Cat Litter Box Problems and Solutions
Back in the 90s, I worked at an animal shelter, and the cat wing was full of cats surrendered because they “didn’t use the litter box,” “cat inappropriate elimination” or “missing the litter box.” It always broke my heart that these family cats were being turned into a cat rescue or animal shelter for litter box issues. I kept thinking there had to be an explanation and more importantly, a solution, for these beloved pets. According to the ASPCA “of the cats entering shelters, approximately 37% are adopted, 41% are euthanized, and less than 5% of cats who came in as strays are returned to their owners.” That is a sad statistic.
When I’m working with a cat or dog behavior case, the very first road I take with my clients is medical. We have to make sure a cat or dog’s behavioral problems are not linked to something medical. If we don’t solve an underlying medical condition, the behavioral problem will never be resolved. And sometimes finding a medical reason for not using the litter box can be challenging.
Clients often tell me that their vet said nothing was wrong with the cat medically – that it was all behavioral. I respect veterinarians, but sometimes there is a disconnect between the cat client and their veterinarian on the importance of the issue and what the client is willing to test. A urinalysis is a great start but is not guaranteed to find all medical reasons why your cat isn’t using the litter box.
I spoke with my veterinarian, Dr. Judy Morgan, on possible medical reasons a cat might not use the litter box, and she had these suggestions. “Cats fed on dry food can become diabetic and will start urinating everywhere because they have to go a lot.” Dr. Morgan went on to say, “Cats that eat dry food make highly concentrated urine. The more concentrated the urine, the higher the likelihood of producing crystals. Crystals are irritating, producing pain. Cats may avoid the box if it is painful when they go to the box.”
Hearing Dr. Morgan talk about a cat’s diet and how once again, diet can make or break an animal just validates my thoughts on a home prepared or raw diet for my pets. There just never seems to be anything good about a highly-processed pet food. But I digress.
Dr. Morgan continued to explain the same is true for kidney disease. “If the cat is drinking and urinating a lot, the top three rule-outs are kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. I recommend a CBC, Chem Screen, Urinalysis, and T4 for thyroid.”
Aging and pain can also contribute to litter box problems. Dr. Morgan explains, “Posturing to urinate and defecate can be a problem for cats with arthritis.” Getting into or out of a litter box may be too painful for a cat with arthritis or other pain. I asked Dr. Morgan about obstructions. “Certainly, urinary obstruction or partial obstruction will cause cats to strain and go anywhere they can. Lots of them seem to like the sinks and bathtubs.”
Before you start to think of a cat’s inappropriate litter routine behaviorally, please work with your veterinarian to ensure your cat’s litter box issues are stemming from a medical condition. This should be treated first. After his medical condition is treated, then it’s time to look at behavioral reasons.
And don’t forget to read my article: Is Your Cat’s Litter Safe?
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