Taking steps to prevent feline interstitial cystitis (FIC) and other undesirable behaviors.  Written by Dr. Vanessa Wensing

Tina was set up for litter box failure from the moment she was adopted as a kitten. By the time I inherited her at 10 years of age, her litter box behaviors were pretty much written in stone. 

Rheda (my Mom) with baby Tina and baby Pearl

Tina was adopted out of a New York City shelter at 3 months of age. She was a skittish kitty, found on the streets of NYC surviving on garbage can refuse. My Mom adopted her and an unrelated kitten (Pearl) of the same age. She brought them to her NYC apartment to join and hopefully befriend her existing adult kitty, Moonbeam.  For the first half of Tina’s life, she remained a timid cat. She rarely let anyone pet her and never enjoyed sitting on anyone’s lap. Pearl ended up being a real bully and would intimidate the already very shy Tina. Tina did find a good friend in Moonbeam. He was a real gentleman to everyone.

Tina and Moonbeam

Due to Tina’s inactive apartment living and free meal feeding, she tipped the scales at 18 pounds!   It is no wonder Tina began to urinate outside of the litter box. She was nervous, obese, and lived an inactive life in a small apartment without enough space to avoid another cat that bullied her. She did not have a stress-free environment in which to be healthy and thrive.

Fat Tina

Why do I think we could have predicted and possibly prevented her poor litter box behaviors? Read on…

Feline Interstitial Cystitis (FIC) can be defined as a variety of behaviors and signs. A cat that has FIC may strain to urinate, urinate frequently, have blood in the urine, and/or may display pain while urinating. Many of these cats will stop using their litter boxes. A cat may have FIC when all other medical tests such as urinalysis, urine cultures, radiographs, and ultrasounds are normal.  If your cat is having symptoms of FIC a veterinary visit is a must. Your veterinarian can determine if there is a more serious medical condition causing signs that look like FIC such as a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, or bladder cancer. If no underlying cause is found, then it is possible that your cat has FIC. 

If there is not a medical issue why is my kitty uncomfortable, straining to urinate, and/or missing the litter box? It is possible that a cat’s environment and lifestyle can lead to these problems. Here are some common predisposing factors that may contribute to a kitty having FIC:

  1. Obesity
  2. Nervous personality
  3. Frequent diet changes
  4. Inactive lifestyle
  5. Apartment living/small living quarters
  6. Multi-cat household (especially when cat to cat conflict is present)
  7. Lack of resources to view surrounding environment (ie: lack of vertical kitty trees)

Sadly, kitties that urinate outside the litter box are at greater risk of being relinquished to a shelter, forced to live outdoors, or even euthanized. Fortunately, there are environmental and lifestyle changes that can help kitties with FIC and poor litterbox habits. Here are just a few suggestions:

  1. Prevent obesity.
  2. Meet environmental needs for safety such as multiple and separate food, water, litter areas especially when there is more than one cat in the family.
  3. Increase dietary hydration by feeding canned foods, offering varied water sources & flavored water.
  4. Meet environmental needs to provide and encourage activity such as laser pointers, climbing and claw trees, and enrichment toys.
  5. Reconsider adopting more cats especially when living space is limited.
  6. Always provide options for cats to have a top view of rooms (vertical climbing trees)
  7. Provide consistent and positive human interactions.

Back to Tina…

Tina entered my home when my Mom passed away. She was 10 years old, diabetic (predisposed from inactivity and obesity), still nervous around people and other animals and her litter box skills were poor. I provided her a quiet and predictable environment with no other animals and just my husband. We improved her diet and controlled her diabetes.  We were able to decrease her reactivity to people and she began to enjoy being petted and snuggling. She enjoyed meeting new people including children but continued to be incredibly fearful of other animals and never was a reliable user of the litter box. As a result, I have a great understanding of what it is like to live with a kitty that just cannot seem to keep it in the box!

I am hopeful that this information will get more kitties off to the right start and may even help those that are currently struggling with FIC.  For those of you who have cats and would like to read more please read the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) and ISFM (International Society of Feline Medicine) Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines.