I got this question from Taylor, who listens to my NPR radio show DOG TALK ®(and Kitties, Too!) as well as to CAT CHAT® on the Radio Pet Lady Network. She describes a pretty awful out-of-control, out-of-litter-box situation:
“We have two cats and three dogs in our family along with our toddler-aged daughter. It’s always crazy at our house, especially with my husband being military and having to move all the time, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. There is however one thing I would certainly change, and that’s our male cat constantly peeing on things. Cat pee is negatively impacting nearly every aspect of my life, causing anxiety, stress, and taking its toll on our patience for each other and the other animals.
This has been going on for three years now. The cat has lulls that are sometimes a month or two long where he’s a model kitty citizen, despite the fact that he’s probably ruined a couple thousand dollars worth of our things. But in our recent move it has been out of hand. He’s peeing on everything, including the litter box occasionally if we’re lucky. I’d say that four days out of the week we wake up or find something he has urinated on, even though we’ve spent these last few years trying to keep him away from all clothes, bedding, pillows that are his “favorites” to pee on. But now he is now peeing on our kitchen counter! I woke up to it this morning and then again an hour or two later he peed there again, despite using an enzyme cleaner the first time.
It has reached the point that sometimes we cannot sleep at night, which spills over into the next day, so there are times I’m too tired to be the parent my child deserves.
We’ve reached out to so many different people, groups, and forums only to get the same answers over and over again. I think if I get another one like that I might have to be committed! We’ve tried adding litter boxes, trying different kinds of litter boxes, cleaning the litter box twice a day, moving their locations, and oh the different kinds of litter. We’ve taken him to the different vets multiple times throughout the last few years just for this issue and after getting a clean bill of health, we hear the same advice over again, things that we have already tried and handful of times and things that we’re continuously trying. My husband is military and I’m a stay-at-home parent to our daughter and the furry ones, so money is occasionally tight. This makes the situation even more frustrating for us because we have spent so much money and made so many cuts to our budget throughout this time period.
We refuse to give up on him because he’s family and we know there has to be some sort of answer that works for us, we just have to keep searching but it’s been three years of this and we are at our limit. If we don’t get some sort of help, we’re going to have to build some sort of outside enclosure. But that’s the last option, he’s overall very loving and I’d hate to separate him from us.
My answer to Taylor:
I’m so sorry. This sounds like a very difficult situation. My first suggestion would be to go to the veterinarian for a full checkup since urinary and kidney problems can cause out-of-litter box issues but you have already done that. You’ve also been vigilant in cleaning your litter boxes, having multiple ones, and experimenting to see what litters he accepted (I wonder if you tried Cat Attract litter, which has herbs that draw cats into the box and is often used with cats who are “litter box challenged”?)
However, I think the major problem here is pretty simple: too much change and stress! You said yourself you’re “moving all the time,” you have a toddler (a big challenge to cats) and multiple other animals (which is a ton of creatures for a naturally solitary cat to deal with). You don’t mention when you got the other cat and three dogs but I’ll bet those periods of introduction are linked to his peeing. As your first sentence says, “It’s always crazy at our house.” Some pets can roll with the crazy, some can’t.
Your frequent relocation is clearly the biggest issue. Moving over and over explains why the kitty is fine and then he isn’t. Having adjusted to a new place he is then removed from it all over again and expresses his emotional misery at the chaos and upheaval by peeing. For many cats, stress will cause them to mark territory.
Cats hate change, especially in their environment, which is why they say about cats that their comfort and security comes from where they live: they will choose a place over a person, if it comes down to it. You hear of cats who have lived happily with a family for years, but if they move he will travel a long distance to return to the original home.
You are good-hearted to say he’s part of your family and you don’t want to give up on him, but maybe the kindest thing is to recognize that loving him means giving him a stable, secure predictable environment. The kindest thing would be to find him a living situation that suits him better, unless you are not going to move again – in which case I think you should create that “catio” outside for him. And I’d also recommend that you give him his own space in the house away from all the hub-bub. It’s unlikely that is possible.
I rarely recommend re-homing a cat, and generally we all say, “Love means never giving up on an animal” but that’s not always the case. There are some things we cannot change or fix. Sometimes we need to see things for what they are, not what we wish they were. For three whole years your cat’s behavior has been a nightmare for you – but your lifestyle has been very hard on him at the same time, which you haven’t realized. Your family deserves better. And so does the cat.
Was there somewhere you lived previously that he seemed most happy and possibly the current owners would welcome him back? Or might there be someone you know who isn’t going anywhere and has a peaceful home where the cat can have peace and quiet with a loving human companion? Do you know anyone whose kind of life might be a better fit for him? I salute your devotion to him, but your whole family suffering from that dedication, and that includes the pussy cat. I’ll have my paws crossed for a solution that brings true happiness to all of you.