A reader recently emailed to ask for help with her 12-year-old cat who had started urinating in the kitchen sink and on the carpet which started after a puppy was introduced to the home. There had been no issues until the arrival of the puppy and could it be jealousy or a bladder infection?
Inappropriate urination in cats can have a medical or behavioural cause. It is important to determine if the cat is urinating or spraying. Urinating occurs on horizontal surfaces such as tiles and carpets and spraying on vertical targets such as walls. It can be difficult to determine which cat is responsible in a multi-cat household unless the cat is caught in the act. Speak to your veterinarian who can give your fluorescein, a harmless die that is used to diagnose corneal ulcers and when ingested, will cause urine to glow blue under ultraviolet (black) light.
Medical causes which can cause inappropriate urination include cystitis, bladder or kidney infection, urinary crystals or stones and arthritis, these diseases can make urination difficult, painful or induce a sense of urgency to urinate before the cat has the time to make it to the litter tray. Arthritis is a common condition in middle-aged to older cats which can make it difficult for the cat to climb into or out of the tray due to pain.
Common symptoms of disorders of the urinary tract include a sudden urge to urinate, blood in the urine, frequent genital licking, painful urination and crying in the litter tray, frequent urination and urinating outside the litter tray. Cats quickly associate pain and discomfort with the litter tray and will seek alternative places to go to the toilet.
Determining the cause of inappropriate urination
Any behaviour change must be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine if it is medical or behavioural. The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of the cat and obtain a medical history from you including onset and frequency of the inappropriate urination, other changes you have noticed and recent changes in the household.
Urinalysis – A urine sample is evaluated for its physical properties which include specific gravity, colour and clarity, and biochemically for pH, protein, glucose, bilirubin, and ketones, and microscopically for blood cells, crystals, casts (solid, tubular deposits) and bacteria. A urinalysis can detect diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and infections of the urinary tract.
Biochemical profile -A test on the clear/fluid portion of the blood, the biochemical profile evaluates a variety of bodily systems and can give an overall picture of how your cat’s organs are functioning.
Imaging – Xray or ultrasound to evaluate the urinary tract for stones, tumours or abnormalities.
Once a medical cause has been ruled out, the veterinarian will focus on behavioural causes. In this case, the arrival of the puppy triggered inappropriate elimination, possible triggers include jealousy (the person in this story mentioned that both cat and puppy ‘crave’ her attention), anxiety, stress, sudden changes, overzealousness of the puppy (ambushing the cat in the litter tray, constantly chasing or harassing the cat), or having to share resources.
Cats like routine and can become overwhelmed by sudden changes such as the arrival of a new pet or person, changes in routine, moving house, renovations, and these can manifest in several ways, including inappropriate urination, spraying, crying, hiding, aggression and loss of appetite.
Cats are fastidiously clean animals and can be quite discriminating in their choice of litter, litter tray, maintenance, and position. In this case, we can assume all was well with the litter tray because the cat had no issues until the puppy arrived.
How to help
Puppies can be full of energy and overwhelming to cats, especially one who is twelve, which is the equivalent of 65 in human years. It is important to cater to the emotional needs of both puppy and cat.
Provide a safe place the cat can retreat to – Baby gates are an excellent tool to keep dogs out of areas of the house. They are usually low enough for the cat to jump or fit through the bars and provide the cat with the opportunity to escape if he or she needs some space.
Separate key resources – Cats and dogs should each have their own food and water bowls, toys and beds (although in typical cat fashion, it’s not unheard of for cats to decide they prefer the dog’s bed to their own).
Cat trees and perches – Cats are climbers and when threatened feel safe when they are up high. Cat trees and perches and shelving are a great way to give the cat a sense of safety from a height. Cat trees also provide the cat with a place to scratch his or her claws which stretches the arms and shoulders and removes the loose outer layer of the claw.
Litter trays – Ensure that there are adequate litter trays in the house, one per cat, plus one extra. Litter trays should not be lined up side by side but placed in different locations around the house. In the case of a household with a dog (especially a curious puppy), the litter tray(s) should be placed in a location that the cat can go to the toilet safely without being bailed up by the dog. If the cat doesn’t feel safe with the location of the tray, he or she will find another spot to go to the toilet.
The laundry or a bathroom are ideal locations for litter trays, and a baby gate should be used to keep the puppy away from the litter tray when the cat is using it, as well as avoid ingestion of cat feces, which some dogs enjoy.
Attention – Cats have a reputation as standoffish and independent animal, but in most cases, this is not true. Cats bond with their human family and the addition of a new family member (two or four-legged) can leave the cat feeling a sense of loss.
Synthetic pheromones – Feliway is a synthetic pheromone available as a plug-in that mimics the cat’s own feel-good hormones.
Crate the dog – A dog crate is a safe place the dog can go to when he or she wants some time alone and a safe place to sleep. The crate should be large enough to for the dog to stand and turn around and stretch out, fit a comfortable dog bed or blanket, and some toys. During the day, the crate door is left open for the dog to enter at his or her will, and the dog stays in the crate overnight with the door shut.
In the wild, dogs hunker down in enclosed dens and the crate re-creates this safe place for the dog to sleep. Crates also keep young dogs out of trouble when they aren’t being supervised.
Medical therapy – If all of the above methods have not reduced or stopped the cat urinating outside the litter tray the veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medications which are generally used unto the behaviour stops.