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Leaving aside the cuddle and purr factor, the main reason humans and cats have managed to cohabit peacefully all these millennia is because of our feline friends' fastidious approach to life. Or maybe it's because they tolerate us despite their high standards!

But even the best house-trained, most meticulously clean cat can have accidents in the house. An accident can take the form of vomiting, spraying, urinating or leaving feces outside the litter box. Spraying differs from urinating in that your cat deposits urine on a vertical surface -- such as a drape, window or back of a sofa -- for the purposes of marking his territory. He does this while facing away from the target and quivering his tail; urination and defecation is done while your cat squats.

Reasons For Accidents

  1. Vomiting: Hairballs are the primary cause of vomiting in cats. But he may also vomit because he's sensitive to certain foods, has eaten plant parts or swallowed foreign objects such as yarn or ribbons. Other causes include: intestinal parasites, inflammatory bowel disease and even cancer.

  2. Spraying: Introducing a new pet into the household may cause your cat to begin marking his territory by spraying -- even if he has been neutered. Sometimes just the appearance of a new cat in the neighborhood -- at a window, for example, where your cat can see it -- is enough to trigger this behavior.

  3. Urinating and Defecating: Your cat may have the medical condition, feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD, previously known as FUS or feline urological syndrome). This is characterized by inappropriate urination and the passing of bloody urine. Your cat may come to associate the litter box with pain and thus avoid it.

    You may have failed to keep the litter box as clean as your cat would like. This can cause your cat to develop an aversion to the litter and to find some other place in the house for elimination. Aversion to litter can also be caused by changing the litter brand, using too little in the box, overusing deodorizers or placing the box in a poor location.

    Perhaps you've moved or are making significant changes to your house. As creatures of habit and routine, cats don't do well with change. A common reaction is to start soiling in the house.

    Your cat may experience separation anxiety due to your prolonged absence. It's now recognized that dogs aren't the only ones who suffer from separation anxiety. The difference is that, while a dog will soil the house and indulge in other destructive behavior the moment you leave, a cat will often wait 8 to 12 hours.

    Once you've established exactly why your cat is vomiting or house soiling, you can then work towards keeping the mishaps to a minimum. Prevention is always the best medicine -- particularly when it comes to cat stains and odors.

Cleaning Up

The key to effectively cleaning cat stains and getting rid of odors is acting promptly. This is especially true of cat urine, which not only stains but also leaves behind a potent and long-lasting odor. If you take care of the problem immediately, before the stain has dried, chances are it will leave no trace. Once dried, the stain and accompanying odor become much more difficult to remove and may require the services of a professional cleaner.

Spot removal agents come in various forms, ranging from a good carpet shampoo (if the stain is fresh) to more specialized commercial products such as absorbent powders, mineral rock (zeolite) products, enzymal products, and enzyme/bacteria kits.

Product Type How It Works Where It Works
Carpet Shampoo Detergent cleaning action. Only when the stain is very fresh.
Dry Powders Uses super absorbency to remove stains and odors. Upholstery, wood, linoleum, concrete. Not as effective with carpets due to difficulty of rubbing the powder into the padding.
Mineral Rock Products Absorbs stain and odor molecules by exchanging electrically charged particles. Any smooth surface. Not as effective with carpets due to difficulty getting mineral rock into the backing.
Enzymal Products Uses enzymes to break down the odor-causing compounds. Carpets, concrete, wood, linoleum, upholstery.
Enzyme/Bacteria Kits Uses enzymes to break down odor-causing compounds and then bacteria to "eat them." Carpets, upholstery, concrete, wood, linoleum.

Stains On Carpets

It's especially important to remove cat stains on carpets as quickly as possible. Neglecting the stain can result in the following:

  • Dye loss and fabric deterioration
  • Unpleasant odors that become stronger whenever your carpet is wet
  • Damage to your carpet through the chemical reactions between fiber and stain
  • Unhealthy bacterial growth in your carpet and padding

Here are some guidelines for removing stains and spots from your carpet and rug:

  • If there's any obvious solid matter -- hairball or feces, for example -- remove it immediately. Using a soft, white absorbent paper towel or napkin, blot up as much of the liquid stain as you can. Though most carpets today boast stain-resistant treatments, none are completely stain-proof, especially when it comes to cat stains. The longer the stain remains in the carpet, the more permanent it becomes.

