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Dr. Coates is on vacation this week, so we're revisiting some of our favorite posts. Today's post is from October 2011.

Recently, I came across a number of distressing statistics all relating to cat welfare.

1. Behavioral problems cause more pets to be relinquished to animal shelters than any other issue.

2. The behavioral problem most frequently reported by cat owners is house soiling.

3. The number one medical problem affecting cats in 2010, according to Veterinary Pet Insurance’s records, is lower urinary tract disease.

Put this all together and what does it mean? Owners HATE it when cats urinate outside of the litter box, and the medical problems that often cause them to do so are incredibly common. In too many cases, this disastrous combination leads to the weakening or total dissolution of the human-animal bond. In the worst case scenario, an owner then dumps his or her cat at the nearest shelter, where it stands a very good chance of being euthanized.

Let’s start by dealing with the first thing that a cat owner really wants to know when he or she finds cat urine outside of the litter box. How do I get rid of that smell?

Getting rid of urine odors is not just an aesthetic necessity. Cats are attracted to the smell and are much more likely to continue urinating or spraying in a soiled area if it is not thoroughly cleaned.

First, you have to find the source(s). You can crawl around your house on hands and knees sniffing in all the likely places, but a more dignified method is to use a black light. Cat pee fluoresces under a black light, so wait until dark, turn off your lights, and slowly walk through your house with a handheld device looking for a bright, neon green color. Then use your nose to confirm that it is actually urine.

Once you’ve found a spot, determine if the pee is fresh or old. If it is still wet to the touch, try to blot up as much as possible using clean, dry towels (the cloth or paper variety work equally well). Once you’ve done this, or if you are dealing with an old, dried up area of urine, you need to pick the best method of cleaning based on the type of surface that is soiled.

Hard, non-porous materials (e.g., tile, sealed wood flowers, painted drywall, etc.) are pretty straightforward. Use your favorite household cleaning solution, spray it on liberally, wipe, and repeat as often as necessary until the odor is gone.

Upholstery, carpeting, and other absorbent surfaces are harder to deal with. Anything that can be run through the washer should get this treatment. If that is not an option, buy one of the many cleaners specifically designed to deal with cat pee. Do NOT use a traditional upholstery or carpet cleaner. These don’t completely get rid of the smell and can actually make future attempts at doing so less likely to succeed.

Many urine odor removal products are based on either enzymatic or bacterial processes that break down the chemicals responsible for the smell associated with cat pee. You need to thoroughly soak the area in question (including underlying carpet pads if the urine penetrated that deeply) and then let it dry. The whole process can take weeks to complete, so be patient and follow the directions on the bottle to the letter.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Shebeko / Shutterstock

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