Clients sometimes tell me that their cat is acting out of spite by urinating outside his litter box. The act may seem like a personal message because the cat seems to select items significant to their owner to urinate on. Often the affront is noticed later and the owner deduces that the behavior correlates to an action on the part of the owner, like being away.
Even worse is when clients DON’T tell me because they are already certain the inappropriate urination is a behavior issue for the cat. Don’t be so quick to decide that your cat is acting out.
Urinating outside the litter box is a frustrating problem. Many cats are surrendered to animal shelters or destroyed because of this problem. If your cat is eliminating in places other than the litter box, medical causes must be ruled before behavioral issues can even be considered.
If your cat has a medical reason for inappropriate urination, like urinary tract disease, diabetes or orthopedic pain, these must be investigated and managed initially or all efforts to modify your cat’s behavior will fail. And even worse, an untreated medical problem can become a behavior problem that lingers long after the inciting cause if not promptly identified and managed.
These medical causes for undesirable elimination habits are much more common than cats acting vindictive. Even if the action was behavioral, it is much more likely to be stress related than because of anger or spite. Animals are just too honest to practice malice. They can barely understand punishment for their own actions (and I do not recommend this type of training), much less understand and coordinate a punishment system for yours.
After you have explored and addressed any underlying medical issue, the problem might become just a memory. If it doesn’t, there are certainly things you can do to retrain your cat to make elimination choices that you can live with, but do not be too quick to write it off as spite or anger. Remember, animals usually have a reason for their actions and it is often much more pure than human motivations.