Ask the Vet Services Expert – Megan Herman, DVM.
Inappropriate Urination in Cats
Do you have a cat that sometimes urinates outside of the litter box? This can be a very frustrating problem for cat owners and is a common problem that we are presented with at the veterinary clinic. There are both behavioral problems and medical problems that can result in inappropriate urination. This month we will discuss some of the issues resulting in inappropriate urination that are litter box related. Next month we will follow up with medical causes of inappropriate urination.
Litter box hygiene is an important factor that can result in inappropriate urination. Litter boxes should be cleaned at least once daily and litter changed once weekly. The number of litter boxes should be determined by the formula; 1 litter box per cat + 1 extra (for example, 3 cats, should have 4 litter boxes). Ideally the litter box should not be covered or self-cleaning and should be 1.5-2 times the length of the cat in order to give the cat room to turn around. Quite often the litter boxes purchased at the pet store do not meet the criteria for a suitable litter box. Our personal preference is using a box resembling a dishwashing basin that is long in length and has shallow sides. If you have an older animal it is very important to have a box with low sides as they can develop arthritis making it more difficult to step over the side and into the box.
Location can play an important role as well and sometimes experimenting with the location of the box can solve your problem. Noisy and distant locations should be avoided, as well as places with difficult access and locations near food. It is best for the litterbox to be an area where the cat spends a lot of time. If your home has multiple levels, it is ideal to have a litter box on every floor. Texture of the litter is another factor that can be important. Most studies indicate that sand types of litter are preferred when compared to pelleted or plastic litter. Some cats may prefer a totally different substrate for litter and it may be necessary to try shredded fabric, wood shavings or other novel litter types.
When experimenting with litter box type, location, and litter, it is important to not make abrupt changes. Instead of removing your current litter boxes, add the new types to the house and assess which is used the most frequently. If you decide to change litter type it is recommended to slowly transition; 25% new litter to 75% old litter for 2 weeks, then 50% new litter and 50% old litter for two weeks and finally 75% new and 25% old for two weeks before finally giving 100% new.
If you are having issues with inappropriate urination, a good first step is to evaluate litter box care. Make any necessary changes but if there is no resolution, the next step is to visit the veterinary clinic for examination and further workup for an underlying medical concern. Call us to make an appointment at 403-527-4888. We will discuss some of the common medical concerns next month