You love your cat and can’t imagine life without him…that is until he can’t seem to use the litter box any more. Shredded curtains, chewed plants and hairballs can’t hold a candle to the distress cat owners have over a litter box issue. Tolerance goes just so far, until the odor takes over and kitty is on a one ay ride to the shelter. Failure to lose the litter box and “moving – can’t bring pet along” are tied for the number one reasons people bring a pet to a shelter. Unfortunately for the kitty and the shelter, there is not a huge market for people in search of a cat who opts out of using a litter box!
What causes cats to behave in this way? Why would they choose to smell up their own home? Inappropriate elimination is rarely a one item issue, but a combination of contributing factors. These factors can be medical, physiological, anxiety driven, stress related or even “potty preferences”….or a combination of several! As an owner it falls on us to unravel the mystery motivation behind our cat’s inappropriate urination.
Medical issues can include cystitis and other bladder conditions; internal parasite (especially worms) which would be a consideration in defecation issues only; kidney problems; diabetes.
Hormones are usually only a factor for intact cats. Hormonal urine marking often begins around puberty (5 to 8 months old) , and will persist for life if left intact. Neutering is the best answer, although not all cats stop urine marking following neutering, but most do – nine out of ten in fact. The one out of ten that continue often have other issues. Testosterone levels plummet after removal of male cats’ testicles, but the desired behavioral “fix” is not immediate. A respectable reduction in spraying frequency may take a few months after neuter surgery. No one seems to have a rock solid answer why, and it may just be that old habits die hard. Did you know some intact females urine mark around the time of a heat period to signal their receptivity to passing males? Spaying a female will resolve this problem in 95 percent of cats and is recommended for medical and other behavioral reasons, too.
But what about HOUSE SOILING? Technically all elimination problems are house soiling problems. But in the shelter the term is effectively reserved for simple litter box problems. In short, its a behavior issue in which the cat chooses not to use the litter box for any one of a variety of reasons. Instead, the cat opts for alternative areas to “go to the bathroom”. These cats simply avoid the litter box and select a quiet, carpeted spot behind a chair or in the corner of a room instead.
There are many reasons why your cat may dislike his litter box. Cat fanciers and veterinarians have researched the topic and the tops reasons for litter box avoidance are:
- Too few boxes
- Inappropriately positioned boxes (damp cellar, high traffic area)
- Inconvenient location (basement)
- Hooded box (most cats dislike hoods)
- Box too dirty (not scooped often enough)
- Box too clean (cleaned with harsh smelling chemicals, such as bleach)
- Liners (some cats are intimidated by plastic liners)
- Plastic underlay (convenient for the owner but not always appreciated by the cat)
- Wrong type of litter
- Litter not deep enough
- Animosity between cats in the house (competition/guarding of litter boxes)
- Difficulty getting into/out of the box, especially in elderly, arthritic catsSo what’s a pet owner to do?! In the past, even veterinarians found this issue very difficult to deal with. However, clinical awareness has evolved to a point where owners can do something besides bringing the cat to a shelter or hawking it on Craigslist because of an eminently treatable syndrome.
Medical problems should always be ruled out first before trying to control inappropriate elimination disorders and most can be addressed or contained. Have your veterinarian examine your cat and perform laboratory tests (usually a urine test, blood test and fecal exam) to establish the presence of any contributing medical factors. These conditions should be treated before proceeding further, but sometimes even when the medical problem is under control, the elimination problem continues because new habits have become established.
Anxiety-based problems are now treatable, thanks to modern medicines and a better understanding of the root cause of these problems. Drugs like buspirone (Buspar®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®) have revolutionized the treatment of anxiety-based inappropriate elimination problems.
Litter box problems are correctable! Increasing the number of litter boxes to one more than the number of cats in the household. Alter the locations of litter boxes for the cat’s convenience (not yours!) and using scoopable litter. Removing hoods from covered boxes, having boxes at a variety of levels, etc., will usually produce a noticeably dramatic turnaround, especially if done in conjunction with proper clean-up of previous “accidents” using a proprietary odor neutralizer. Consult your veterinarian or pet care specialty for product recommendations.