Think Outside the Box

If you have ever had a cat, you know that cleaning a litterbox is part of the package. It is not glamorous but a cat has to go when a cat has to go. Everyone understands that. But…what if a cat goes somewhere other than in the litterbox?

House soiling is one of the most common reasons people surrender their cats to shelters or request euthanasia. If it happens once or twice, most people are relatively tolerant. If, however, the incidents become frequent enough, things sometimes reach a breaking point.

My goal as a veterinarian is to eliminate or reduce this behavior so that owners can maintain positive interactions with their cats. There is often a medical problem underlying the behavior at its onset. If a cat has consistently used a box in the past and suddenly begins house soiling, this should be a red flag that something is wrong. Urinary tract disease is common in cats and can be very serious, even life-threatening, if left untreated. Despite this, many people write off house soiling behavior at first, thinking that their cats are “mad” at them. If the problem goes on without intervention, it can become habitual and more difficult to correct.

Delayed presentation is an obstacle to resolving this problem. People are often very frustrated by the time they take their cat to a veterinarian. It may not be quick or easy to identify the specific cause of the behavior change or the best resolution for an individual cat. Unfortunately, many owners say “I need you to fix this problem now or I’ll have to put my cat down/take my cat to the shelter.” They have already reached their breaking point before the visit, which limits our ability to work toward a resolution as a team.

The solution may be as simple as adding an additional box to the household, changing the litter or taking the cover off the box. Antibiotics or other medical intervention may be needed. The cat might even need anxiety medication for a while. Each of these courses of action takes time before the problem can be resolved. So please, if your cat uses your house as a litterbox, get to the vet while you still have time to try a few things! If you wait until your spouse/roommate/parents are issuing an ultimatum, it may be too late. – Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa

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