Inappropriate elimination problems are often caused by – or were started by – a physical problem. The most common is this.
If you don’t have the health problem correctly diagnosed and treated, there’s almost no chance of fixing the unwanted behavior problem. Moreover, you’re not being fair to your cat.
In other words, if you have a sick cat, all the behavioral methods in the world will not do you much good. In order to address a behavior problem, your cat must be healthy.
So, let’s address the following question: What are the possibilities that a medical condition is causing your cat to avoid the litter box or spray?
The answer is simple. The chances are very high, and the reasons numerous.
Your vet may recommend urine and blood tests and an ultrasound or X-ray of the abdomen to rule out many medical possibilities before giving your cat a clean bill of health.
Your cat can’t speak, so his body must speak for him. Your vet has been trained to listen and look for the clues to what may be a pretty difficult puzzle. Your own observations are very important, too, so don’t forget to bring along your notes.
Here are a few things your veterinarian looks for:
• Urinary tract/bladder problems: A cat with urinary tract or bladder problems finds it painful to urinate because it burns. Because cats can’t think to themselves as humans do, they simply stop using the box. What’s worse, these kinds of problems may even encourage spraying.
• Medications: Your cat may be on a medication that may cause her to drink more and to urinate more volume, more frequently, or have looser stools. Either of these conditions may cause a cat to need to go before she has time to get to the litter box.
• Infectious disease: The feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, or feline infection peritonitis may make a cat sick enough so that the litter box ceases to be a priority.
• Noninfectious disease: Untreated diabetes can lead to an increase in the amount of urine a cat produces. In fact, more frequent urination is a symptom that veterinarians ask about when they suspect the disease. Hyperthyroidism, a disease of older cats cause by an overactive thyroid gland, also increases urine production.
• Old-age-related causes: Some cats may become a little senile as they age, so they’re not as particular about where they go. Other cats may have arthritis, making it difficult to climb in and out of a box or to access a box on a different floor of your house.
• Constipation: Stools that are difficult to pass or cannot be passed cause a great deal of discomfort, which she tries to relieve by straining to pass the stool. The result can be something that looks like diarrhea – a soft substance produced by frequent efforts to pass the stool.
• Diarrhea: Loose stools can be a problem, too, making it difficult for a cat to “hold it” until she gets to the litter box. Diarrhea is a symptom, however. The causes can vary, especially in long-term cases.
Correct diagnosis and proper treatment alone may take care of a problem with inappropriate eliminations, but not always. The cat who learned to associate the litter box with discomfort, for example, or the cat who learned it’s just as easy to go on the rug will need retraining – after the medical problem has been resolved.