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  • Writer's pictureDr David Gething

Inappropriate Elimination in Cats

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

If you're a cat owner, chances are your cat has, at one stage or another, urinated or defecated outside his litter box.  

As an owner this can be very distressing, particularly when the reason for this behaviour is not obvious. Funnily enough, the most common underlying cause for this behaviour is stress or anxiety.  'But what does the cat have to be stressed about?' I may hear you ask.  Cats are very sensitive creatures and it is often very difficult to completely resolve the reasons for their undesirable behaviour. However often by trying a few different approaches, owners and their feline friends can come to a suitable arrangement and help resolve the unwanted behaviour.

The first step is to rule out a medical cause for this behaviour. Cats who have a urinary tract infection may show their discomfort by peeing in an unsuitable place.  If your cat is straining to urinate, urinates very small amounts frequently or there is blood in the urine, this probably indicates a medical condition and should be seen by your vet as a priority.  In particular, straining to urinate can indicate a blocked bladder which is an emergency situation in cats.

Once medical reasons have been ruled out, you can have a look at psychological issues. Cats get stressed by changes in their environment, however often these changes are something we can't do anything about. Moving house, a new addition to the family, guests coming to stay, changes in diet, new furniture can all cause distress. However, by focusing on the things we can control, we can often help the kitty feel a lot better about things and gradually stop the problem.  

The easiest things for owners to address are:

  • Location and cleanliness of litter boxes - cats are very clean animals and will get upset if their litter tray isn't cleaned regularly.  Make sure it is cleaned daily and that it is not situated near where your cat eats his dinner.  Cats often hate change, so if you are going to change your brand of cat litter, do it gradually so the change isn't abrupt.  

  • Number of litter boxes - in a multi-cat household, it is important to have enough litter boxes.  The accepted rule of thumb is one litter box per cat plus one extra. However in Hong Kong this may be very difficult given the size of our apartments.  

  • Minimizing change - whenever doing anything in your house make sure you consider your cat first.  If you move house, have a plan to move the cat first into a small, safe secure room that can be closed off from all the and disruption.

Oftentimes we just can't seem to figure out what is causing the distress and the undesirable behaviour continues. In these situations, we recommend using a product called 'Feliway' that is a synthetic cat pheromone that is designed to help cats feel safe and secure.  This isn't a drug - some clever chemists have figured out how to replicate the scents that cats use in the wild when they feel safe and happy.  Using this during the period of anxiety can often help the cat through the difficult patch without the need for medication.


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