Inappropriate Elimination In Older Cats
House soiling by cats, which is termed Inappropriate Elimination (IE) is the most common behavioral complaint by cat caretakers. In my view, litter boxes are not made for cats, they are made to make things easier for people. The same is true of litters. In most situations, the younger cat will adapt to both the litter used as well as the box, but the older, or elderly, cat may have problems that can result in them soiling outside the box. We know from scientific studies that up to 90% of cats over 12 years of age have some degree of arthritis. Cats with arthritis have chronic pain (see OA and Pain In Cats) and some of the “green” and crystal litters can be painful for the elderly cat with arthritis to walk on in the litter box. Also, covered litter boxes can be difficult for the elderly cat to maneuver in when they go to have a bowel movement or even urinate. This is especially true when there is arthritis involving the spine. Another negative related to litter is the odor control component. This can be devastating to the olfactory system of even young cats, but it’s especially true for older cats. To further complicate things, some cats do not want to urinate where they have a bowel movement and vice versa. And, to make it even more difficult, some cats won’t use a dirty litter box. So, if your cat is soiling outside the box, the first thing to look at is the litter box and the kind of litter used. For the elderly kitty, get a “low profile” (easy enter, easy exit with low sides all around) litter box that is as big as possible so there is enough room for him/her to turn around easily without exiting the box. Also, it’s a good idea to place the box in the middle of a wall so the cat can exit without turning around. You may need several low profile boxes in different areas so the elderly cat doesn’t have to go far. If you have wood, tile, or laminate flooring, put soft rugs on all sides so the cat won’t slip as they exit. The soft rugs will also catch most of the litter as the cat exits. In many cases, these simple changes can make all the difference for the cat, and it’s a good idea to be proactive as your cat ages, so there won’t be problems as they get to the elderly stage of their lives.