When Your Cat is Thinking Outside the Box, part 1

from Dr. Karen Becker, holistic veterinarian:

One of the reasons most cats are so easy to potty train to a litter box is because their natural instinct is to eliminate in a substrate (earthy material) that allows them to bury their urine and feces.

Your kitty’s ancestors were African wildcats — the desert was their cat box. Modern-day felines probably gravitate to litter because it’s the closest substrate to sand they can find inside a house.

It’s also the nature of cats to bury their feces in their urine, and in the wild, wet desert sand fit the bill. This is likely why most domesticated kitties prefer clumping litter to other varieties.

Since it’s entirely natural for Fluffy to seek out her litter box to eliminate in, you should assume something is up when she chooses another location to do her business.

And I caution you not to jump to the conclusion your favorite feline has suddenly developed anger issues or an attitude problem. There’s a reason for your pet’s behavior and she’s counting on you to help her sort it out.

Rule Out a Health Problem First

Urinating outside the litter box is one of the primary symptoms of the most common kitty disorder, Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Other signs your cat might have this problem include:

  • Frequent or prolonged attempts to urinate
    Straining to urinate
    Crying out while urinating
    Blood in the urine
    Excessive licking of the genital area

Also known as feline urologic syndrome (FUS), FLUTD is actually a group of conditions, any of which can affect your cat’s bladder or urethra, including cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), urinary tract infections, urinary stones, urethral plugs, cancer and other disorders.

Any kitty can develop a lower urinary tract disorder, but it’s most commonly seen in cats that:

  • Are middle-aged
    Use an indoor litter box exclusively
    Are fed a dry food diet
    Don’t get enough exercise and are overweight
    Are stressed by their environment

If you suspect your cat might have a lower urinary tract infection, it’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian. The only way to find out if the litter box problem is really a medical problem is to have your vet test a urine sample. This is a critical first step to addressing inappropriate urination.

If your pet isn’t passing urine, a situation more commonly seen in males than females but can happen to either sex, this is a life-threatening medical emergency and you should seek immediate care. Once a kitty’s urethra is completely blocked, the kidneys can no longer do their job. This can lead to uremia, a ruptured bladder, as well as organ failure and death within just a day or two.

Preventing Lower Urinary Tract Disease

I strongly encourage all my cat owner clients — especially those whose kitties have experienced urinary tract disorders – to avoid feeding dry food (kibble).

Dry pet foods contain neither the high quality protein nor the moisture content your cat needs for optimal health. If your kitty lived in the wild, her natural diet (prey) would be about 70 percent water. Dry food is from five to 12 percent water.

Cats have a low thirst drive. Nature intended them to get most of the water their bodies need from food sources. Your kitty simply can’t make up the water deficit from a kibble diet at her water bowl.

Your cat should be eating species-appropriate canned or raw food. For cats, this means grain-free food (no corn, wheat or rice that can greatly alter urine pH). Learn how to transition your kitty to a healthy, balanced diet here. The quality of the canned food is also very important.

Tragically, lots of kitties with FLUTD-related disorders wind up at the local shelter rather than at the vet’s office because their owners mistake a manageable medical condition for a stubborn behavioral problem.

Remember – your cat is wired to be stoic no matter how he’s feeling. As a result, it can be hard to tell when he’s sick. Very often the only clue you’ll have of a problem with your kitty’s health is a change in his behavior, so your first move should be to make an appointment with an integrative or holistic veterinarian.

more next week…

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