My feline has urine issues!
Cats are the most commonly presented companion animal for urinary issues. Most of these relate to urinating outside of the litter box and the reason for this can be one of many, or multifactorial. Here we will go through a few of the more common reasons why your cat might be using places other than the litter tray as a toilet!
** Remember that aversions and likes or dislikes are completely from the point of view of your cat; after all they’re the ones using the tray every day!**
Litter Substrate Aversion:
If your kitty has a preference for a particular litter and you change it suddenly to something you think is better, your cat may just decide it is not to his liking and find something he finds better. YOU might find the lavender scented crystals appealing, but your cat (being a highly olfactory creature) may find them less appealing (even overwhelming) and avoid the tray. The substrate may also stick to their paws, be difficult to bury their eliminations in, or too repellent (and no one likes wet feet on the toilet!). In general, cats prefer soil or sandy-type litters, followed by pellets then crystals. Litter should be at least an inch deep to allow cats to bury their faeces completely.
Litter Tray Aversion:
There are many reasons why a cat may dislike a litter tray, but the most common is hygiene. Trays should be cleaned of solids at least daily, and litter completely changed and the tray washed in warm soapy water at least weekly. No one likes a dirty, smelly toilet and cats are no different. If you provide them with one toilet, and it’s not clean enough for them then they will likely go and find a clean one for themselves. Some cats will not use a tray if faeces are present so you need to be fastidious with cleaning the solids multiple times a day. If you have multiple cats then hygiene is even more important as even though you should be providing at least one litter tray for every cat you own, sometimes every tray is used by the time one cat needs to go and they don’t have a clean one!
Litter tray location can be enough to make your kitty want to find somewhere else. A litter tray in a high traffic area, near dogs or children can cause a cat to want to find a more private place (understandably). Trays should be placed in multiple locations throughout the house in quieter, less frequented areas where your cat can eliminate without fear of interruption.
Sometimes painful issues such as arthritis, or urinary tract issues can produce pain when using the tray, which the cat may then associate with the litter tray and avoid it from then on. If you suspect a medical issue is the reason for your cat’s accidents, such as frequent urination or excessive urination then we recommend a checkup. Older cats find high-sided and enclosed trays harder to get in and out of, or may accidentally go over the side as they can’t maintain a squat for a long period of time. In this case we recommend a plastic storage box, with the lid removed and an access cut into the side so the senior animal can easily step in and out, but the sides are high enough to stop those accidents. This is best done in conjunction with arthritis treatment to help with comfort and prevent problems associated with incomplete eliminations as sometimes these guys will hold for ages, or stop before fully emptying as it hurts too much.
This only applies to multi-cat households. It is recommended that each cat in the household is provided with a litter tray and also an extra. Litter trays should be placed in various locations to prevent cats blocking access to the trays should they all be in one room (essentially one big litter tray). As most cat interactions are quite passive in their aggression they are often missed by owners. Overt fighting in cats is reserved for escalated fights but these are the fights we tend to notice! It may be that your cat really wants to use a litter tray, but won’t run the risk of a fight to get to it so instead finds something else acceptable (to them). Multi-cat households can also be really stressful for some members depending on the numbers and social groupings within the household, access to outside and other factors. Stress from being part of an unhappy multi-cat household can lead to urinary problems, which in turn can lead to spraying or urination outside of the litter tray. If you have a multi-cat household with regular fighting and elimination problems then we would recommend a medical and behavioural workup for the best outcome.
Urinary Tract Infection:
Urinary tract infections are extremely rare in male cats, and relatively uncommon in female cats. Predisposing factors such as renal failure, diabetes and other diseases that can cause excessive urination can contribute to the development of urinary tract infections. Symptoms of urinary tract infections include frequent, small urinations which are sometimes blood-tinged, crying when urinating and urinating outside the litter box. Urinary tract infections can lead to a litter tray aversion through pain association with using the tray. If a urinary tract infection is diagnosed on clinical exam and urine exam with or without culture of the urine, antibiotics are usually sufficient to clear the infection. However we will need to look at the predisposing factors as well to prevent recurrence.
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis:
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) is a syndrome where all the clinical signs of a urinary tract infection are present, however the cause is not bacterial but stress-related. This is most commonly seen in multi-cat households where stress and aggression in the passive form often goes unnoticed. These cats present with frequent small urinations which are often blood-tinged, and males can present acutely with urethral blockage from crystal plugs owing to their longer, more narrow urethra. Urethral blockage is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate attention. FIC is treated with environmental management to reduce stress and provide choice, anti-inflammatories to help with inflammation and pain, as well as a special diet which will acidify the urine and prevent crystal plug formation. Recurrence is common without management and management is often lifelong.
Spraying is where a cat will eliminate a small amount of urine on a vertical surface. Spraying is often a response to an external stress, or as a territorial marker. Spraying cats often require a thorough history to attempt to ascertain the reason behind the spraying and management to help these cats feel that they don’t need to make such obvious signals around their environment. As with any urination issue we will always examine the urine to ensure there are no other issues with the urinary tract that could be contributing. Both male and female cats can spray, and desexing will often reduce the incidence of territorial spraying, especially in male cats.
If your kitty has issues using the litter tray then book a consult with us and we will examine the environmental, behavioural and medical aspects of your feline friend to ensure we are covering all bases when it comes to making sure we help them see the litter tray as the best place to eliminate!