This month’s blog is contributed by Samantha Vernon, DVM, Frontier Veterinary Clinic, and Board Member/Education Committee member at Cheyenne Animal Shelter.

Inappropriate urination in cats is a frequent reason for veterinary visits.  Unfortunately, it is also a common reason for owners to relinquish cats to the shelter or even just kick them outside.  There is a misconception that cats will just “get mad” and urinate on things.  While occasionally, marking behaviors (especially in un-neutered cats) can occur, underlying medical conditions causing discomfort should be ruled out.

There are many possible causes of inappropriate urination.  Any cat that urinates outside the box should have a urinalysis performed at minimum, and possibly bloodwork and other diagnostics.  Medical conditions that can contribute to house-soiling may include urinary tract infection, urolithiasis (bladder stones or crystals), kidney disease, diabetes, and thyroid illness.  These conditions are generally treatable with medications or procedures.  However, the most common cause of house-soiling in cats less than 10 years old is a condition called Feline Idiopathic Cystitis.  The term “idiopathic” means the cause is unknown.  Much research has been done in trying to identify the underlying cause of this condition, and while the actual cause remains a mystery, some contributing factors have been identified.

Cystitis is an inflammatory condition of the bladder and urethra.  Symptoms of cystitis may be similar to those of other urinary disorders.  These can include straining to urinate, pain/vocalizing with urination, increased frequency of urination, blood in the urine, and urinating outside the box.  Often symptoms will come and go on their own.  The urine is sterile with this condition, therefore antibiotic treatment is not effective. While the underlying cause is not known, stress seems to be an important factor.  Changes in environment, schedule changes, new animals in the household, new people (babies, pet sitters, or guests), dirty litter boxes or litter preferences, and lack of exercise can all cause stress.  Indoor cats are predisposed, likely due to their lack of exercise and stimulation.

What can you do to prevent cystitis flare ups?

First of all make sure that your cat “approves” of their litter box.  As a general rule, you should have one litter box more than the number of cats.  Clean boxes twice daily.  Try different litter types and amounts as cats will often have a preference. Also try enclosed vs. open boxes.  Enrich the indoor environment to allow cats to express their natural behaviors.  Climbing posts and cat trees, toys that can be chased or caught to mimic hunting behavior, fresh water in several locations or water fountains, are all great ways to keep your kitty entertained indoors.  Take time to interact with your cat daily.  Also in many cases, a canned diet can be beneficial in increasing water intake, and also provides additional owner contact and bonding time during feeding.  Medically, some cats may benefit from anti-anxiety medications or pain relievers, as well as weight loss.

As many as 50% of cats that experience idiopathic cystitis are likely to have a recurrence of symptoms.  Preventative measures have been shown to be successful in reducing that likelihood, keeping kitties in their homes, and keeping both owners and kitties happy!  If your cat is experiencing urination issues, please get a veterinary evaluation to rule out other conditions and develop a care plan.