Ask Dr. Dolamore: Cats & house-soiling |

Ask Dr. Dolamore: Cats & house-soiling

I have been asked by Lyn at the Summit County Animal Shelter to present information on cats that urinate or defecate outside the litter box. House-soiling is the No. 1 behavior problem in cats and many cats are given away, sent to the humane society, put outside or even put to sleep for this behavior problem. I am compelled to present this complicated issue in the hopes that it may help prevent their displacement or euthanasia. Be aware that this is a complex problem that may require you to eventually see a veterinary behaviorist. I would like to give credit to The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cornell Feline Health Center for the information in this column. So why is this happening? Well it’s not for revenge as some people believe. It is tempting to conclude, “He defecated on the living room carpet to punish me for leaving him for the weekend.” But this kind of calculation requires sophisticated cognitive abilities that cats aren’t believed to possess. Furthermore, this conclusion assumes that cats view their urine and feces as distasteful, when in fact they do not. It is only we humans who view it that way.Medical conditions are one possibility. Any medical condition that interferes with a cat’s normal litter box behavior can lead to house-soiling. Examples are inflammation or infection of the urinary tract. If the cat associates the box with painful urination, he will avoid it. Conditions affecting the intestinal tract such as parasites, food allergies, tumors and other intestinal diseases may cause painful defecation, diarrhea, increased frequency or urgency to defecate, and decreased control of defecation. Also, age-related diseases like arthritis or senility can affect his ability to get to the litter box in time. In fact, any time a cat feels ill it may not want to make the effort to get to the litter box.Litter box aversions: An aversion implies that there is something about the litter box that your cat doesn’t like. It could be the box, the litter, the location of the box, cleaning chemicals, or dirty litter. If the sides of the box are too high, kittens or cats with mobility problems may have trouble getting into the box. Some cats like different litter types.Litter box preferences: Your cat may have a preference for finer-textured clumping litter or coarser varieties. Also, most cats prefer non-scented litter. The location of the litter box is important. If the box is in a poorly accessible, noisy or high-traffic area or if another cat, dog, or human terrorizes your cat when she’s in or coming out of the box, she may avoid the box altogether and find other preferable areas to eliminate.Inappropriate site preferences: Alternatively or consequently, your cat may develop a preference for eliminating in a spot other than the box. He may begin to prefer soft surfaces like clothing, carpets and bedding, or hard, smooth surfaces like floors or bathtubs. Depending on the severity of your cat’s aversion, he may continue to use the litter box, but only inconsistently.Urine spraying: is marking behavior or deposition of small amounts of urine around a given area. Spraying announces a cat’s presence, establishes or maintains territorial boundaries, and advertises sexual availability. Cats usually spray on vertical surfaces, like the backs of chairs, or walls. The tail lifts and quivers, and small puddles of urine are left in several consistent locations. Cats that spray are usually un-neutered males or rarely unspayed females. In households with more than seven cats, the likelihood of spraying is high. Additional factors include a threat to their territory, such as when a new cat enters the home, or when outside cats are nearby. Also new furniture and carpet smells can prompt spraying as well. Cats may also spray out of frustration resulting from factors – like restrictive diets, or insufficient playtime – often wrongly perceived by humans as revenge.So what do you do? See Part 2 in next week’s Pet Scene. Dr. Dolamore is a veterinarian in Summit County and sees patients at Buffalo Mountain Animal Hospital in Silverthorne. Send your pet’s health and wellness questions to

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