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Posted on 03-23-2012

"What! Fluffy has urinated on the carpet again! Should we remove the carpet or remove Fluffy from the house?" This scenario plays out far too often for many families. And sadly, all of the Fluffy's around the world usually get the boot. Inappropriate urination (or elimination) is the number one cat behavior problem seen by veterinarians. The doctors at Eagle Animal Hospital want to help guide you through this difficult and confusing time by first determining if your cat has a medical problem verses a behavioral problem.

A medical diagnosis related to inappropriate elimination, is called feline lower urinary tract disease. Visible signs to look for include, but are not limited t007_1.JPGo:

  1. Your cat is not using the litter box
  2. He or she is straining to urinate (your cat is trying to pass urine, yet little or no urine is produced)
  3. Excess grooming of the genital area is noted
  4. Blood is found in the urine

Other diagnostic tests, such as, blood work including urinalysis as well as X-rays, will be performed to rule out the possibility of an underlying medical issue and thus treated accordingly.

On the other hand, what are some behavioral issues related to inappropriate elimination? First, most veterinarians recommend neutering (male) or spaying (female) your cat at the age of six months (prior to puberty) to prevent a territorial marking behavior. If your cat is not fixed, they may resort to urinating and scratching to mark their territory, which is your house. Once your cat is neutered or spayed, inappropriate elimination behavioral problems may arise from other issues, such as:

  1. A change in the home or from the cat's perspective, a change in their territory, which may include some of the following: A new pet or person entering/staying in their home, home improvements, family members leaving for a period of time (cat may experience separation anxiety and choose to eliminate in areas where the owners scent is the strongest), your family's new routine, a new neighborhood cat roaming through your yard, or changing your laundry detergent/cleaning products.
  2. Your cat develops a "surface preference" to carpet or tile to eliminate on instead of using their litter box. You may need to retrain your cat to use the litter box again. You may try placing your kitty in a small room or cage for several days (with food/water/litter/toys) until he/she uses the litter box on a regular basis.
  3. Your cat develops a "location preference" as to where they prefer to eliminate. It is known through cat observation that they choose certain areas to be designated for daily activities, such as, sleeping, eating, grooming, sun bathing, and going potty. Cats are habitual in nature, just like us, they maintain a daily routine (whether it is strict or relaxed depending on their personality). If this routine is interrupted, for example, by moving their litter box suddenly from one end of the house to the other, they may choose to eliminate where the old box was originally located (a strong location preference). Moving the litter box (or food) to a new location may  require moving the box one to two feet over a period of a few weeks. Depending on your cat's reaction, this process could be finished in a short or long amount of time.

Not all behavioral issues warrant a cat behaviorist or a pill. The solution can be very simple. Here are some litter box basics. Cats need to have their litter boxes scooped at least one to two times daily. The litter should not contain any fragrances, nor should the litter box be cleaned with strong smelling house hold chemicals. Wash the litter box with mild soapy water after changing out the litter completely. This differs based on the type of litter. Clumping litter should be changed once every 2-4 weeks, whereas non-clumping litter should be changed twice a week. Studies have shown that cats prefer a fine-grained, odorless, clumping litter. In addition, the litter box should be 1.5 times the length of your cat as an adult (not including the tail) to allow adequate maneuvering space. Furthermore, each cat should have one litter box to use, plus one extra box to ensure each kitty has their own personal space/privacy. (For example: 2 cats, 3 litter boxes.)

Medical remedies are also available to try. Anti-anxiety medications like Clomipramine and Fluoxetine (Prozac) may provide relief over a period of time. Furthermore, there are "natural" products, such as, Feliway Spray/Diffusers that release relaxing pheromones into a room to discourage inappropriate elimination due to territory marking. Another herbal product that naturally attracts cats to their litter box is called "Cat Attract".

So, if Fluffy is urinating on your carpet, take some time to understand your kitty's behavior. There are plenty of solutions to try in addition to what is noted above. The understanding staff at our Chester Springs animal hospital will guide you in the right direction and provide the necessary medical attention your cat deserves. Please, stay as committed to your relationship with your cat, just as your cat naturally shares it's commitment with you and your family.

Written by Jennifer Styer, veterinary technician

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