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June 16, 2011 | 13,890 views
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Cat behaviorThe number one concern of cat owners involves inappropriate elimination. Litter box issues are the single biggest reason cats wind up relinquished to shelters or euthanized.

There are typically two types of problems with feline elimination – litter box issues and marking. Litter box problems are usually one or more of the following:

  • Won't use the box, period
  • Uses the box to either urinate or defecate, but not both
  • Pees and poops right next to or on the box, but not in it
  • Uses the box but doesn't cover urine or feces with litter

Marking behaviors include:

  • Spraying
  • Non-spraying marking

Fortunately, the cause of improper elimination can usually be identified and prevented or successfully treated. The trick is to catch the problem as soon as it presents itself, and resolve it before the cat's owner makes a decision to get rid of his or her pet.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

It makes me so sad to think that every day beautiful, loving kitty companions are relinquished to shelters or banished to the outdoors because of unacceptable elimination behavior.

I know for a fact most undesirable feline piddling and pooping can be resolved with some detective work and a bit of patience.

Litter Box Problems

Some kitties prefer textures and surfaces other than litter. For example, your kitty may prefer soft surfaces like clothing or bedding. Some cats prefer smooth, cool surfaces like the floor, sink or countertop. These preferences can be innate, or they can crop up after your cat develops an aversion to her litter or the box itself.

Cats can grow to dislike their normal litter for reasons usually related to cleanliness. Soiled litter feels and smells very different from clean litter to your kitty. Perhaps the box isn't being scooped and/or dumped and sanitized as often as it once was, or perhaps your cat has developed a heightened sensitivity to the condition of the litter.

Cats that develop an aversion to their litter will begin to test other surfaces in the house to find one to their liking. Needless to say, you're not apt to find cat pee or poop on your bathroom rug to your liking.

Some cats don't like the location of their litter box, or develop a dislike for the spot over time. The usual reason for a location aversion is because kitty feels insecure or threatened in that spot. Perhaps the box is in a high-traffic area, or next to the dog's sleeping quarters, or behind a door that smacks the box when it is opened.

In multi-cat households, especially where kitties don't get along, one or more may develop an aversion to the box used by the others. This can be an immediate problem, from the first day a new cat arrives, or it can develop over time.

Reasons for litter box aversion can include:

  • Dirty litter and/or dirty litter box
  • A box that traps odors or is in an unventilated spot
  • Small litter box that discourages normal elimination behavior like digging and covering
  • A litter box with sides too high
  • A style of box (covered, for example) that allows the kitty to be trapped inside by another cat, a dog or a child
  • A location for the box (a small bathroom, for example) that causes kitty to feel trapped by intruders; a location that is threatening for some other reason (noise, foot traffic, etc.)

Marking Behaviors

Both spraying and non-spraying marking are normal ways lots of cats communicate.

Spraying is when a cat puts its weight on its front feet, lifts its tail with tip quivering, and sprays urine vertically, usually on a vertical surface. If kitty isn't backed up to a vertical surface, the spray will deposit in a lined pattern on the floor or other flat surface.

Both males and females spray, as do both neutered and intact cats. However, neutered cats spray less, and neutering can reduce or eliminate spraying in some cases.

Non-spraying marking involves the cat leaving small amounts of urine or feces in certain areas. This is usually distinguished from litter box issues by the quantity deposited.

Marking behaviors are usually the result of stress. Examples include:

  • Addition (or loss) of a pet to the household
  • Addition or loss of a human in the household
  • Changes in household routine brought on by work hours, illness, etc.
  • The presence of a neighbor's cat or a stray in your yard or around the outside of your home
  • Illness of another cat in the home, or a change in the relationship between cats
  • Aggression between or among cats

Rule Out a Medical Problem First

If there has been absolutely no change in your kitty's routine or lifestyle to trigger elimination issues, my recommendation is to see your holistic vet first to rule out any underlying illness or disease process.

Conditions related to elimination problems include:

Your vet will likely perform a physical examination, a complete blood count, a serum chemistry profile, a urinalysis and check the thyroid if your kitty is older. If the problem involves defecation, a fecal sample will also be obtained.

Even if your cat is in perfect health, if she's getting up in years, aging could be causing changes in her elimination habits. Things to think about:

  • Does your cat have to climb stairs to get to her box?
  • Is the box itself easy to get into and out of for a kitty that might have joint pain?
  • Can your cat still groom herself adequately? Long-haired cats may need help keeping their coats clean or trimmed to avoid litter aversion.

Cats are stoic. It can be very difficult to tell when a kitty is uncomfortable or in pain. So even if your senior kitty has a clean bill of health from the vet, make sure you're making necessary physical accommodations to help her aging body easily access her toilet area.

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