By Heather Perkins
House-soiling is the No. 1 behavioral problem in household cats. Unfortunately, many of these cats are given away to other homes, sent outside to live or euthanized because this issue. It is important to distinguish between a medical problem and a behavioral problem.
Several medical conditions can lead to inappropriate urination and should be ruled out before deciding to treat the issue as a behavioral problem. Examples of medical conditions include bladder infections, bladder stones, medical conditions that lead to increased water consumption, arthritis or bladder tumors. Feline idiopathic cystitis is another complex condition that can cause a cat to urinate inappropriately and also strain painfully in the litter box, sometimes producing bloody urine. This can lead to a blockage in the urinary tract, leading to a medical emergency. These symptoms should prompt an immediate visit to your veterinarian. Generally, a urinalysis and a blood chemistry are the minimum amount of testing for any of these cases.
Once medical conditions are ruled out, behavioral problems may need to be addressed to correct house-soiling. Cats use urination and defecation as a means of communication with other cats. Leaving this type of “mark” indicates their presence in a certain area alerting other cats of their territory.
Psychological stress, including the presence of other cats, absence of an owner or the introduction of new cats, may cause a cat to feel it needs to re-establish its territory. There are multiple clues that this kind of stress is causing a problem: spraying on an upright surface, urinating in the litter box sometimes and urinating elsewhere at other times, and defecating in the cat box but urinating outside the box. If your cat is not neutered, this can lead to inappropriate urination. Stress can also occur because of a change at home such as a new pet or roommate, a recent move to a new home, or if neighborhood cats are visible or can be smelled. Stress may also be a factor if the area marked is near a door or window.
Odor eliminators should be used in marked areas to discourage the cat’s tendency to return to these areas. And, finally, if a behavior problem seems to fit, your veterinarian may choose to prescribe anti-anxiety medications if the source of stress cannot be identified or resolved.
Heather Perkins, DVM, is medical director the La Plata County Humane Society.