Feline inappropriate elimination (Proceedings)
Feline housesoiling still represents the most common reason cat owners seek behavioral advice from their veterinarian. Inappropriate elimination can be seen in all ages and breeds of cats and often can be frustrating to resolve. The causes are multiple and sometimes complex. Many litterbox problems can be prevented by establishing good litterbox habits when the cat is young and also by educating the owner on good litterbox management.
Kittens should be confined in small areas (cage, bathroom, bedroom, etc) while they are learning to find and use the litterbox. Close proximity to the box will encourage usage. If young kittens stray too far from the box, they may be unable to find the box or reach it quickly enough once the urge to eliminate occurs. Kittens gradually can be given more freedom as they grow and learn the layout of the house. Litterboxes for kittens should be large enough to allow the animal to maneuver inside the box, yet shallow enough for the kitten to easily jump inside. The owner may need to purchase subsequently larger boxes as the kitten grows.
Medical evaluationEvery elimination case should begin with a thorough medical evaluation. For inappropriate urination the minimum evaluation should include a complete physical exam and urinalysis. Similarly for inappropriate defecation, a complete physical exam and fecal are warranted. A large percentage of cats that I see with inappropriate defecation have elimination issues related to chronic or intermittent diarrhea of various etiologies. In many cases when this underlying disease is controlled, the fecal housesoiling resolves spontaneously.
Size, location, litter choice and hygiene are important aspects of good litterbox management. Boxes must be large enough to allow the cat to comfortably maneuver inside. Commercial litterboxes often are too small for many cats. Sweater boxes make excellent alternatives for these cats; they are economical and can be purchased in a variety of sizes. The litterbox should be located in a relatively private area that is easily accessible to the cat.
Litter should be chosen to appeal to the cat, not the owner. Most cats prefer fine grain clumping litters. Deodorants and strongly scented litters should be avoided as many cats find these offensive. Any change in litter type should be done gradually over a span of one to two weeks.
Multiple litterboxes should be available in multicat households. In general, there should be one litterbox per cat plus at least one extra. The more cats that are in the household, the more extra boxes there should be in the home. These boxes should be distributed in multiple locations and not situated close together.
Litterboxes should be scooped a minimum of 1-2 times per day. Some extremely fastidious cats will only use a completely clean box. Litter needs to be completely changed on a regular basis, even if the owner is using a scoopable litter. Scoopable litters are usually changed every 2-4 weeks, whereas non-clumping litters should be changed at least twice per week. Litterboxes should also be cleaned on a regular basis; the frequency will depend on litter type and the number of cats using the box. Litterboxes should be washed with warm water and soap. Owners should avoid disinfectants. If residual odor is a problem, the owner can soak the box in an enzymatic odor neutralizer such as Outright® or Anti-Icky Poo.®
Inappropriate elimination can occur in any age, sex or breed of cat; however, Persians, Himalayans and related breeds appear predisposed to housesoiling problems. Inappropriate elimination may manifest as housesoiling (urine and/or feces), horizontal urine marking, and/or urine spraying. Fecal marking does occur but is much less common than urine marking.
All cases of inappropriate elimination should receive a thorough medical evaluation. Urinalysis and/or fecal examination should be done with every case. Additional diagnostics are often indicated. Practitioners should be particularly suspicious of medical issues in senior cats and when cats with previously good litter box habits abruptly begin housesoiling. Declawing surgery is a common trigger for inappropriate elimination in young cats. Interstitial cystitis is often associated with random and frequent inappropriate urination throughout the house, and the problem may appear cyclical.