Cat spraying and soiling indoors

Stop your cat spraying and soiling in the house

Cats are usually very clean and go to the toilet outside or in a litter tray. So, finding signs of urine (wee) or faeces (poo) elsewhere in the house is a sign that something is wrong.

A one-off accident might be caused by illness, being trapped in a room or being frightened. But you will need to find out what caused the accident to make sure your cat is happy and healthy.

Important: Telling your cat off will only make things worse as it will make them feel more threatened. And they won’t be able to link the telling off to the incident! By finding out what’s causing any toileting or spraying, you’ll be able to take steps to help stop them.

Why is my cat toileting indoors?

There are lots of possible causes for your cat toileting in your home, such as stress or a health condition. You should consult your vet if your cat has started to wee in the house. Your vet will check for any health conditions that might be the cause and will be able to offer advice.

Cats also use their urine as a scent signal to mark their territory. This is called spraying and it’s different from having a one-off accident or toileting. Both male and female spray and it usually happens outside.

What’s the difference between urinating and spraying?

If a cat needs to wee, they will squat down and empty their bladder on a horizontal surface. The carpet, duvet, sofa or bath are usually where you’ll find accidents.

If your cat wants to spray, their tail will be upright and quivering, and they’ll usually make a treading motion with their back legs. A small amount of wee is then sprayed backwards onto a vertical surface such as a wall, leaving an obvious scent mark. Cats commonly choose a spot close to the door or window to spray, such as the curtains.

Why do cats wee and poo indoors?

Weeing and pooing indoors might be caused by your cat not liking where they should go or a health problem.

Common causes include:

  • cystitis (an inflammation or infection of the urinary tract)
  • old age
  • being scared to go outside
  • a problem with their litter tray
  • a previous bad experience

Why do cats spray indoors?

Spraying is usually caused because your cat feels threatened or stressed. Marking their territory makes them feel more secure.

Common causes include:

How to stop your cat toileting indoors

Once your cat has toileted or sprayed in a certain place, their sensitive nose encourages them to use that place again. The best way to break the habit is to keep them away from the area for as long as possible and clean the area thoroughly so they can’t smell any scent.

  1. Wash the area with a solution of biological or enzymatic washing liquid or powder
  2. Use a plant-mister to spray the area with surgical spirit
  3. Scrub this off and leave it to dry. Try a small area first on delicate fabrics.
  4. Place some dried cat food in the area to help prevent your cat from using the area as a toilet

Once you have cleaned up, you can try other techniques to make sure your cat is as comfortable as possible weeing and pooing where you’d like them to.

Common causes and what you can do

Cystitis and other urinary tract infections 

Cystitis and other types of urinary tract disease may cause your cat to need to go for a wee more often. The infection also makes cats to urinate immediately, rather than attempting to go outside or to the litter tray. Speak to your vet if you think this might be the cause.

Old age 

An older cat may not want to go out in bad weather or may be having problems using the cat flap because of stiffening joints. Or, they may feel more insecure because they cannot escape as easily as they did when younger. 

Even if your cat has always gone outside, providing a litter tray indoors is a good thing to do for your cat as they get older. If your pet seems a bit stiff, choose one with low sides so that it’s easy to enter. You should also contact your vet as your pet may benefit from arthritis treatment. 

Some conditions such as kidney disease or diabetes can increase thirst and, therefore, urination. If the litter tray is constantly wet, your cat may not want to use it. Change the tray once it has been used and speak to your vet.

Finally, as some cats age, their memory can decline. This means that some of the behaviours they have learned eg where to go to the toilet, can be forgotten.

Important: Always speak to your vet if your older cat starts toileting indoors as this is often caused by a health condition.

Feeling scared

Cats normally dig a hole, squat to urinate or defecate, and cover it up afterwards. A cat feels vulnerable during this process.
There may be something threatening outside. Your cat may be afraid of a neighbourhood dog, another cat or traffic after a close encounter with a car.

