One of the most frustrating problems to have as a pet parent is having a cat who isn’t consistently using the litter box. Anyone who loves cats or who befriends a cat lover has heard the affectionate (and not so affectionate) stories of cats using a new boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s) pillow, shoe or laundry basket as a non-verbal communication site. The reality is that most cats who urinate outside the box aren’t choosing to do so because they are angry. For some of these kitties, that behavior is your first sign that your cat is suffering from lower urinary tract disease (LUTD).
Lower urinary tract disease is a disorder that affects the urinary bladder or the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder outside the body). Signs of LUTD typically include frequent, painful urination of small amounts of urine. The urine may have a red or pink tinge in it and may smell strongly (even more than usual). Lower urinary tract disease may be caused by urinary tract infections, bladder stones, inflammation, and cancer.
So how do you know if your cat needs a sound talking to or a trip to the vet? There are a couple of behaviors that can help you know if a vet trip is needed. Discolored urine, pain when urinating or being unable to urinate more than a small amount at a time are all good indications that a vet visit is urgently needed. However, if your cat isn’t in pain, can urinate well on their own and doesn’t have visible blood in the urine, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a medical issue. You need to look more closely at the urine.
Evaluating a urine sample can tell you if the urine contains anything that shouldn’t be there. That can include red blood cells, sugar, bilirubin, proteins, or an abnormal pH. If red blood cells are present, your veterinarian can do further testing to look for urinary tract infections or bladder stones. If sugar is found, a blood test will be performed to look for elevated blood sugar, a finding consistent with diabetes mellitus. If your cat’s urine is normal you can then focus on addressing the behavior by making their litter box more appealing or removing the the non-litter box sites where your cat may be urinating. If you never take that first step of looking at the urine you may waste time and resources trying to solve the wrong problem.
Evaluating your pets urine is easy. Your veterinarian can collect and analyze your pet’s urine during an office call (though it generally costs less if you collect the sample yourself) or you can complete a urine screening at home with a Petnostics kit. With a little bit of planning collecting a urine sample can be easy. Some cats will allow you to catch urine while they are in the litter box but most will do best if an empty, cleaned (with bleach) litter box is placed out with hydrophobic litter. If you have more than one cat in the home, confine the cat you are worried about in a room with the box. Hydrophobic litter looks like sand and your cat can scratch at it but it won’t absorb the urine. You can then come in and pour the urine from the litter box into a Petnostics cup or another clean container.
Your cat has very few ways to tell you when something is bothering them. Make sure you are reading the signs correctly. The next time you think you hear, “I hate your new roommate” make sure you aren’t really hearing, “something is wrong and I need your help.”