Even after a puppy or kitten has been trained, potty problems in adult animals can arise from health conditions, anxiety, improper crate training/practices, or being left alone too long. Sometimes it just happens with no explanation or reason, especially with cats. Over time, there may be odors or staining to surfaces in your home. It’s best to address any pet potty issues as soon as they arise to avoid lasting or permanent damage and ensure your pet is healthy. This behavior could indicate serious health issues. The circumstances may vary but once an animal has begun marking or spraying the problem will usually escalate and get worse, especially with multiple animals in the household.
A little about the science of pet urine odor: Cat and dog urine is composed of water; urea; uric acid; dissolved ions like sodium, potassium, and chloride; creatinine; and miscellaneous hormones, proteins, and metabolites. Cat urine has an additional amino acid, felinine, that can break down into volatile sulfur-containing compounds (even if you can’t smell them, your cat can; this is why cats urinate outdoors to mark territory). Odors result from the breakdown of urea and uric acid, along with that of proteins and amino acids unique to each species.
It is important to understand the difference between eliminating the substances that create the odor and stains versus cleaning them.
Traditional cleaner use spraying, blotting, and sometimes extraction methods. This is designed to remove the soluble components of urine, including urea and dissolved ions. The complication comes from the uric acid, which crystallizes and is highly insoluble in water, and some of the proteins present in pet urine. Many cleaners do not remove uric acid, which breaks down over time into odor-causing substances. Additionally, it may be more difficult to remove protein and amino acid components of urine, which your pet may be able to smell (and be tempted to re-mark), even if you can’t.
So what to buy that will do the job? Pet products have come a long way from just concealing the problem with air fresheners and perfume, but they are still out there sold in major stores. Chances are if you are reading this, you’ve paid good money for a bottle of perfumed cleaner that didn’t address the problem.
First, what needs to be cleaned up and where? Start with a UV flashlight to help you find problem areas-you might be surprised! Some products are meant specifically for dogs or for cats. Certain products are unsafe to use on your home’s interior surfaces and then others are suitable for use throughout your entire home. Consider where your pet has marked- has he wet on the carpet or on a hard floor? Are the stains old or fresh? Has the urine seeped into crevices such as under molding, thresholds, or into a porous surface such as grout in a bathroom? Do you have other pets in the home such as birds who may become ill from the use of strong cleaning products? While many cleaners say they are “natural” and “non-toxic,” the fragrances used in them can cause adverse effects in humans and pets alike.
We’ve narrowed our reviews of pet urine removers into four categories. Some of the products in our review include items from the categories we do not recommend and that is because they are very popular and we wanted our readers to understand why we discourage their use.
Enzymatic Method or Microbe Method: Enzymes break down the odor-causing compounds in pet urine, eliminating the problem
- Penetrates and chemically breaks down the urine without extraction needed
- Can be used on most surfaces safely
- May have strong odors
Cleaning/Deterrent Method (Not recommended): Citrus or orange-based, these cleaners are oil-based and meant to be diluted
- Cannot be used on wood floors or furniture as it may strip surfaces, essential oils may discolor textiles
- The odor may be very strong when used indoors
- Will not break down the odor-causing compounds
- May clean hard surfaces effectively and reduce stains but will require extraction when used on carpet
Detergent-based Method: Typically a detergent-based cleaner works by making organic stains more soluble in water, allowing them to be rinsed away or extracted with water.
- May leave residue resulting in increased dirt attraction
- May not remove the urine compounds that cause odors
Powder Method (Not recommended): Relies on a liquid and powder or powder alone to absorb stains and odors
- While the powder vacuumed up often takes with it the moisture from fresh urine stains and any activating compound put down first, it will not always remove the odor-causing compounds
- Time-consuming and messy
- Will require extraction and almost always leaves a residue that will attract more dirt
“Oxide”-based: Often marketed as “natural” or mineral-based, relies on foaming or chemical reaction to bubble out stains and urine compounds
- May discolor/bleach surfaces, fabrics, textiles and damage wood and laminate floors
- Must be blotted up and removed/extracted
- Peroxide compounds do act on uric acid but results may vary
Remember to always spot-test any new product in an inconspicuous area of your flooring such as under a piece of furniture or in a dark corner.
While most minor pet potty problems can be addressed with a quick response and the appropriate product, major issues may require more powerful means such as steam or extraction cleaning or a professional team to come out and take care of the problem for you. Some homeowners have been able to resolve soaked-in pet urine issues on hardwood floors and furniture using enzymatic cleaners and others have to replace carpet and flooring (and sometimes even sub-flooring) if the problem is bad enough. We’ve seen successful odor elimination in distressed properties with urine-soaked floors where carpet and pad was removed, the subfloor, baseboards were repeatedly treated with enzyme treatment, then new carpet put in.
If the potty problem is sudden or new behavior this may also indicate serious health conditions your pet may be experiencing. Before you become too frustrated with his potty problems, be sure to take him to the veterinarian to be checked out.