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Urinary problems and changes in behavior

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During their lifetime, some cats will suffer from urinary tract illnesses. Learn how to spot the behavioral changes which could be a sign of such health problems early, and know what to look out for in and around the litter box.

How changes in cat behavior and urinary problems are linked

If you’ve noticed a recent change in behavior, it could be the first sign of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), such as a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). From increased meowing to urinating in inappropriate places, these behavioral changes can occur before any observable physical signs appear. So it’s important to be aware of the indicators and to schedule a visit to your vet at the first sign of any problems to rule out underlying medical issues.

Cat behavioral changes that indicate urinary health conditions

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) can present itself in many different ways. The behavioral signs can vary from cat to cat, but those suffering from urinary illness tend to display pain or discomfort in one way or another. When your cat is at home, observe their day-to-day behavior, and take note if they start acting differently to how they usually would. If you suspect that your cat is suffering from a urinary illness, such as a cat UTI, lookout for some of these behavioral changes at home.

  1. Straining in the litter box 
    If your cat is spending a disproportionate amount of time in their litter box, it could be a sign that something’s wrong. Longer visits to the litter box may be a sign of your cat needing to strain, which could represent an increased urge to urinate, urinary tract inflammation, and/or obstruction of the urinary tract.

  2. Inappropriate urination 
    Many owners assume that their cat urinating outside the litter box and in inappropriate places is a purely behavioral problem. However, often it can be a sign of an underlying health problem. Sometimes inappropriate urination occurs if a cat has already suffered from urinary problems and now relates the pain to their litter box. Often they just can't make it to the litter box in time. Some urinate on specific textures like clean laundry, bedding, plastic bags, bathtubs, or other odd surfaces, while some cats may prefer a particular spot in the house. If you can smell cat urine but the area isn’t wet, shining a black light on surfaces can help to locate dried urine.

  3. Increased frequency of urination 
    If your cat is suffering from a urinary illness, they may constantly feel like they need to urinate. This urge will cause some cats to visit their litter box many times in a day, often resulting in smaller amounts of urine being passed per visit. This is a sign of discomfort, so you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

  4. Cat crying during urination 
    When urination is painful, many cats will cry out while they pass urine. If your cat suddenly starts to vocalize during urination, this is a sign that something is wrong and veterinary assistance should be sought. Rather than crying out, some cats will be found to be constantly grooming the genital area.

  5. Coloured urination 
    The most common abnormal colour to urine is red or pinkish due to blood in the urine. However, any colour other than yellow is a sign that veterinary assistance is needed. 

  6. Other behavioral signs
    Some cats may also show signs that seem completely unrelated to their urinary pain. They may be withdrawn from the family or have a decreased appetite.

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Litter box behavior

As we’ve already covered, behavioral changes that may indicate Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) include vocalization, discoloured urine, and urinating outside the litter box. But there are a host of other factors that can encourage inappropriate urination and behavioral changes around the litter box.
Normal litter box behaviors include digging, squatting and covering up faeces or urine. Cats with elimination issues such as litter aversions spend less time digging and covering. Litter aversion, substrate preference (urinating on a specific textured surface), box size and frequency of litter box cleaning may also contribute to the cat’s preference to urinate outside the box.

Re-establishing good litter box habits

If lower urinary tract disease is identified and treated, your cat may still continue to urinate outside the box. This may be due to negative litter box associations, such as pain, and the development of learned preferences for other materials and locations.

Whether you’re trying to help your cat recover from a urinary illness and reteaching them good habits, or just trying to maintain their urinary health, these are a few things you should always consider when it comes to their litter box habits.

  1. Number of litter boxes
    If you have more than one cat, make sure to provide as many litter boxes as the number of cats in the house, plus one.

  2. Location of litter boxes
    Litter boxes should be placed in easily accessible areas spread throughout the home. Some cats may be sensitive to noise or high traffic locations. Cats with arthritis or other mobility issues may have difficulty accessing boxes where climbing stairs is required.

  3. Size and design of litter box
    Cats are individuals, each with their own preferences. Some prefer closed boxes while others like them to be open. Large open boxes allow the cat to really stretch, dig and cover, as small boxes may be too confining. Noisy automated self-cleaning boxes may not be the right choice for noise-sensitive cats. A rule of thumb is to aim for 1.5 times the length of a grown cat’s body, including the tail.

  4. Substrates
    Preferred litter substrates vary but many cats seem to prefer a fine granular clumping litter that is unscented. If this does not appear to be your cat’s preference, there are many other options. Fill the box with no more than 1-2 inches of litter.

  5. Cleaning
    Feces and urine should be scooped out daily and litter completely replaced every 1-2 weeks. The box should be thoroughly cleaned with warm soap and water, but you should avoid harsh chemicals and ammonia-based products.

  6. Plastic liners
    Although liners do make cleaning a little bit easier, cats can often get their nails stuck in the plastic liners, which makes it difficult to stretch, dig, and cover. Getting stuck can also create an unpleasant litter box experience.

Always check with your vet

If you’re still wondering whether your cat is going through a behavioral change related to a urinary illness, there’s only one way to know for sure. Book an appointment with your vet as soon as you notice an issue and they’ll be able to recommend the best course of action. Remember, most cases of FLUTD can be easily addressed if a medical cause for the issue is identified.

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Proactive care for FLUTD in cats

If you think your cat is suffering from FLUTD, it’s important to visit your vet and take action as soon as possible. Find out how to give your cat the proactive support they need to maintain urinary health throughout their life.

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