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Why is my cat not using his litter tray?

There are many reasons why your cat may toilet in a place other than the litter tray. If it’s just a one off, consider if your cat could’ve been trapped in a room, unable to access the litter tray. If it’s a recurring situation then something has happened in your cat’s world to upset them. Cats are fastidious so this is no ‘dirty protest’ and it’s important not to scold him or her. In this blog we delve into the minds of our cats to understand things that may affect their behaviour and toileting habits. While it’s important to try understanding your cat’s point of view, as this issue is often behavioural, it’s also important to rule out medical causes. Contact your vet to discuss a check up as part of the process. 

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Ask a vet online-‘How often should an 8 week old kitten be using the litter tray’

Question from Janine Anne-Ruby Law: How often should an 8 week old kitten be using the litter tray, I got my kitten on Saturday afternoon and she has only pooped twice is this normal? She seems to have settled in really well but I am a bit concerned about this help please? Answer from Shanika Winters: Hi Janine and thank you for your question regarding your kitten and toilet training.  From what you are describing how well your kitten is settling into her new home and the fact that she is using her litter tray you probably have very little to worry about. Cats and kittens will pass faeces (poo) when they receive a signal from their bowel (large intestines) that faeces are present and ready to be passed. The exact frequency with which faeces are passed will depend on each individual, their diet, and if they are stressed or have any underlying problems such as bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. It is normal for kittens to pass faeces as often as they are fed a meal, so at eight weeks old your kitten is probably being fed 3-4 times a day and could, therefore, be expected to pass faeces up to four time a day, however as your kittens digestive system becomes more efficient and dealing with food and waste products this may well decrease down to once or twice a day.  An adult cat would usually pass faeces once or twice a day. More important than how many times a day your kitten is passing faeces is whether the faeces look normal, are passed easily and without any pain or distress.

What might cause my kitten problem passing faeces?

If your pet has a change of diet her digestive system might take some time to adjust to this change, the result may be an increase or decrease in the number of times they pass faeces and changes to the consistency( harder or softer). If your kitten is not drinking enough water or getting enough moisture from its diet then the faeces may become dry and more difficult to pass, leading to less frequent passing of faeces, straining and discomfort passing faeces and possibly the passing of some blood with the faeces. Infection of bacterial and viral causes can lead to soft faeces with or without blood/mucous being passed more often than normal. Parasites such as roundworms are a common finding in the digestive tract of kittens; this can cause constipation, diarrhoea with or without vomiting.  Most kittens are wormed( treated for worms) before you collect them and further worm treatment will be advised by your vet either in the form of paste, liquid, granules, tablets or spot-on treatments. Lack of an opening at the anus is a very rare condition which can prevent a kitten from being able to pass faeces or a lack of the development of part of the intestine which means the faeces cannot get to the anus.  This is usually detected in very young kittens prior to weaning and can sometimes be treated surgically by your vet. Blockages of the digestive system such as a foreign body, hairballs and even tubes of gut stuck into it (intussusception) can all lead to abnormalities in faeces production. In conclusion, it sounds as though you have a healthy kitten that is using her litter tray well and regularly, so long as this continues then you should not need to worry.  I hope that what I have discussed in my answer gives you an idea of how many different factors can affect how often your kitten will pass faeces.  The most important thing is to look at how your kitten is in themselves if they appear bright, are eating, drinking, and toileting normally then do not worry. If there are any changes which worry you, then ask your vet for advice. Shanika Winters MRCVS Online vet

Caring for Constipated Kitties

I thought I might write a few words about this sticky subject after seeing a particularly unfortunate case the other day.  Minty is a slightly grumpy, independent and strong-willed 15 year old cat who until a week ago, had been ageing gracefully.  She had lost a bit of weight and done a bit of vomiting, and had the occasional faecal ‘accident’ inside the house. But she was eating well and seemed well in herself, though she usually kept herself to herself.  The owner went away for the weekend and left Minty some dry food and water down as she had done many times before to no ill effect, but when she returned home on Sunday evening she noticed that something was wrong - Minty was crying in the litter tray.  When she looked inside, she realised that Minty hadn’t actually defecated at all in the past few days.  When I saw her the following day, Minty was dehydrated and I could feel a large, hard mass of stool in her colon. X-rays showed that her condition was quite severe, so we anaesthetised her and performed an enema, manually removing some of the stuck faeces and softening what remained.  We also gave her some IV fluids to rehydrate her, and lots of pain medicine as both the procedure and the condition can be very painful.  Fortunately for Minty, she recovered well from her anaesthetic and within a few days started to pass stools on her own again with the help of some other medications.  But if it hadn’t been caught and treated when it was, it could have been a very different outcome.

