Feline inappropriate elimination is one of the most common issues that cat owners face and it can also be one of the most frustrating. Oftentimes, cat owners believe inappropriate elimination is done out of anger or spite, but this is not the case! Cats will try to communicate their pain or discomfort by urinating or defecating outside of the litter box so it is very important to eliminate any potential medical issues before attributing the improper elimination to a behavioral issue. Our veterinarians here at Dogwood Veterinary Clinic in Louisville, Kentucky can help you to rule out medical causes. 

There are a variety of medical conditions that contribute to inappropriate elimination in our feline friends. Both hyperthyroidism and diabetes can cause increased urination and cats with kidney disease often have increased urgency and may not make it to the litter box in time. Based on the cat’s symptoms, a veterinarian will perform a physical examination and will run a urinalysis interpreting urine concentration, presence or lack-of crystals, infection, and if there is blood, protein, or ketones present. If the cause is still not identified, tests such as urine culture, x-rays, ultrasounds, or additional tests may be recommended. Kidney disease, for example, can be detected by elevated BUN and creatinine levels on blood work. 

Another medical diagnosis is called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD. The term FLUTD is used to describe a variety of disorders that affect the bladder and urethra of cats. Signs of FLUTD include urinating outside of the box, straining, blood in urine, and crying when urinating. FLUTD has many causes and therefore can be difficult to diagnose. 

Cats with emotional or environmental stress, live in multi-cat households, or who experience sudden changes in their daily routine, are more susceptible to FLUTD and are more likely to urinate and defecate outside of their litter box. Providing mental and environmental enrichment is the best way to prevent FLUTD and has been shown to decrease inflammation and stress behavior in cats. Cats are natural predators and indoor cats, specifically, need an outlet to “hunt” to satisfy that natural instinct. Doc and Phoebe’s Indoor Hunter Feeder toys and wand toys are great ways of providing mental stimulation to indoor cats. Cat grass and other olfactory exploration games can also be useful resources in managing stress behaviors. Laser toys are not recommended as they tend to frustrate cats since there is nothing to “catch”.

Making sure a cat likes its litter box and doesn’t have any negative associations with it can also help to prevent inappropriate elimination. First, the number of litter boxes in the house needs to be considered. A good rule of thumb is to have one more litter box than the number of cats in the home. Litter boxes need to be placed in a relatively quiet area that’s easily accessible. Cats diagnosed with osteoarthritis may have a hard time climbing into high-sided litter boxes or may refuse to climb stairs to get to one and will eliminate outside of the box. 

If your cat is struggling with inappropriate elimination, first have them examined by your local veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues. If it’s a behavioral issue, and behavior modifications do not resolve it, your veterinarian may recommend anxiety-relieving medications as an alternative option. Having a better understanding of the medical and behavioral causes of feline inappropriate elimination can help cat owners and veterinarians successfully identify and treat the underlying problem! Feel free to contact us at Dogwood Veterinary Clinic, we are here in Prospect, Kentucky, just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, and can help you to manage inappropriate elimination.