Pet care and behaviour

In veterinary practice our receptionists and nurses are often asked for advice on various aspects of pet care and behaviour, and they are happy to help with advice or direct callers to specialist behaviourists where appropriate.

One of the issues often discussed is the frustrating problem of a cat that has suddenly started soiling in the house. This is often a difficult one as the cause isn’t always obvious, but there are several recommendations we can offer. The first is to obtain a urine sample for testing as there are several illnesses, including urinary tract infections, diabetes and kidney problems, that can cause a pet to urinate more frequently. Getting a urine sample from a cat is easier said than done, but can be achieved with the help of a special sterile non-absorbent cat litter which enables urine to be extracted from the litter tray without excessive contamination. With this we can perform a simple dipstick test and measure the concentration using a refractometer – these tests are quick and inexpensive and can rule out most physical causes.

Assuming the results from these tests are clear, the next question is whether anything in the household has changed. Cats can be very sensitive and any disruption to their normal routine can result in stress-related behaviours. A new baby, the addition of another cat or dog, or moving house are all obvious examples of stressful events, but some cats will also become stressed by less major changes such as re-decorating a room or buying a new sofa. Unfortunately urinating in the house is a common response to stress, but there are things we can try to help the cat feel more settled and reduce this behaviour.

For a stressed cat, the most important thing is to have a quiet place they can retreat to where they can feel safe. If there are dogs or young children in the house, it’s a good idea to use a stairgate to block off one room – ideally the room the cat already prefers to spend most time in – so that the cat can come and go freely without unwanted guests getting in. It’s also possible to buy calming scent diffusers such as Feliway. This works by producing a scent similar to the pheromones of a nursing mother cat, which has a calming effect. Many cats respond very well to this while others appear less affected.

As very clean animals, it’s not surprising that cats can be fussy about sharing a litter tray – many cats will go for the carpet rather than using a tray that has been recently used by their housemate. In households with more than one cat, it’s important that there is always a clean litter tray available for every cat, and the best way to ensure this is to have more trays than cats. If there are two cats in the house, make three litter trays available; four trays for three cats, and so on. This way each cat should always have access to a tray that is clean and not marked with another cat’s scent. It’s also important to remove the scent from soiled areas – some vets recommend using a biological laundry detergent for this purpose, but do check its suitability for the surface before using.

This can be a difficult issue to resolve, and some cases may require the intervention of a qualified behaviourist, but it’s always worth trying these initial tips and hopefully they will save some carpets and help some cats out of the doghouse!