Bad Kitty Syndrome
Cats have a very strong instinct to keep their presence in an area secret. They do this by covering up their waste products. Potty training a cat is usually a no brainer undertaking in that you build it and they use it; however, some of the most frustrating problems with cats have to do with the litter box. There are several reasons a cat may fail to use the cat box; these issues can be both medical and mental.
Medical issues are generally secondary to other medical conditions and can include bladder infections, diabetes, renal disease, and arthritis. Litter box aversion related to bladder infections and arthritis may be the result of a bad feeling towards the cat box as the cat associates pain with the cat box and then shies away from the box as a result. Older kitties may have trouble getting into and out of cat boxes that have high walls. Many medical conditions cause cats to have to urinate so frequently that they fail to make it to the box every time. Careful examination, evaluation, and diagnostic tests are used to rule out these medical conditions.
After these steps are taken and these issues are ruled out as possible causes, remaining possible causes include only mental problems. These can be the most frustrating problems for us as cat owners to deal with. Like with human mental issues, these problems tend to not be logical or really make sense to us; however, these problems can usually be solved. First, there are some common rules and changes we would try before discussing medications. First and foremost, the cat box rule… before we try anything else we institute this rule… number of cat boxes in the house equals the number of cats plus one e.g. 3 cats in a home need to have 4 cat boxes throughout the house. Many cats are very fastidious and, once a box is used, won’t use it again until it is cleaned. Thus, more boxes help with this; and in some cases, electric boxes can be a real help. When we are having problems, sometimes a variety of box types and locations can help. Open boxes, covered boxes, boxes in the open and boxes in the closet are some options. Some cats do have a preference for the type of litter and smell. In general, dust-free clumping scentless litter is most commonly accepted. Oddly enough, when tested, cats liked bleach smell and did not like citrus smell.
When we have tried these changes and are still having issues, we may then move towards medication. Most of these issues are related in some way to anxiety and thus medications that help with anxiety are often beneficial. Many are analogs or relatives of Prozac and can be hugely beneficial for this issue. Some cats, when started on these medications, experience sedation that usually dissipates after they have been on the medication for a week or two.
“BAD KITTY SYNDROME” is really a misnomer for a real medical problem and not a kitty “acting out” to punish their owners for some offense that we are unaware of.
Please note this brief is for information only and not intended to replace careful examination, diagnostic testing, and treatment by our staff.
Written By: Craig Evans, DVM