What causes constipation in cats?

In Minty’s case, the cause ended up being dehydration, as a result of kidney disease that hadn’t previously been diagnosed.  A blood test done at the time of her anaesthetic picked up on the condition (which hadn’t been noticed at home due to the cat’s independent lifestyle).  Dehydration causes the stool to become firm and more likely to get stuck on the way out.  But other causes include neurological or muscular disorders or pain (such as arthritis) which prevent the cat from being able to defecate normally.  Tumours or other masses can obstruct the intestine and cause constipation, as can pelvic fractures which cause the space between the pelvic bones to narrow.  Behavioural issues can affect defecation as well, as a cat that is uncomfortable with their environment may put off defecating longer than is healthy.  Rarely, other diseases like hypothyroidism or even some drugs themselves can result in constipation. How do you know if your cat is constipated? This can actually be trickier than it sounds!  Many cats will defecate exclusively outside so you may never see their faeces or watch them defecate.  Even those that will use a litter tray tend to do so when nobody is around.  So it’s an easy condition to miss until the situation becomes quite desperate as in Minty’s case.  Signs to look out for include:
  • Hard, dry stools
  • Smaller stools
  • Less frequent stools
  • Difficulty defecating
  • Pain (sometimes displayed as a loud howl but not always) whilst defecating
  • Vomiting and loss of appetite in severe cases
  • They may also make repeated trips to the litter tray without actually producing anything, but it’s often hard to tell whether they’re unable to urinate or defecate (and it’s important to make the distinction as being unable to urinate for a male cat is a medical emergency!).  And if they’re severely constipated, they can actually produce liquid stools that look like diarrhoea, just in case it wasn’t complicated enough... What should you do if you think your cat is constipated? If you think your cat’s stools are looking different or you think they’re having problems urinating or defecating, ring your vet for an appointment.  They’ll take a feel of the abdomen and may be able to feel a large mass of faeces stuck in the colon.  If they suspect constipation, they may run a series of tests such as x-rays to see the extent of the problem, along with blood and urine tests to try to find out why it happened in the first place.  If the problem is severe, your cat may need to be anaesthetised for an enema to remove the impacted stools (one of the highlights of our day, I assure you!), or they may use a smaller type that doesn’t require anaesthesia.  The vet will then discuss with you some of the things that you can do to help prevent a relapse of the condition.  Some cases, however, are so severe that they’re actually classified as ‘megacolon’ which is just as it sounds – the colon stretches so large that it isn’t able to work as a muscle anymore to push the faeces out.  In this case, surgery and/or lifelong medication may be required, or even euthanasia if treatment fails to give them any relief. How can you prevent it? If your cat is prone to constipation, or if you have noticed any of the above symptoms, your vet may recommend one of several different treatments that can be used to prevent the problem from recurring.  One is also a hairball remedy – a flavoured paste that contains soft paraffin to help things move along - that cats generally don’t mind taking.  Another is a liquid that makes the stools softer, but cats don’t tend to like the taste very much.  Other remedies are available, but may be harder to get a hold of so aren’t as common, your vet may look into this further if necessary.  However, one of the very best and easiest things you can do to prevent constipation is to stop feeding dry food and switch to a wet cat food.  This will increase the amount of water in their diet significantly and help prevent dehydration.  There are other ways to encourage your cat to drink more, such as flavouring their water or adding even more water to their food along with making sure there is always lots of fresh, clean water available throughout the house.  It’s also important that the litter tray is kept as clean as possible to encourage them to use it frequently.  And of course, you’ll also want to address any underlying medical condition that may have contributed to the constipation. In most cases, constipation is a mild, temporary condition that responds to simple changes in diet or gentle medications, especially if caught early, so if you think your cat might be affected, be sure to speak with your vet right away. If your cat is constipated please contact your vet for advice. If you are worried about your cat but not sure it needs to see a vet please click here.
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