Inappropriate Elimination Issues in Cats

Cats exhibiting inappropriate elimination issues can be extremely frustrating for their guardians. In fact since this problem some behavior is so often considered totally unacceptable by their guardians that it frequently results in these kitties being surrendered to shelters, relegated to roam unsupervised in the great outdoors, locked up in a cage or ultimately euthanized since these cats are thought to be unadoptable. However, since cats cannot speak to us, consider inappropriate elimination as their way to tell their guardians that something is wrong.
Gus (ARK rescue)

Furthermore there are people who still believe that if their cat stops using the litter box and is now peeing or pooping on the bed, their clean laundry or their favorite armchair is because their cat is being spiteful, and getting back at them for some unknown transgression. However, if the truth be told, these cats are not being vengeful. Cats simply don't harbor nasty feelings toward us; kitties aren't spiteful. Since feces and urine are important communication tools that felines use, they are doing their darnedest to communicate that they are troubled.

This is when kitty guardians must become detectives in order to get at the bottom of what may be stressing a cat that is eliminating outside the litter box. This is when due diligence is necessary. What is extremely important before assuming that the cause of this behavior is caused by an emotional upset, it is essential to first rule out any underlying medical conditions by having your veterinarian give the cat a thorough examination which may include both blood work and taking a urine specimen.

Inappropriate elimination may be caused by cystitis or other bladder conditions. Kidney disease and diabetes cause increased thirst and urination. Inappropriate defecation can be caused by worms and other internal parasites or an underlying medical condition.

There is a major difference between spraying (a stream of urine made on vertical surfaces), and urine peed on horizontal surfaces such as carpets, cushions and other soft surfaces. The latter is often caused by a urinary tract infection, bladder infection or other underlying medical conditions.

Non-neutered male cats spray to leave a "calling card" to let female cats learn of their presence and also to warn other cats that they own a particular territory. To help prevent this behavior most male kittens are neutered when they are about six months old. However, neutered males may spray when defending a territory or are emotionally stressed.

Intact female cats when in heat may also start sending out their own love notes to tomcats by spraying their urine in what they consider strategic locations around the house. While the traditional age suggested for spaying females is six months old, females can be spayed as early as 8 weeks of age and who weigh between 3 to 4 pounds. Spaying females before their first heat cycle prevents mammary and uterine cancer.

Once cats receive a clean bill of health from their vet, its time to start looking into behavioral issues that can lead to inappropriate elimination. Cats are very fussy about their toilets." The most common reasons cats stop using the litter box are dirty litter boxes, insufficient number of litter boxes in a multi-cat household, covered litter boxes, undesirable litter texture or scented litter, inconvenient litter box placement, inadequate depth of litter, lack of privacy, (located out of easy reach in the basement) litter box liners and keeping a box too clean by scrubbing it with bleach or other strong chemical detergents. To keep cats happy, the rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat; plus one.

Keeping the litter boxes clean and fresh, scooping out solid waste and urine patches at least twice a day will make the litter boxes far more inviting to kitties. Place boxes in convenient spots around the house. If problems continue, and underlying health problems are not an issue, try several different brands of litter in several boxes and observe which litter is more inviting.

By Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)

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