Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Indoor toileting

Synonym(s): Indoor elimination

Contributor(s): David Appleby, Meaghan Ropski, Amy Pike


  • Cause: multifactorial.
  • Signs: deposition of urine and/or feces in an unacceptable (to the human) location within the home.
  • Often associated with a total refusal to use litter boxes provided. May use litter boxes occasionally or for only urination or defecation.
  • Cases may involve a total failure to housetrain or a breakdown in previously effective housetraining.
  • Diagnosis: inappropriate urination/defecation needs to be distinguished from indoor marking Indoor marking.
  • Urination usually occurs from the squatting position onto horizontal surfaces and may have pre-urination digging whereas indoor urine marking usually occurs from a standing posture (although not exclusively) with the cat backing up to the intended site, twitching its tail and depositing a small amount of urine. Defecation is often hidden whereas middening (using feces as a marker) is usually performed in a prominent or obvious location.
  • Treatment: use of behavioral modification techniques to alter behavior and appropriate litterbox management and substrate preferences. Medications may also be appropriate.
  • Prognosis: good with appropriate management and behavior modification. Common cause of rehoming, relinquishment or euthanasia when unable to fully control or manage.



  • Variety of possible causes:
    • Lack of initial house training, eg due to poor maternal example, lack of litter and/or boxes, inappropriate litter and/or boxes provided based on preferences.
    • Post-trauma breakdown in house training, eg following enforced confinement, after medical conditions affecting elimination, following inappropriate attempts at medicating the cat on/in the vicinity of the litter box.
    • Aversion to the litter substrate provided, eg litter not clumping, strong smelling deodorizing litters.
    • Aversion to litter boxes, eg location (next to food bowl, near noisy electronics, eg washing machine, in busy passageway, or fear of disturbance by children, other pets, etc) or box (too small, too big, too clean, not clean enough, uncovered, covered, sides of litter box too high).
    • Preferential selection of inappropriate substrate, eg carpet or linen soft under foot.
    • Preferential selection of inappropriate location, eg in basement or behind sofa because quiet and secluded.
    • Fear of specific or generalized stimuli, eg urination in response to the sound of the doorbell or arrival of visitors, or startling from other causes.
    • Disruption of preferred substrate association at adolescence especially in males.
    • Overcrowding, eg not enough litter boxes for number of cats or inter-cat conflict leading to blocking access of litter boxes.
    • Geriatric alterations in needs, eg location of box no longer appropriate, not enough boxes provided, too far to get to box, sides of box too high.

Predisposing factors


  • Lack of initial housetraining.
  • Lack of proper litter box maintenance or substrate change.
  • Previous or current medical condition.
  • Trauma such as temporary confinement, veterinary visit, or household inter-cat conflict/aggression Aggression: intercat.
  • Inappropriate litter and/or boxes, eg location, litter box type, litter type.
  • Sudden changes in litter type or box.
  • Nervous/fearful individual.
  • Kitten from a queen with an inappropriate urination/defecation problem.


  • Initial learning failure.
  • Subsequent breakdown in house training.
  • Loss of toilet control due to medical condition.
  • Loss of toilet control due to fear and anxiety.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

Other sources of information

  • Horwitz D F & Mills D S (2018) BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. 2nd edn.
  • Horwitz DF (2018) Blackwell's Five Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion Canine and Feline Behavior. 2nd edn.


  • For veterinarians wishing to refer cases on to a behavioral counselor:
    • Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC):  www.apbc.org.uk/.
    • A list of registered Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCAB) is available from the website of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour at: https://www.asab.org/.
    • European College of Animal Welfare and Behaviour Medicine - Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law (ECAWBM-AWSEL) www.ecawbm.com/.
    • American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB): www.dacvb.org/.