Inappropriate urination is one of the most common things we see cats for at our practice. It can be a challenge to figure out exactly why any particular cat is not using the litterbox the way we want them too.
Initially we need to make sure there aren’t any medical issues happening that would make the urination a symptom of that problem rather than the primary problem. Medical issues that could cause inappropriate urination are:
· Kidney failure
· Urinary tract infection
· Lower urinary tract disease
· Bladder stones
If a cat has any of these problems and has a hard time getting into the litterbox or has experienced pain while in the litterbox, if we treat it then they are more likely to start using it again. In order to evaluate for these problems blood work, urinalysis, stool sample analysis for intestinal parasites and x-rays and sometimes ultrasound need to be done. In research that has been done 55% of cats that aren’t using the litterbox have an underlying medical problem. 1
Once we rule out medical issues we need to determine whether we are dealing with a marking issue or toileting issue as they are treated in very different ways. Occasionally we will see a combination of problems where it is toileting and a medical issue or toileting and marking in the same cat.
Toileting is normal elimination that happens in a location that is unacceptable. Some cats do this because they have a preference for a certain substrate (carpeting, plastic, etc.). Sometimes it is an aversion because they don’t like something about the litterbox (not cleaned enough, litter preferences, box size or style).
Marking is a normal behavior but in general it is unacceptable to most owners. It is a form of communication between cats saying “I am here”, and “This is my territory”. It usually involves urine on vertical surfaces. If you see your cat back up to the wall, raise its tail and shake the tail and urine is deposited on the wall this is marking. Urine that splashes onto the wall is not.
Once we determine whether it is a toileting problem or a marking problem there are different treatments for each.
Bamberger M, Houpt KA. Signalment factors, comorbidity, and trends in behavior diagnoses in cats: 736 cases (1991-2001). Javma-Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2006;229:1602-1606.