Saturday, September 27, 2014

Inappropriate Elimination Part I: Felines

"Inappropriate Elimination", or urinating or defecating in inappropriate places, is the most common behavior problem reported by cat owners. From urination and/or defecation outside the litter box to urine spraying throughout the house, this is understandably an issue that can cause a lot of angst among cat owners.

Why do cats eliminate outside of the litter box? 
Although people commonly think this is a sign of revenge, that is not the case. Sometimes there can be underlying medical issues, such as inflammation or infection of the urinary tract that make it painful to go or inflammation of the colon or intestines. These can lead to increased frequency or urgency and decreased control of eliminations. 

In older or disabled pets, we also often see mobility changes that affect a cat's ability to get in and out of the litter box. Other times, litter box aversions can develop after something scary or repelling (perhaps a noise, a harsh odor, or a surprise attack from another pet in the household) results in a cat associating a negative experience with the litter box. Sometimes the root cause is simply an inappropriately sized box, dirty litter, a change to a different litter, or an inconvenient location of the box (at least in the eyes of your cat).  

What about urine spraying?
Urine spraying is another very common problem. This typically male cat behavior is often used to establish territorial boundaries, but it can be a result of frustration or stress. Most commonly, unneutered males are the main culprits.
What can I do? 
First, identify which cat in the household is having the problem, and take that cat to the veterinarian to rule out any medical problems.

Then, as long as everything checks out ok, analyze where your cat is going to the bathroom to try and find a common thread. Does he seem to prefer a particular texture? Is he using a location far away from other cats or the hustle and bustle of the rest of the house? If you have multiple boxes, is there one he prefers over the others? What makes that one different?

Some of the most common solutions for litter box aversion include:
  • Trying a different litter (scent, texture, type)
  • Changing the box size and/or location
  • Changing the number of boxes available. You should ideally have one more box than the total number of cats in the house. 
  • Adding or removing a cover from the litter box.
To discourage your pet from continuing to use an inappropriate area, make sure you are thoroughly cleaning and using an odor neutralizer anywhere there is inappropriate elimination. 

For spraying, consider neutering your cat (if he is not already). Try to determine if there is an outside influence, such as another cat that may be causing stress or territoriality, and make every attempt to eliminate that stress or deter the outside cat from coming on your property. Close blinds or shades if possible. 

If frustration or boredom seems to be the cause, consider increasing the amount of one-on-one playtime or adding toys to stimulate your cat when you are not around. You can also try placing newspaper in areas you want to discourage him from spraying (the sound is a deterrent). Putting your cat's food in the area where he is inappropriately eliminating and playing with your cat in the area may also help, in addition to decreasing access to the area when you aren't around.

More information can be found at Cornell Feline Housesoiling

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