Why is my cat in and out of its litter box?
When a cat changes its litter box habits, it can be attributed to behavior. This behavior change can be seen due to changes in routine.
- 1 cat preventing another cat access to the litter box
- Weather changes outside disrupting preferred places to void
- Changes to layout of house
- Moving to a new house
- Addition of a family member or new pet in the house
These changes (and similar ones) all can create some stress or disruption in our feline friends. But that is not the most common cause for a cat to avoid voiding in the litter box. It is not uncommon to hear of a cat urinating in inappropriate places or making frequent trips to the litter box due to medical issues occuring with their urinary tract.
FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease) is the term used to describe a variety of health problems that can affect the cats lower urinary tract (the bladder and urethra).
These health problems include:
- inflammation of the bladder or urethra
- bladder infection
- polyps or growths in the bladder
- crystal formation
- stone (urolith) formation (crystals that join together to create a solid mass)
Often the tell tale signs that FLUTD is occuring are:
- in and out of the litter box (frequent trips)
- straining to urinate
- urinating only small amounts at a time
- crying out or vocalizing when urinating or tyring to urinate
- licking genitals
- inappropriate urinating (urinating in places other than the litter box)
- blood in the urine
FLUTD can afflict cats of all ages, but is more commonly seen in cats above the age of 1, overweight or obese cats, decrease in activity and cats under stress. Diet plays a very important role in the bladder health as well. It has the ability to affect the ph of the urine, increase certain minerals in the urine and also affects the spacific gravity.
Each type of crystal will start forming at certain ph levels. Struvite crystals prefer a more basic ph while oxalate crystals prefer a more acidic ph.
Minerals can solidify in the bladder making the start of a stone or urolith. Crystals joining together inthe bladder can also cause a urolith.
An inflammed bladder is at a decreased risk of fending off infection, and sloughs off cells easily. Crystals with their sharp edges will cause injury to the urethra as they are passed.
Cells that have clumped together, crystals that have joined together or stones (uroliths) can all cause blockage in the urethra as the cat tries to urinate.
Thankfully, there is often the tell tale signs listed above that inidicate a problem is occuring and ideally, can be addressed prior to a blockage occuring.
So what do you do if you think your cat is showing one or more of these signs?
It can not be stressed enough how important it is to seek veterinary care at the first signs of litter box trouble. Your veterinarian will do a full physical exam, take the history of your pet, and assess the best diagnostic treatment option for your pet. Often, the first diagnostic test is a urinalysis. This test evaluates the ph of the urine, spacific gravity, protein level, cellular content in the urine, and whether or not any crystals or bacteria are present in the urine. Based on the results of the urinaylsis, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics, diet change and tips/suggestions on stress reduction in your feline friend.
Urine can be collected for this test in a number of different ways.
- Free catch: cat urinates in a clean, disinfected pan often with a product like NoSorb
- Cystocentesis: trained veterinarian or technician inserts needle into the bladder and collects a sample into a syringe
- Manual expression: trained veterinarian or technician applys pressure to the bladder to encourage the cat to urinate in a dish
Often, a client will be offered to leave their cat at the vet clinic to have the urine collected, analyzed and treatment plan ready when you pick up your cat. But, we all know cats aren’t always the most cooperative or comfortable in a clinic setting. While most cats will relax after an hour or so of adjusting to the clinic setting, some take much longer. Similarily, if your cat is experiencing frequent urination due to pain or discomfort, often they arrive at the vet clinic with an empty bladder. If a cat is stressed, or filling their bladder slowly, your veterinarian may suggest taking your cat home where it will be more comfortable. If this is the case you’ll often be sent home with NoSorb and instructed to set your cat in a quiet room(often a bathroom is best to avoid your cat urinating on a substance you can not collect from like material) and providing a clean, disinfected pan with NoSorb granules in it, water and a food dish. Once urine is produced, simply pour it back into the container from the NoSorb and return it to your veterinarians office for analysis.
If you haven’t noticed your cat voiding urine, or if your cat is getting more aggitated, lethargic, vomiting or painful in the abdomen, it could be possible that your cat is suffering from a urethral blockage. This is certainly deemed a medical emergency. Unfortunately, if this is the case, your cats’ kidneys will continue to produce urine-filling its bladder more and more. Without a passage way out of the body, the pressure in the bladder will backflow into the kidneys, potentially creating kidney damage, but more importantly, may stretch the bladder beyond its capacity which results in a rupture in the bladder wall and ultimately-death.
If your cat is confirmed or found to have a urinary blockage, then an anesthetic is needed immediately for your veterinarian to attempt to dislodge the blockage. Bloodwork is needed to evaluate the potential harm done to the kidneys, IV fluids are placed to help control blood pressure but more importantly to help flush out the kidneys and bladder once the blockage is dislodged. Often, a urinary catherter is placed for 12-24 hours to allow this ‘flushing out’ while minimizing the risk of immediately reblocking. Antibiotics are often started to minimize infection risk (remember the tissues in the bladder and urethra will be greatly inflammed from all the pressure and possible crystal trauma) and medications prescribed to aid in relaxing the urethral sphincters, and of course pain control.
Unfortunately, once a cat has a urinary blockage, crystals or inflammation in the bladder, they are at risk of it reoccuring again at some point. Thankfully though, these risks can be greatly reduced by following veterinary recommendations on diet, exercise and environmental stress reduction.
- notice any FLUTD signs
- want diet recommendations for prevention of FLUTD
- want tips/suggestions of feline stress reduction/management