Elimination Behaviour Problems in Cats: The Interplay between Behavioural and Physical Causes
Jaume Fatjó, DVM, DECVBM-CA; Marta Amat, DVM; Xavier Manteca, DVM, MSc, PhD, DECVBM-CA
Unitat de Fisiologia Animal, Facultat de Veterinària, Universitat AutÁnoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain
Feline elimination problems can be ascribed to three main diagnostic categories: medical conditions, aversions to the litterbox and marking behaviour (Beaver, 2003).
For many years, the relationship between medical and non medical causes of housesoiling in cats has been considered mutually exclusive. According to that, in front of a consultation involving inappropriate elimination the veterinarian should initially perform a thorough medical examination including at least a physical examination, a laboratory workup, a urinalysis and a faecal examination (Beaver, 2003). Only after physical conditions have been ruled out, the other two causes, litterbox related problems and marking must be considered. Questions like the location and volume of urine spots, the animal's body posture while eliminating and the social and physical environment of the cat can help to differentiate between marking behaviour and problems related to the use of the litterbox.
However, as it has occurred with other clinical problems in the field of veterinary behavioural medicine, like canine aggression, medical conditions and behavioural conditions responsible for a problem of inappropriate elimination may to some extent overlap.
For instance, a medical problem causing tenesmus could create a litterbox aversion, since the cat links the painful defecation with that particular place. Once established, the reluctance to use the litterbox could remain long after the medical condition has been addressed.
An even more interesting example of the interplay between medical and non-medical causes of inappropriate elimination can be found in some cases of Non-obstructive Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). The term FLUTD refers to a very variable combination of physical symptoms, like hematuria and pollakiuria. However, in many cases none of these signs can be detected by regular diagnostic techniques and the condition is considered idiopathic (Gunn-Moore & Cameron, 2004). Thus, the only clinical sign that is consistently observed in these cases is periuria (urination outside the litterbox). In fact, in more than two thirds of cases involving periuria no physical abnormalities can be detected (Westropp et al, 2005).
Interestingly, around 50% of feline elimination cases referred to small animal veterinary behaviourists have antecedents of FLUTD (Overall, 1997; Horwitz, 2002; Beaver, 2003).
Today, Feline Idiopathic Cystitis is understood as a mixed medical and behavioural condition, resulting of the interplay between many different causes, from breed predisposition to diet composition and the effect of social and physical environmental stress (Westropp et al, 2005). Consequently, the treatment protocol for this problem includes strategies as diverse as increasing the cat's daily water intake, administering antianxiety/analgesic medication, performing some environmental enrichment and using feline facial synthetic pheromones (Westropp et al, 2005; Gunn-Moore & Cameron, 2004).
The main purpose of this presentation will be to discuss the diagnostic and treatment protocol of cases of feline housesoiling, with a special emphasis in problems of inappropriate urination.
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