The Mind of Your Cat: 05/02

Question: I have a four-year-old neutered male cat. Since we adopted him as a young kitten, he has lived indoors. For the past two years, he has been urinating on rugs throughout my house. Since the onset of the problem, I have brought him to my veterinarian twice, and both times, he had urinary tract infections. It was a struggle for us to force him to take the necessary antibiotic. I have cleaned my rugs with assorted cleaners and have thrown many soiled rugs away. What can I do to get rid of the smell and stop him from urinating in the same area again?

Answer: You certainly have been grappling with this difficult problem for quite some time. You deserve a commendation for your approach to your cats behavior. A medical check up and thorough cleaning are always indicated when cats urinate in inappropriate places of the home.

First, let us address the underlying medical condition. Lower urinary tract disease with its concomitant discomfort may trigger certain cats to urinate outside their litter boxes. It may be the case that these cats associate the sensation of painful urination with the location at which the discomfort was first experienced – the litter box, of course. Such cats very often continue to use their litter boxes for defecation.

Certain diseases such as diabetes mellitus and chronic renal failure may result in an increased volume of urine. With the large amount of urine in a box at any given time, the cat may perceive the litter box as simply not clean enough.

Getting back on track with litter box use
There are many types of diseases that can lead to urinating in inappropriate locations. The least complicated diseases are treatable with appropriate medication and may be expected to resolve. At the other extreme are conditions that cannot be resolved or those that recur and require chronic management. In some cases, both the disease and the behavioral response it triggered need to be managed to assure that the patient remains comfortable and on target with litter box use.

Dont despair. Good results can be achieved in most cases. Please remember that once your cat is back on track with litter box use, your veterinarian may ask you to bring him for intermittent health check-ups. Should your cat ever experience a relapse of clinical signs, either straining or urinating in inappropriate areas, a consultation with a veterinarian should be scheduled immediately.

Now, let us address the behavioral component of this problem. It may be helpful to limit your cats access to some of the carpeted areas during the initial treatment stage. Perhaps some doors can be closed except when you or a family member is in the room.

If you notice your cat begin to squat on the carpet, try to create a startling sound to interrupt him. Do not yell at him or chase him. Once the urination has been interrupted, continue to watch him closely. You may be able to lure him to an area with a litter box. Then, when the urge to urinate strikes, he will find a box right beside him. Avoid carrying him to a box or placing him in a box as he might become frightened, and he will then have one more reason to avoid litter boxes.

Next, consider whether you may be able to place additional litter boxes in your home. Choose one or two of his favorite urination spots, and put a box nearby. If a box is not possible in an area, then try a bowl of food. Many cats avoid eating and eliminating in the same location.

Offer a choice
An important question: Does your cat continue to use his original litter box on some occasions? If he does use the box on most occasions, then adding boxes as described may greatly improve the situation.

On the other hand, if your cat consistently avoids his box for all urination, there is more work to be done. In that case, it will be important to create the most perfect box possible from your cats viewpoint. Offering him some choices may do this. Two boxes should be placed side by side in one of the locations that he has selected for some of his inappropriate urination. Each week, vary one aspect of the pair, allowing your cat to make a choice. For instance, offer two different litter types, then two different litter depths. Try pairing a box with a hood with an open style box. Continue testing until you find a box that he appears to use consistently. There are many variations on the traditional box styles as well as on the substrates that may be offered to a selective cat.

In all cases, litter boxes must be kept immaculate. As discussed, if your cat produces more urine than the average cat, it will be more difficult for you to keep a single litter box clean. You may need to provide extra boxes to assure that any box he enters will be clean enough for his standard.

You mentioned that you have found it difficult to remove the odor from your rugs. There are many excellent products available for cleaning pet odors and stains. The superior products degrade the urine through bacterial enzyme systems rather than by hiding the scent with a flowery scent.

I have tried to offer you some guidelines for treating inappropriate urination secondary to a medical condition. If the problem continues, an in-depth consultation with a behaviorist would be indicated. The behaviorist would collect a detailed history so that a diagnosis could be confirmed and a customized step-by-step treatment plan could be designed.