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Eliminating Inappropriate Elimination


Tragically, in North America, tens of thousands of cats are euthanized or surrendered to shelters each year for behaviour problems. Of these cats, between 40% and 75% of all cats presented for behaviour problems have an elimination disorder involving urination or defecation. In addition, many cats are presented with the clinical signs of lower urinary tract disease (LUTD). There are three populations of cats who may urinate/defecate inappropriately: those with behaviour-based problems, those with medical problems and a small group of cats experiencing both problems, concurrently.


Because cats may urinate in unacceptable locations out of discomfort or to "announce" LUTD, it is critically important to rule out a physical component of this unwelcome behaviour by performing a full, thorough physical examination as well as a complete urinalysis. If the cat is defecating inappropriately and the problem is determined to be a medical one, then appropriate steps need to be taken. This may include running a fecal examination or endoscopy (scoping of the intestines), a complete blood count, chemistry panel, rectal examination, anal sac assessment, and vaginal examination. Some cats with hyperthyroidism, defecate outside of their litter box, without showing any other signs of this disorder. Abdominal hair loss caused by licking may be due to the pain in the bladder or intestines.


History of the eliminations should include all relevant information regarding the age of the cat, age at surgical altering, prior behavioural problems, daily routine, indoor/outdoor status, feeding patterns, other family pet illnesses, family and household structure, and then progress to information about the problem behaviour itself, including the most recent incident, the second most recent incident and the third most recent incident. For elimination histories, the number, location, sizes, depths and types of litter boxes, litter, history of use of litter types, frequency of changing litter as well as scooping the litter and number of cats sharing the boxes is critical. Knowing whether the culprit gets fully inside the box or not when using it, where the accidents are occurring is helpful in getting a picture of what is going on.


Cats may come to associate their litter with pain or fear. This may occur when they experience a bladder infection, painful defecation, diarrhea or post declawing. They may dislike the smell of the litter or the state of the box, clean or soiled. Deodorized litters are repulsive to many cats, as are strong smells of used litter, or the smells of an ill cat sharing the box. Noises and sensations of fizzing baking soda, sticky litter, litter box liners, hard gravel, and extraneous noises act as deterrents for some cats. Classically, a cat that dislikes the litter but has not yet developed a new preference may balance on the rim of the box and scratch outside of the box, rather than touch the litter. The cat may try to maintain appropriate use of the box location, yet avoid the box itself. A secondary location preference away from other cats, noise, and high traffic areas may be ideal for a single or multi cat household.


Generally the kitty will have a clear preference for an alternative substance for elimination behaviours such as: fabrics, bedding, towels, bath mats, plastic bags, bathtubs, wood floors, linoleum, etc. Just because a cat may dislike a litter type, doesn't mean that they never use the box. An example of alternate location is when owners are on vacation and the litter box becomes repugnant to the cat in its filth. Illness may also be implicated in preference development. Urge incontinence may force the cat to choose a closer, more available location if the box is too far away. Arthritis may make it difficult for a cat to get to or get into a box.


The olfactory (scent) component must be dealt with aggressively. This means that ALL layers of the affected area need to be cleaned or replaced; cleaning requires a good enzymatic product. Urine-Off, Cat-Off or Animal Odour Eliminator seems to be the most effective to eliminate the smells. The longer the duration of the problem, the less the odour eliminator can be expected to do. After removing materials, cleaning and using odour eliminator, plastic should be taped down securely to avoid further penetration of urine/feces, as well as changing the feeling of the area on their feet with double sided tape or tin foil to make it unpleasant for the cat. It is critical that you do not use vinegar or ammonia (Windex) for cleaning up the soiled locations. Ammonia based products can give off a smell that another cat has marked his/her territory so your cat will be prone to urinate/defecate over the smell ammonia/vinegar has created.


Feliway is a synthetic analog of a feline facial pheromone. It is thought to increase emotional stability. Studies done to date have shown a reduction in urine marking of less than 3 months duration of over 96%. In cats that had been marking for 4 months or longer, there was a reduction of marking in 91% of cats after 35 days of environmental treatment. The product is sprayed directly on places soiled by the cat. A plug-in diffuser is also available which provides a constant slow release of pheromone in the environment. Recently, a milk origin peptide product called Zylkene has been evaluated for the treatment of anxiety in cats. It acts by inhibiting brain receptors to decrease anxiety. Similar to Zylkene, a new diet called Medi-Cal Calm; contains alpha-casozepine, tryptophan (amino acid) and nicotinamide which has been proven to help maintain a cats' emotional balance.


In extreme situations where the owner is at their last resort, pharmacological intervention may be used. Medications such as valium, amitriptyline, clomipramine etc. can be given to decrease anxiety in cats. A complete physical examination, blood panel and urinalysis should be performed before any medications are prescribed as cats are prone to becoming ill on these types of medications long term. In order to be optimally successful in treating feline elimination disorders a combination of environmental, behavioural modifications and/or pharmacological intervention may be introduced. It is, as stated earlier, important to rule out any underlying or concurrent medical conditions that may be implicated, even if the problem isn't one of the urinary or gastrointestinal tracts. Behaviour problems kill more cats annually then a viral disease. Owners should be aware of the importance of early treatment as well as being counselled about preventing behaviour problems when they first acquire their cat or kitten. For any further information contact your local veterinary clinic today!