Inappropriate Elimination Disorders in Cats

One of the most common behavioral problems we see in our feline patients are “elimination disorders.” Your heart drops when you discover that your beloved kitty is using locations other than their litter box to urinate and/or defecate. This can cause a great deal of stress for both the you and pets in the household. We know how hard this can be and want to help you deal with the problem as quickly as possible. Tell us about this as soon as you know or suspect anything is amiss.

Our job as your veterinarian is to determine if the disorders is due to a medical or behavioral problem – or both.

Behavioral or Medical problem

Before deciding that the problem is behavioral, we must first rule out a medical problem.  We recommend a thorough physical examination and some tests. These are  what we call ‘a minimum diagnostic database.’ We’ll get a complete blood count, serum chemistry profile, total T4, fecal analysis, and urinalysis. These tests tell us a lot and my preclude, or indicate, additional diagnostics.

If we identify a medical disorder,  we’ll recommend the therapy based on our knowledge and experience. We’ll confer with you as to what to expect from the treatment.

Behavioral causes

If  we don’t see any signs of a medical condition causing the inappropriate elimination, we can begin determining the likelihood of a behavioral disorder. Behavioral causes of inappropriate elimination fall into two general categories: 1) a dislike of the litter box, and 2) stress-related misbehavior.

A cat may avoid the box if it has become objectionable to them. Cats can be fastidious so they may avoid a box if it is not cleaned frequently enough or sometimes a cat dislikes type of litter used.  The location of the litter-box may also play a factor in avoidance.

Here is a list of some possible related causes leading to feline inappropriate elimination disorder

  • A new person (especially a baby) in the house
  • A person that has recently left the house (permanently or temporarily)
  • Several new pieces of furniture or rearrangement of existing furniture
  • New drapes or carpet
  • Moving to a new house
  • A new pet in the house
  • A pet that has recently left the house
  • A new cat in the neighborhood that can be seen by the indoor cat
  • A cat in heat in the neighborhood
  • A new dog in the neighborhood that can be seen or heard by the indoor cat
elimination box

Not cleaning a litter box enough can cause a cat to avoid the box.

Even cats that have used the same litter or litter-box their entire life can suddenly become averse to using it.

Map it to help with the determination

When you come to see us, bring a detailed drawing/map of your home with information such as windows, doors, appliances, stairs and furniture locations. Indicate where your cat’s food and water bowl, litter box(es), scratching post and cat-tree are located. If possible note the type of flooring you have and the location and frequency of the inappropriate elimination. To help us diagnose the problem, we will ask you to fill out a questionnaire about the inappropriate elimination. We’ll use this to better plan for your cat’s individual problems.

Therapies for cat elimination disorders

We customize our recommendations for each cat based on all the information we have; initially we attempt behavioral modification. The goals are to deter the cat from eliminating on the inappropriate location (aversion therapy) and encouraging the cat to choose an appropriate location (attraction therapy).

If these therapies do not correct the problem, we may recommend a combination of behavioral and medical therapy. It is also important to note that cats with medical causes for feline elimination disorder can still benefit from behavioral therapy at home.

When managing our feline patients with inappropriate elimination, it is important to be aware of the prognosis. The prognosis for improvement is more likely if several of the following are true:

  1. The duration is less than 1 month when treatment begins.
  2. There are only one or two locations in the house that the cat uses for inappropriate elimination.
  3. It is possible to identify and relieve the stress-causing situation.
  4. It is possible to neutralize the odor caused by the urine or stool.

The more cats present in a household, the greater the chance of inappropriate elimination.  One study found that for every cat present there is a 10% chance.  This means that if there are 6 cats in a household, there is a 60% chance of inappropriate elimination occurring.

Cornell University offers another, comprehensive article on feline elimination disorder which you may find helpful:

Feline elimination disorders are the primary reason cats are relinquished to shelters each year. If you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s elimination habits, please call us. We want to help you and your kitty stay together for a long long time.

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