Elimination Disorders in Cats
Feline elimination disorders (FEDs) can be difficult to deal with. They may take time to resolve, require detective work to find the cause of the problem, and undermine the human-animal bond. However, there are ways to tackle this issue.
Inappropriate Elimination vs. Spraying: An important distinction
Inappropriate elimination occurs when your cat urinates (or, less commonly, defecates) outside its usual litterbox. There is usually a fair amount of urine, as it fully voids its bladder. A distinction must be made between this and spraying, where the cat backs up to a vertical surface, such as furniture or walls, and sprays a small amount of urine. These two types of behaviour have different bases and thus different methods to solve them must be implemented. Spraying is simply a means of ‘marking’ territory, while eliminating in inappropriate areas may mean the cat prefers to not use its litterbox for one reason or another.
Causes of FEDs usually fall into three main categories. The cat may simply prefer to eliminate in a place other than the litterbox, or, on the other hand, have a distaste for its litterbox. For example, it may be a shy, quiet cat, but the litterbox is in the middle of a busy kitchen, and so to avoid the situation, it eliminates under a bed or in a closet. Studies have been done to show that cats consistently prefer non-scented, fine, sandy litter. You can try buying a few different brands to see if your cat prefers one type over another. Some cats also prefer different textures, such as tile or even the bathtub. For these cats you can make makeshift litterboxes with the preferred material and see if it makes a difference. It is important to note that urine permeates certain materials, such as concrete, very well. The scent of urine can cause the cat to repeatedly eliminate in the same area. Thus, enzymatic cleaners are needed to get the smell out; keep in mind that a cat’s nose is many times more sensitive than your own.
Another cause of FEDs is medical in nature. It’s important to rule out these medical causes FIRST as the cat has no control over them. Your veterinarian must be called on in these cases to properly diagnose what is going on. There are a variety of medical causes that can cause a cat to avoid the litterbox. If after seeing the vet you have a definitive diagnosis, then you can apply practical solutions to help solve the problem. For example, a cat may be suffering from arthritis, which makes it both difficult and painful to climb into the litterbox. Solving this one practically is simple; use a shallow litter pan instead of a deep box. Boot trays filled with litter work very well for some cats. Other medical problems include bladder disease, kidney disease, or urinary obstructions. Something to note is that a cat that cannot urinate is a medical emergency; if you see your cat repeatedly straining at the litterbox, but producing no urine, an immediate visit to the vet is required.
The third cause of FEDs is environmental stress. There may not be enough litterboxes in a multicat household; the general rule of thumb is that the number of litterboxes available should be equal to the number of cats in the house plus TWO. This avoids scuffles at the box. Very importantly, the boxes must be spread out throughout the house, so that if a shy cat wants to avoid a bully, it can comfortably go to another area of the house to eliminate. A cat may also not want to use a litterbox after a recent change, such as after a move into a new house. Also, try not to leave a litterbox somewhere loud and where lots of activity goes on. Leaving it in a furnace room or laundry room may scare the cat if the furnace or washing machine suddenly turns on, and a shy cat may not want to relive the experience. Keep your cat’s personality in mind when you position a box.
All in all, the preceding tips should help you start to work out why your cat has developed an elimination disorder. You may have to do a bit of work to figure out the inciting cause and first rule out medical possibilities. If the condition is non-medical it may cause some frustration at first to find your cat’s preferences, but in the end a happy healthy cat, eliminating comfortably in an appropriate spot, will be well worth your time!
By Amrita Banerjee – Pets.ca writer