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Healthy Paws: Oops, I Did It Again… Inappropriate Urination in Pets

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

Inappropriate urination with our pets is a difficult problem to deal with at home — but often times with a bit of investigation, the root of the problem can be found and addressed. In cats, inappropriate urination is one of the most common reasons for the pet to be surrendered to a shelter and is the most common reason for an otherwise healthy cat to present to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia. In both dogs and cats, inappropriate urination falls into two basic categories: 1) medical and 2) behavioral.

Medical causes of inappropriate urination can be broken down to problems that cause an animal to drink more (and thus produce more urine, which then is more dilute and large in volume and harder to hold in) and problems that cause increased urination (such as irritation of the bladder).

Digging deeper into why a pet would inappropriately urinate starts with the basics of checking a urine sample. When we check a urine sample (urinalysis), we’re looking for concentration, pH, presence of red blood cells/white blood cells, protein, crystals and glucose. Bladder infections (UTI) can often be readily diagnosed with with a urinalysis, but sometimes a urine culture is needed to truly find/confirm an infection but also to determine what the best antibiotic should be.

Further Medical Work Up:

If the case of the inappropriate urination is not readily apparent with a urinalysis, then a further workup is indicated before calling the problem behavioral.

Imaging of the bladder is sometimes recommended and indicated to find out what’s going on. Bladder stones and masses/tumors of the bladder wall or urethra can lead to repeated lower urinary tract symptoms, accidents, straining to urinate or even urethral obstruction (i.e. inability to urinate).

Blood work to look for systemic illness (such as kidney and liver function, diabetes, thyroid conditions, etc.) may also be indicated.  

Musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis can lead to inappropriate urination if they cause the animal to be uncomfortable while posturing to urinate, get in/out of the litter box, etc. Addressing pain, when present, can often not only make the pet overall more comfortable, but can also help eliminate the inappropriate urination.

Behavioral causes:

Once medical problems have been eliminated, it’s time to consider a behavioral cause.   

For cats, behavioral causes of inappropriate urination are not uncommon and there are numerous ways to address the behavior before the use of pharmacologic intervention is considered. Cornell has put together a fantastic resource for owners and veterinarians with great tips such as:

  • Litter box placement, number and substrates
  • Addressing inter-cat aggression
  • Cleaning soiled areas
  • Use of feline pheromones such as Feliway

For dogs, behavioral causes of inappropriate urination often are secondary to loss of house training or house training that was never really solidified with the dog. Submission, excitement and anxiety can also be reasons why a dog would inappropriately urinate – and can all be managed with appropriate training and sometimes pharmacologic intervention. We strongly recommend the use of a reputable trainer (look for Certified Professional Dog Trainers who are Knowledge Assessed – CPDT-KA; or Applied Animal Behaviorist / Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists – CAABs / Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists -ACAABs)  to help with house training or even to employ the help of a veterinary behaviorist for very challenging cases.

While inappropriate urination is a very frustrating problem, with a bit of investigation and diligent follow-through it’s rare that the problem cannot be corrected.  Be sure to talk with your veterinarian if you are noticing that your pet is urinating outside the box or in the house.  (And, if you are going to see the veterinarian about a urination problem, they will be super appreciative if you bring a urine sample from home, and/or do not allow your pet urinate right before coming into the office so that he/she has a full bladder for evaluation).

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