three different situations:

 Elimination--means the physiological behaviour to eliminate the content of the bladder and rectum. This is a very typical behaviour which occurs as a response to the excitement of some receptors which are inside the wall of the bladder or the rectum and detect their fullness. Being stimulated this way, the cat looks for an adapted place which has to be safe (not to easily found by conspecifics nor other individuals of any specie), dry, and is a light soil (sand for example). The cat begins by smelling the surface and turns softly to crouch in the right position. The tail is deviated on the left or right and shaking. Just after the elimination, the cat smells the elimination and covers it with the soil. Each cat uses only one or a few elimination areas. This behaviour is acquired by experience and imitation of the mother around 6 weeks of age.

 Emotional elimination or defecation--it is rarer in the cat than in the dog. This is a neurovegetative reactions related to fear. Most of the time is associated to the release of the content of the anal sacks. These eliminations are emitted during the cat is running or jumping and the soiling is characterised by small spots of urine and amounts of faeces spread here and there across the cat's run.

 Urine marking--this behaviour is very identified by most of the cats' owners. The cat is standing, with shaggy hairs on the back, a vertical tail and can vocalize (e.g., during sexual marking in both males and females). He selects a vertical surface located on a very visible place from every way you use to arrive in this part of the territory. The cat turns its perineal area in direction of the selected place and then shows a typical excitement. The tail shakes as well as the legs and the back and the cat sprays a small amount of urine on this vertical surface.

When we know these behaviours, it is really easy to find the clinical approach for a precise diagnosis of the behaviour which responsible of the soiling. It is very important to keep in mind that these three behaviours can be induced and enhanced by many physical conditions and specially those including an inflammation of the low urinary tractus. Thus, a complete and precise physical examination associating an urinanalysis is essential to find the relevant diagnosis.

The steps of the diagnosis

To avoid any misinterpretation of the situation, the vet can follow this plan:

Question 1

 Soiling limited to or including vertical surfacesrightwards arrow question 2.

 Soiling only on horizontal surfaces rightwards arrow question 5.

Question 2

 Soiling limited to small surfaces rightwards arrow Urine marking rightwards arrow question 3.

 Soiling on both horizontal and vertical surfaces rightwards arrow question 4.

Question 3

 Urine marking in a tomcat, limited to the close environment of a door or a window / or urine marking in a queen, limited to the clothes of an adult male owner (or to a place where a male mammal stays) rightwards arrow sexual urine marking.

 Urine marking observed on several places which are regularly remarked rightwards arrow territorial urine marking.

Question 4

 Urine marking and small spread amounts of urine and/or faeces (sometime diarrhoea) on horizontal surfaces rightwards arrow territorial urine marking associated with emotional elimination: most of the time it is a symptom of a territorial disturbance related anxiety (introduction of a new individual whatever the specie, or severe modification of the territory such as rehoming, ...)

 Urine marking and elimination of full bladder and/or full rectum content on a light soil area (bed, carpet, sofa,...), urine marking being the one which occurred several weeks or months before rightwards arrowChronic urine marking and secondary inappropriate elimination. Common evolution of territorial competition.

 Urine marking and elimination of full bladder and/or full rectum content on a light soil area (bed, carpet, sofa,...), elimination being the one which occurred several weeks or months before rightwards arrowChronic inappropriate elimination and secondary urine marking. Common evolution of problems related to a poor cleaning of the litter box or a competition around the litter (too much cats or too many entire adults).

Question 5

 Small spread amounts of urine and/or faeces (sometime diarrhoea) on horizontal surfaces rightwards arrowemotional elimination. Rare when alone, related to generalised anxiety.

 Elimination of full bladder and/or full rectum content on a horizontal area (bed, carpet, sofa,...) rightwards arrow elimination rightwards arrow question 6.

Question 6

 The cat has always eliminated in inappropriate areas rightwards arrow question 7

 The cat was first a good cat, elimination in the litter rightwards arrow question 8

Question 7

 The elimination has always been observed on any horizontal surface, several places are used a light soil is not necessary rightwards arrowcomplete lack of maturation of the elimination behaviour. Commonly observed in kittens obtained from "intensive breeding" in inappropriate crates (no litter).

 The elimination has always been observed on any horizontal surface, usually several places with a light soil and the elimination is not covered rightwards arrow lack of maturation of the elimination behaviour. Most of these cases are observed when the kitten is separated too early from the mother.

Question 8

 The owners have change the brand of the litter soil, the type of litter box, the cleaning product, the place of the litter box rightwards arrowreactional inappropriate elimination. The owners have disorganised the elimination behaviour.

 Less than one litter box per cat, or all the litter boxes in the same place, or puberty newly occurred in one of the cats (male or female): competition for the litter boxes.


Using this approach it is really easy for the vet to identify the most common causes of housesoiling and then to provide an adapted treatment. Early treatment of such problems is the best way to succeed and to maintain a good relationship between cats and humans.


1.  Landsberg G., Hunthausen W., Ackerman L. (2003): Handbook of behavior problems of the dog and cat. Saunders, Toronto, 323-331

2.  Pageat P. in Landsberg G., Hunthausen W., Ackerman L. (2003): Handbook of behavior problems of the dog and cat. Saunders, Toronto, 455-483

3.  Pageat P., Gaultier E. (2003): Current research in canine and feline pheromones. Vet Clin Small Anim, 33: 187-211.

Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Patrick Pageat, DVM, PhD, DBFVS, DECVBM-CA

MAIN : Behavior : Housesoiling Cats
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