Let's Talk About Stress
Have you ever felt stressed? Did you ever pig out on your favorite treat to help “cope” with the stress? What does your pet do when he or she is stressed? For a lot of pets, their coping mechanism for stress is acting out. For dogs, this may mean destructive behavior, and for cats, it often means inappropriate urination.
Pets can become stressed for many different reasons. For example, there are many dogs that become stressed from thunderstorms or fireworks because of the loud noise that they make. These dogs are often very anxious, will shake, and sometimes have destructive behavior.
Cats tend to handle stressful situations by either hiding or urinating inappropriately. Cats also tend to be much more sensitive to subtle changes in their environment than dogs are. Something as simple as having a guest stay at your house can really upset some cats.
So What Do You Do For Your Stressed Pet?
First, call your veterinarian. We are here to help. Depending on the situation, will depend on the course of action. For example, if you have a dog with a thunderstorm phobia I would discuss the Thunder Shirt with you (works for some pets and not for others), pheromones, and herbal/neutraceutical remedies, and then if all else fails, we would discuss drug therapy.
In the case of inappropriate urination in cats, it’s a bit more complex. They often get a stress induced condition called feline lower urinary tract disease more recently called feline urologic syndrome or feline sterile cystitis. The symptoms are identical to a lower urinary tract infection. First, your veterinarian will probably check a urine sample to make sure it’s not a urinary tract infection. Assuming everything checks out ok, there will probably be a discussion about possible changes in your environment. In most cases, the stressor, such as a new pet, can’t be removed from the situation. Next, a long discussion will probably incur about litter boxes. Cats can be very particular about what type of litter box they have, the location of them, the type of litter used, etc. Most cats tolerate their litter boxes despite what their human chooses; however, all it takes is one stressful event to set them over the edge. If everything checks out and/or environmental changes don’t improve things then the next step may be a pheromone. I personally like to use Feliway diffusers which need to be refilled once a month. The cat pheromone is calming to many cats and helps relax them. A lot of my inappropriate urination patients respond to this step. For those particularly tough cases, drug therapy may need to be used.
Let's Talk About Autumn
Take Autumn for example. She came to us because she was stressed. I don’t know what exactly stressed her out in her previous home, but her coping mechanism was to urinate on her previous owner’s new couch and bed. Her previous owner couldn’t handle this anymore so we took Autumn in. In this case, the previous owner just didn’t want to deal with Autumn urinating all over her furniture, which is understandable since cat pee stinks.
We had never met Autumn prior to her being surrendered to us. The first thing we did was get a urine and blood sample from her to make sure everything was ok. When that checked out normal, I decided to just wait and see what happens. We have a futon and a couch at the clinic which she has access to. If she started urinating on one of those items, we would try Feliway.
Autumn has lived with us for over six months. Since the day she moved into the clinic she has never urinated anywhere but her litter box (except the one night we accidentally locked her in reception and she used the potted plant—oops!). Autumn's case is extreme in the sense that she was taken out of the environment that caused her stress and the symptoms resolved. Most people are willing to try other steps before giving their pet away, and if Autumn was urinating all over the clinic we would have tried the other things mentioned above.
If you have any questions about inappropriate urination in cats or any other health or wellbeing issue, please do not hesitate to give us a call. Ohio State University has created the Indoor Pet Initiative which seeks to explain the dynamics of having an indoor cat and also ways to enrich their lives and prevent problems such as inappropriate urination. I encourage you to take a look.