Urinary tract problems are relative common in cats - approximately 1.5% of cats who go to the vet are treated for them. But the majority of those problems don’t appear to have a specific cause, so cats are often diagnosed with “feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)” – the term idiopathic meaning that disease process is of unknown origin. I’ve previously reported on the link between stress and litterbox issues in cats; and the relationship between cystitis and stress in humans and cats appears to be a strong one. But what might cause stresses in cats that would lead to urinary tract disease?
A new study from Norway, “Risk factors for idiopathic cystitis in Norwegian cats: a matched case-control study” sought to find out what type of environmental or personality characteristics might put cats at risk for FIC. The authors surveyed 70 folks whose cats had been diagnosed with FIC and as a control, surveyed 95 cat owners whose cats were patients at the same veterinary hospital, but had never shown signs of urinary tract problems. Owners were asked several questions about the cat’s environment, personality, how the litterbox and food/water stations were maintained, and the cat’s opportunities to express species-specific behaviors (such as scratching, play, and perching up high). Seventy-one percent of the FIC cats were males, and most were domestic short-haired cats.
Urination outside the litterbox is one of the most common behavioral reasons cats are abandoned and euthanized. Litterbox avoidance is a frustrating problem to live with, and damages property and the bond between an owner and their cat. While owners often attribute this behavior to a complex “revenge” plot by the cat (“he’s mad at me for x, y or z”), urination outside the box is typically caused by one of three things: something about the box the cat doesn’t like, a medical problem, or stress.
Okay, first of all, leave it to youtube. Look for cats singing “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls and you’ll find this bizarre video:
Now, time to get serious. I help a lot of people who are experiencing behavior problems with their cats – and a lot of those cases have to do with litterbox avoidance. There are several reasons that cats may stop using the litterbox – including medical problems, an undesirable litterbox location, substrate dislike, or even stress. Solving the problem often requires several different approaches, including modifications to the litterbox and the owner’s behavior. Sometimes the problems are obvious – like a dirty litterbox, or a box that is hard to access. Other times the cause is more subtle.
But one important question – can you assume your cat likes the litterbox just because she uses it consistently?