If the problem is caused by another cat outdoors, or coming in through the cat flap, then take steps to make your cat feel secure again:

  • Lock the cat flap and let them out yourself – this provides some security and helps frighten off any cats waiting in the garden
  • Change the cat flap to one which is opened by a magnet or electronic key on your cat’s collar so that other cats cannot come in
  • Do not encourage other cats into your garden by feeding them or giving them attention
  • Accompany your cat outside as this might give them some extra support
  • Sprinkle some of their soiled litter around the perimeter of your garden
  • Dig up a quiet, sheltered area with softer soil for your cat to use, or use a pile of sand which your cat can dig a hole in
  • Provide a litter tray indoors

Litter tray problems

If your cat normally uses a litter tray but has recently started to go elsewhere in the house there may be an obvious reason.

A dirty litter tray

Cats do not like using a tray if it is very dirty. Litter trays should be cleaned out at least every couple of days and any poo removed daily. If you have more than one cat, provide one tray for each.

A very clean litter tray

Using scented litter, deodorants or disinfectants with strong smells may put your sensitive cat off using the tray. Use a feline-friendly disinfectant and make sure the tray is rinsed thoroughly with clean water. Avoid disinfectants which turn cloudy in water as these usually contain phenols which are toxic to cats. Rinse the litter tray before use.

The wrong type of litter

Changing the consistency or the scent of the litter may put your cat off using it. Many cats prefer fine-grain litter with the consistency of sand. If you want to change the type of litter, mix the new one in gradually over a week or so to make sure your cat likes it.

Its position

If the tray is positioned in the open where your dog, children or other cats might disturb it, your cat may feel too vulnerable to use it and seek a more secure spot behind the sofa. 

Tip: Place the tray in a quiet spot and avoid placing food near their litter tray.

The type of litter tray

If you have an open type of tray, try buying one with a lid to help your cat feel safe. Placing a box with a hole in the side over the tray may also work.

A bad experience in the past

Occasionally cats do not use their litter tray because of a bad experience, such as:

  • being cornered there and given medication 
  • feeling scared or frightened by another pet or child
  • having previous episodes of pain associated with passing urine or faeces

Moving the tray to a quiet spot and providing a lid for it may help.

How to stop a cat from spraying

Once you have cleaned up, you can try other techniques to make sure your cat does not feel the need to mark their territory inside.

Help your cat feel secure 

Even when the cause of spraying is not obvious, there are ways in which you can make your cat feel more secure. For example, limit the area they’re allowed to patrol to one or two rooms. This may help your cat feel more secure and reduce their desire to mark.

New people or strangers

Cats sometimes mark their territory if their owners go on holiday and leave a stranger to care for them. Because they feel vulnerable, they mark an area that has a strong scent of the owners, such as the duvet. The best way to avoid this is to keep the bedroom door closed. Make your cat feel secure again on your return from holiday.

Cat spraying in a new or redecorated home

Redecorating and building work can change the smell of your home. And any noise or new people in your home might make your cat feel unsettled.

Redecorating or replacing furniture effectively removes all your cat’s subtle scent markings that have been carefully placed by rubbing and scratching. These will now be replaced by the strong smell of new carpets, paint or furniture.

Keep your cat away from the altered room until the smells are not quite so strong and have mingled with the other familiar scents in the house. 

A cat might be less likely to spray if their scent is already there. You can also spread some of your cat's scent yourself:

  1. Take a soft cotton cloth and rub it gently around their face (where some of the glands which produce cat’s individual scents are located) to collect scent 
  2. Dab the furniture or walls of the room where the problem is occurring with the cloth and repeat this daily
  3. Vets and online suppliers can also supply a product (Feliway) which acts in the same way. It contains copies of natural pheromones – the scents produced by the glands on your cat’s face.

A new cat

Another cat in your home or in the neighbourhood may cause stress for your cat. Cats usually like to be on their own so make sure they have enough space. 

When a cat is simply too stressed for the situation ever to be resolved, it's worth considering rehoming one of the cats. Without the pressure of trying to cope with another cat in the home, the likelihood of spraying is reduced.

Get professional advice

If you’re struggling with your cat’s behaviour, speak with your vet or a qualified animal behaviourist.

— Page last updated 22/03/2024