By Francesca Lees BSc (Hons) NCert (AnBeh) ISFM CertFN RVN
Making sure our cats are safe and healthy is every cat owner's biggest concern. We are always looking for ways to ensure our cats are eating the right diet, are happy in their environment and are in tip top condition, but there’s one area of cat health which we often see cats suffering from – urinary issues.
What are the signs that my cat is suffering from urinary issues?
Initially cats with urinary issues may present with behaviour changes and often owners perceive their cat as just being fussy about their litter tray or as being “defiant”.
However, cat behaviour experts know that cats don’t urinate outside of their litter trays on purpose just to annoy their owners (even though it may seem that way!) and so it is important to get your cat checked out by a vet if they are showing any behavioural signs which are abnormal for them.
Why do cats urinate outside of their litter tray?
Sometimes cats who urinate outside of the litter tray do so because of a behavioural issue, however a medical issue needs to be ruled out first. Cats can also show signs such as struggling to urinate or you may notice blood in their urine – both a very sure sign that something is medically wrong and they need to see a vet.
Urinary problems caused by medical conditions
Urinary problems in cats can be caused by a variety of different medical conditions. Bladder stones and infections can cause difficulty urinating and are usually caused by stress. Cystitis or FIC (Feline Idiopathic Cystitis) is thought to be caused by stress and often environmental factors are a huge part of the problem. Once a cat has had cystitis they usually then become prone to flare ups and often are triggered by things in their home environment or sudden changes to their home environment.
This is why it’s so important to make sure your cat is happy in their home environment and that there are no potential stressors impacting on their bladder health.
How to reduce environment-related urinary health issues in cats
- Provide your cat with enough litter trays. Cats should ideally have one tray each plus one extra tray (so if you had 2 cats then you’d need 3 trays)
- Make sure your cat drinks enough water – bladder issues are only worsened if your cat isn’t getting enough fluid intake. You can feed your cat wet food alongside their dry food, make sure they have clean fresh water every day or provide a cat water drinking fountain which encourages more water intake.
- If you have a multi cat household make sure all of the cats have their own resources – ideally each cat should have their own food bowl, water source, litter tray and scratch post so as to avoid them having to share resources (which can cause stress).
- Watch your cat's weight. Cats who are overweight are particularly prone to urinary issues (particularly male neutered cats). Make sure to feed your cat a diet which is appropriate for their life stage and neuter status. Neutered cat food is designed specifically to have less calories in and to maintain your cat's weight.
- Keep litter trays clean at all times and use a clumping cat litter which can be easily cleaned and scooped regularly. Cats who have to use a dirty litter tray can become stressed while using the tray.
- Avoid using litter which is scented. Cats do not like artificially scented litter and this could deter them from using the litter tray. A non scented and natural cat litter, such as Tippaws litter is ideal for cats.
- Avoid placing your cat's litter trays in open areas or near windows and glass doors. Cats like to toilet in private and will find it stressful if they have to use a litter tray which is in plain view of other cats in the neighbourhood or in a thoroughfare where they are interrupted by other cats/people walking past while they do their business (pretty understandable if you ask me!). Also you should avoid placing your cats litter trays anywhere near their food or water sources. Cats do not like to eat or drink near to where they toilet and doing so could cause stress.
- The type of litter trays you provide for your cat is also really important – some cats prefer an open top tray but others prefer a closed top tray with a lid. Find out which tray your cat prefers and make sure you provide enough of these in suitable locations. They also need to be large enough for your cat so that they are able to turn around and cover their deposits easily. Ideally a tray should be one and a half times the length of your cat.
- The amount of litter in the tray is also really important. If you don’t put enough litter in the tray so that they cannot cover their urine of faeces properly this can cause stress. Make sure you fill the tray up at least 3-4cm deep with litter.
- Try to avoid using self cleaning litter trays or trays which make noises while cats are using them. This can cause fear and anxiety around using a litter tray and make them worried or scared when using it.
- Never punish or “tell off” a cat who’s urinating outside of their litter tray, even if you catch them in the act. Cats are just trying to cope and may be urinating elsewhere because they’re in pain (cats with FIC can sometimes urinate on cold surfaces such as baths, sinks and shower trays as it can help with the pain) or because there is a stressor around their litter tray (such as another cat watching them or the tray being dirty etc). Never use a water gun to squirt your cat as this just causes anxiety and fear and can break the bond between cat and owner, creating more stress.
- Stressful events such as moving house, having a new baby, introducing a new cat/dog into the home, DIY/home renovations, moving furniture or changing food can all cause stress to a cat. Using a pheromone plug-in can help with this and planning ahead and plugging it in a few days before the stressful event is more likely to have a positive effect on your cat.
Remember that if your cat's behaviour changes and their toilet habits change the first port of call is your vet. It is important to note that urinary issues can be life threatening so it is very important to call your vet if you notice any of these changes, particularly if your cat is straining to urinate in their litter tray. If this is the case you must call them as soon as you notice this (a potential blocked bladder is not something that can wait until the next day!)
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