  • Scrape away the solid or semi-solid parts of the stain with a blunt spatula or spoon. Do NOT use a knife as it could harm or even cut the carpet fibers. Do NOT scrub or brush a stain. Not only can scrubbing damage fibers, it can actually cause the stain to set into the carpet.

  • Vacuum away as much of the solid stain as you can.

  • Find an inconspicuous area of the rug to pre-test any spot removal agent you wish to use.

  • Apply a few drops to each separate color in the carpet. Press a white towel or napkin lightly over the spot for about 30 seconds. Check both the towel and carpet for any color transfer, color change or other damage. If you notice any change, try another spot removal agent.

  • Once you've found a spot removal agent that doesn't damage your carpet, apply the suggested amount on to a soft, white, absorbent cloth. Gently press the cloth against the stain, working from the edges towards the center to prevent the spot from spreading. Do this as long as the stain is being transferred onto the cloth. Apply more spot removal solution to a clean area of the cloth and repeat the process. Be patient.

  • If the stain calls for you to apply a series of spot removal agents in a row, continue using the first one for as long as you can see any improvement. Then move on to the next one.

  • Once the stain is completely gone, rinse out the area with lukewarm water. Blot dry to remove any leftover cleaning solution as any residue could attract soil and cause damage. Use clean, dry towels to effectively blot up the water; change the towel as it becomes saturated.

  • Do NOT overwet the area as this may cause damage to your carpet.

Some Carpet Home Remedies

If the stain on your carpet is very fresh, you can try one of several home-made cleaning solutions instead of a commercial spot removing agent. These include:

  • Detergent Solution: Mix 1/4 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap per cup of lukewarm water. Do NOT use a stronger concentration. Make sure you rinse thoroughly afterwards to remove all detergent residue. Do NOT use laundry detergent, as it may contain optical brighteners that may dye your carpet. Do NOT use automatic dishwashing detergent, as it may contain bleaching agents.
  • Ammonia Solution: Mix two tablespoons of household ammonia per cup of lukewarm water.
  • Vinegar Solution: Mix one cup of white vinegar per two cups of lukewarm water.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Use 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide (3% solution only) together with one teaspoon of household ammonia under a pad of weighted towels. Change the towels after two hours and repeat until the stain is removed.
Cleaning Other Surfaces
  • Concrete: If the concrete is unsealed, cat urine will soak right into it, and you'll have to first neutralize the urine and then seal the concrete. You might require a professional cleaning service to neutralize the odor. If the urine is fairly fresh, try one of the enzymatic or enzyme/bacterial products.
  • Hardwood floors: The first thing is to treat the floor with an enzymatic or enzyme/bacterial product. To remove the actual stain means stripping, sanding, bleaching/staining, and then re-applying the varnish or polyurethane. One product that has proven effective is glacial acetic acid, available at any camera store. This is a form of very concentrated vinegar and should be diluted to 14%. Wipe/wash/spray down the stained area and then let dry.
    WARNING: Mix this and use only in a well-ventilated room. Use rubber gloves when applying and keep clear of skin and eyes. Make sure your cat can't get into the room while it dries.
  • Laundry items (drapes, clothing, upholstery covers): First place in the washing machine with a cup of vinegar but no detergent. Then wash as usual.

Hints And Tips

  • To detect invisible sources of urine odor in carpets, floors and other surfaces, use a UV lamp in a darkened room. The "black light" causes urine to fluoresce and show up as greenish/yellow. Hold the light up about one to two feet above the surface.
  • Try to discourage your pet from using the same area again by doing the following: Keep him away until it is dry so that the smell dissipates and he isn't tempted to use the same spot again.
  • Cover any soiled surfaces with double-sided sticky tape, plastic or a vinyl carpet runner with the pointed-side up.
  • Use strong citrus scents to give the area an unpleasant smell to the cat.
  • Give your cat something else to do in these areas by putting toys or food dishes there.
  • Once again, the trick is to act quickly. It could mean the difference between a temporary spot and a permanent stain.