What is the most common behaviour problem in cats?
Surveys report that between 40% and 70% of cats referred to veterinarians or behaviourist have some type of elimination problem; by this I mean ‘inappropriate elimination’ or to put it another way peeing and pooping outside of the litter box. Inappropriate elimination is, therefore, the most common behaviour problem in cats. It should be noted that the term ‘inappropriate elimination” applies to the cat caregiver’s standpoint not from the cat’s standpoint. From the cat’s standpoint it is natural behaviour as a consequence of the circumstances in which they find themselves.
The majority of these problems involve urinating outside of the litter box. Defecation outside of litter box is rarer. The underlying cause needs to be found. It might be because of a medical condition, or anxiety, or to mark or because they don’t like the litter substrate i.e. the material of the litter. In some cases the initial problem is medical followed by behavioural problems.
I have found that domestic cats naturally migrate towards the litter box as it contains material which is ideal on which to pee and poop. What I mean if they don’t need training normally and once they’ve used the litter box they will return to it because it smells of their waste products. The smell of waste identifies the area for elimination.
The most common medical issue causing peeing outside of the litter box is a syndrome called feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) which includes cystitis which is an inflammation of the bladder. I have several articles on these sorts of medical conditions, links to which you can see below.
- Natural treatments for feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)
- Major cause of feline idiopathic cystitis is conflict with another cat in the home
- Home Remedy for Cat with Cystitis
There are more articles on the urinary tract at the base of the page.
Data collected from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital found that 15% of cats referred to hospital for signs of FLUTD also had litter box problems. More than one third (37%) referred to a veterinarian for litter-box problems were subsequently diagnosed with FLUTD.
Other medical conditions which might cause inappropriate elimination are diseases that cause polyuria (the frequent passage of large volumes of urine) such as diabetes mellitus or hypothyroidism, gastrointestinal disease, nutritional disorders such as food allergies or poor absorption of foods and diseases associated with ageing such as arthritis or senility.
I think most cat caregivers now know about urine marking. I have several pages on the topic, two of which are below:
There are more – please search.
This normally means an aversion to the litter material (the substrate) but can also be due to disliking of the litter box itself. Or it may be due to the position of litterbox within the home. The obvious thing to do here is to vary the substrate, and/or acquire another litter box that is substantially different and/or move the litter box to a different position. You can then isolate the cause. Unscented litter material is the best and I think that cat owners should put aside their own personal preference for cat litter to ensure that they meet the demands of their cat. Litter boxes should not be over-cleaned to the point where the natural scent of the cat has been removed. As mentioned, it is the scent of the letter which attracts them.
P.S. Declawed cats often have an aversion to using the litter because of sore toes. Please read the words of a vet tech on this page (click the link). Her thoughts are very valuable.