Canine And Feline House Soiling: Cause And Treatment
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011
Seong-Chan Yeon
Gyeongsang National University, Korea


Canine house soiling is a very important behavioral problem for owner and veterinarian because of it is a major reason for relinquishment of dogs. House soiling problem represents 9% of cases presented to the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University. This means that veterinarian must be prepared to treat cases of house soiling. Medical causes, behavioral causes like inappropriate housetraining, marking, separation anxiety, submissive and excitement urination should be differentiated. Treatments should be suggested according to the causes. Feline inappropriate elimination (IE) is the most common feline behavioral problem seen by veterinarian. It is also a common reason for relinquishment to animal shelters. When presented with a feline elimination problem there are three main diagnostic categories: medical problems, marking or toileting problems. Marking animals should be neutered and additional treatment measures may include reducing stress in the environment. Drug therapy has been long used to help control urine marking. Treatment for toileting problems should focus on providing an attractive litterbox.


History Taking

In addition to the usual history which should reveal when, where, and how often the dog eliminate, some specific questions should be added. The questions should include the following: asking about their preferred area, area characteristics, environmental disturbances, what products are used to clean soiled areas, when soiling occur in relation to meals, walks and your absence, discipline methods, etc.

Medical Causes of House Soiling

Before behavioral diagnosis, veterinarian must ensure that the dog has no diseases such as polyuria, pollakiuria, incontinence, arthritis, disc disease, conditions causing soft stools or diarrhea, cognitive dysfunction, etc.

Behavioral Diagnosis

If the medical causes of house soiling were ruled out, house-soiling may be caused by one, or a combination of the following: ineffective house-training methods, marking, separation anxiety, submission or excitement, inappropriate diet, and attention-getting behavior.

Treatment of House Soiling

Proper Housetraining (or Re-Housetraining)

The rational theory behind housetraining involves taking advantage of the dog's innate ability to avoid eliminating in its nesting area.

Feeding schedule: The daily schedule of dog should be monitored. Most dogs will eliminate within a somewhat predictable time postprandial. While young puppies tend to eliminate within the first hour after eating, the interval between eating and eliminating tends to be somewhat longer for adults, as well as more variable.

Confinement/supervision: Probably the most important consideration is to provide close supervision or confinement for a long enough period of time. Eliminating in an appropriate area has been adequately reinforced.

Reward the dog for eliminating in the proper location: To accomplish this, the owner must frequently accompany the pet to the chosen elimination area, mildly praise any sniffing or other pre-elimination behaviors and heartily praise it as it eliminates.

Prevent resoiling: Urine and feces odor must be removed with an effective commercial product.

Punishment: The correction (quick stomp of the foot, a loud handclap, a sharp tap on a tabletop or an abrupt "No") must be given during the behavior or within a second afterwards. A longer delay will be ineffective and may create fear.

Submissive/ Excitement Urination

Submissive and excitement urination are most commonly seen in puppies, although it may occur at any age. The first step in treating is to identify all initiating stimuli. The owner may initially need to ignore it, even to the extent of avoiding eye contact.


The diagnosis can be confirmed when specific territorial or anxiety-eliciting stimuli are associated with the act. When the pet attempts to mark, the owner can remotely punish it by setting off an electronic alarm or tossing a tin can containing pebbles near the pet, the noise of which should be aversive enough to stop the behavior.

Separation Anxiety

A pet with a very close relationship with its owner may become anxious when it suddenly loses access to the owner. Treatment involves gradually accustoming the pet to absences by the owner and desensitization to predeparture cues. Drugs therapy may be helpful when the anxiety is severe.

Geriatric Dog

Problems in older pets, such as arthritis, muscle atrophy and weakness make navigation of stairs more difficult. Establishing a frequent, regular schedule of guiding the dog to its elimination area will help ensure that the pet voids in a timely manner. A fixed diet and feeding schedule can also be helpful in preventing problems. Stress should be kept to a minimum.


History Taking

Several questions to owner should be asked: nature of house soiling (urine, stools or both), culprit, location of the soiling, litterbox information, size of the urine spot, social relationships, etc.

Medical Causes of House Soiling

Because medical problems are a frequent diagnosis in cats with IE, a diagnostic work-up is essential for cats with this problem. The most common medical diagnoses include disorders that cause polyuria, polydipsia and feline interstitial cystitis. Similarly, disorders of the gastrointestinal tract should be investigated for cats with inappropriate defecation, and the musculoskeletal system must be evaluated in older cats with inappropriate urination and defecation.

Behavioral Diagnosis

If the medical causes of Feline inappropriate elimination (IE) were ruled out, the diagnostic category of IE are urine marking and toilet problems. The primary distinction that must be made in a behavioral diagnosis is whether the cat is engaging in marking behavior or selecting a spot other than the litterbox for elimination (a toileting problem). The motivation for urine marking may be territorial behavior or anxiety/stress whereas toileting problems are often triggered by medical causes, aversions, preferences or anxiety.

Treatment of Feline Inappropriate Elimination

1.  Marking animals should be neutered.

2.  Provide ideal litter box and litter. Perform a litter box trial to determine if cat has preference for a particular litter. Most cats prefer fine, clumping, unscented litter.

3.  The number of litter boxes in house equal number of cats in house plus one additional box. The box must be of adequate size that cat can stand in box and easily turn around. Provide low edged entry/exit point for geriatric cats and cats with musculoskeletal disease. Boxes should be kept in quiet and easily accessible areas of the house.

4.  Urine and feces should be scooped out of the boxes at least once daily.

5.  The client should empty the boxes completely and clean them with mild soap and water weekly. Replace boxes if residual odor present after cleaning.

6.  Clean areas where cat has eliminated inappropriately. Use an enzymatic cleaner.

7.  Place deterrents in locations where cat has previously eliminated inappropriately: motion detected deterrent spray, plastic carpet runner (nubby side up), strong smells (citrus or potpourri), and/or blocking access to an area.

8.  Reduce stress for cats with feline interstitial cystitis or other causes of inappropriate elimination related to stress.

9.  Consider using feline facial pheromone.

10.  Consider medication for cats with significant stress or anxiety.


1.  Yeon, et al. A retrospective study of canine house soiling: diagnosis and treatment. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 1999;35:101–106.

2.  Neilson J. Thinking outside the box: feline elimination. J Feline Med Surg 2004;6:5–11.

3.  D'Arpino SA. Feline inappropriate elimination: case studies. AVMA convention note. 2010.

4.  Houpt KA. House soiling by dogs. In: Horwitz D, Mills D, Heath S, eds. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. 2002:90–96.

5.  Hunthausen W. Beyond house-training: solving canine house-soiling problems. 82nd Western Veterinary Conference 2010.


Speaker Information
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Seong-Chan Yeon
Gyeongsang National University, Korea

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