Thinking Outside of the Litter Box: Part 1

One of the most frequent reasons given when owners relinquish cats to animal shelters or ask that a non-elderly cat be put to sleep is that the cat is “peeing all over the house.” This is a truly a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

So what should you do if you notice that your cat is urinating outside of the litter box? First, don’t procrastinate. One common cause of inappropriate urination in cats is pain caused by crystals in the urine or stones in the kidneys or bladder. If this leads to a blockage, it can be fatal. Call your veterinarian and make an appointment. Bring a urine sample from Kitty with you to your appointment. Your veterinarian may want a urine sample by cystocentesis (using a needle to draw urine directly from the bladder) but sometimes a sample obtained this way may be contaminated with blood. Your veterinarian may be able to gently squeeze Kitty’s bladder to convince her to pee on the exam table but Kitty might not cooperate by having a full bladder at her appointment time. So how do you get a urine sample from Kitty at home, you ask?

1. If she is urinating on a hard surface like linoleum or the bathtub, you can ask your veterinarian for a syringe to suck up the urine from the surface.
2. You can put Kitty in a closed room with an empty litter box. The litter box should be first rinsed thoroughly with hot water, but no cleaning products, and dried.
3. If Kitty is declawed, you can put her in a closed room with a litter box with litter in it, lay plastic wrap over the top of the litter and collect the urine in the plastic wrap.
4. You may be able to purchase plastic cat litter pellets from your veterinarian that you can put in the litter box instead of regular litter, and then pour off the urine from the plastic pellets.
Take the urine sample that Kitty produces to the veterinary office as soon as you can. If there is a delay, or like the office is closed, store the urine in a well labeled container in the refrigerator. (Wow Honey, this Mountain Dew went really flat….)

Cats urinate outside the litter box due to medical reasons or behavioral reasons. In most cases, the medical reasons are easier to cure than the behavioral ones. Medical issues that must be ruled out include; bladder or kidney infection, bladder or kidney stones or crystals, the cat’s “plumbing” may have been formed wrong at birth, nerve damage to the bladder, diabetes, adrenal disease, thyroid disease, infection of the uterus, medications such as glucocorticoids, surgical pain such as after declawing, arthritic pain that makes it difficult to get in and out of litter box, senility, trauma to the bladder or kidneys, cancer, and feline idiopathic cystitis. The last disease, feline idiopathic cystitis is poorly understood, challenging to treat, and not always curable.
If medical reasons for Kitty urinating outside the box aren’t treated promptly, the pain associated with using the litter box can turn this into a behavioral problem which may not easily go away once the medical problem is solved.
Next month, in “Thinking Outside of the Litter Box, Part 2” I’ll talk about behavioral issues and the litter box.

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