March 2, 2021
Cat Health And Their Litter Box
Recently, I attended the Texas Pet Sitters Conference. It was virtual, of course, and there were many excellent presentations regarding pet sitting services. However, if you’re reading this you’re probably not a pet sitter. But that doesn’t mean you should pass on this information! Using the same techniques as trained pet sitters can help avoid costly medical bills down the line and make you an expert on monitoring cat health.
Shannon Huskins, the owner of Paws and Purrs Feline Services in Georgia, gave an excellent presentation on cat health and how to be a Cat Scene Investigator. Cats are one of the few animals that have both a prey and predator mentality and will hide their illness or injury to avoid being attacked. So how do we suss out when our cat isn’t feeling 100%, either mentally or physically?
When dealing with cat health, Shannon takes a three-category approach. The first is checking the physical symptoms, the second is to observe their behavior, the third is to check their litter box. The first two are things most people would think to check but the litter box is often overlooked to monitor for cat health.
Physical Symptoms – Easy cat Health indicators
A quick look over of your cat is easy and requires no medical training, just a few pointers to look out for. Make sure to give your cat a “nose to toes” exam if they’re acting differently. Could be an easy fix or you could discover a larger problem. If you find one of these, best to reach out to your vet for more information.
Nose to Toes Investigation – What to Look For
- Nose: Discharge or Crusty?
- Eyes: Squinting, weeping, redness, swollen, color change?
- Ears: Waxy, itchy, stinky, wet fur, head tilt, shaking head?
- Mouth: Halitosis (bad breath), drooling, missing teeth, licking lips excessively, abnormal eating, grinding teeth, pale gums?
- Breathing: Open mouth, panting, labored or rapid breaths, abdominal effort?
- Coat: Unkempt, fleas, dull, matted, greasy, dry, dandruff?
- Tail / Rear: matted fur (diarrhea), swollen/ruptured anal gland?
- Body: lumps, bumps, cuts, scratches, limping?
- Nails: too long, think or grown into pads, “White Paw Syndrome“?
observing their behavior – Subtle Signs
Even if your cat doesn’t have any physical signs of injury or illness, what do you do if they are acting off? Maintaining a constant vigil and awareness of your cat’s behavior can shed light on their current health. These can be indicators of illness or other stressors in the home that may have changed.
Four Rules for Monitoring Cat Health
RULE 1: Be Observant
Red flag behavior that is abnormal. If it’s an easy fix, such as trimming their nails, make sure to continue monitoring to see if the behavior continues or subsides. Remember, you’re the frontline eyes and ears for your vet! Early detection of illness is the best way to increase longevity and quality of life in your cat.
RULE 2: Keep Things in Context
If you observe curious/illness/injury-like behavior ask yourself, “has the cat done this “Red Flag” behavior before or is it new”? Is it directly related to a known habit i.e. cat likes to nibble plastic bags and then throws up?
RULE 3: Always Choose Vet Care
Keep in mind that you are not a healthcare professional (unless you are a vet in which case, I trust your judgment). When in doubt, get in touch with your medical provider quickly and describe the symptoms you’ve witnessed. Certain medical issues, if treated quickly, are much easier to mitigate versus being left alone.
RULE 4: Investigate All Abnormalities
Is your cat acting odd, doing things they have never done before? These could be just about anything – drinking lots of water, hiding, hissing when approached, won’t eat, different color hairballs or vomit, avoiding other pets, etc. Any of these could be signs that your cat is not feeling well or is injured. Don’t assume it will go away if ignored or that it’s unimportant.
Check the Litter Box – Scene investigation
The final system for monitoring your cat’s health is their litter box. While somewhat gross, their #2 consistency and #1 frequency is an excellent way to determine quickly if they are having medical issues. If they stop using the litter box altogether, that can also be a red flag that something is wrong.
What can their #1 tell us?
- Going too much? Could be a UTI, renal disease, or feline diabetes.
- Going too little? Could be a UTI, kidney stone, painful urination, or urinary crystals.
What can their #2 tell us?
- Diarrhea – watery, very loose stool or puddles. Can be an indication of many illnesses such as diabetes, parasites, GI illness, poison/toxin ingestion, or constipation.
- Hard stool – rock hard, dry pellets. Can be an indication of IBS or GI issues, dehydration, constipation, or diet issues.
- While gross, check it before you chuck it!
Why do cats stop using their litter box?
- Medical Issues: UTIs, constipation, etc.
- Behavioral Issues: The number 1 cause is stress! Speak with your vet to determine the next best course of action.
- Territorial Marking / Spraying: This can be both a medical issue or establishing territory. Contact your vet right away!
- It’s too dirty or the wrong size/style of box or litter: cats are more finicky than Goldilocks and will surely let you know if they don’t like something.
Pick the right location and box to eliminate issues.
Of the four reasons above, the only one you can easily control is #4. So what kind of box should you pick, where should it be located, and how many should you have?
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
- Place the box in a quiet, low-traffic area.
- Should have open sightlines, with multiple entrance/exit points.
- Out of the way but not hidden
- Not near food, water, or bedding. You wouldn’t want this either, right?
- At least one box per floor if you have one cat. If you have multiple cats, a good rule to follow is “# of cats + 1 = # of boxes”.
- Note – 2 boxes side by side are perceived as 1 box by your cat. No good! You’ll need to spread them out.
STYLE OF BOX – This changes by the cat but here are a few quick starting points
- High walls with a lower front opening. Helps to keep everything in the box. Make sure it’s not too narrow.
- No lid or cover since it blocks their vision.
- A substrate litter that easily clumps and be scooped quickly.
- Avoid auto scoopers or boxes with liners.
- If your cat is elderly or has mobility issues, you’ll need a box with lower sides.
Lastly, if you’re unsure whether or not your cat is in pain or experiencing something negative with its health, ask a veterinarian. It’s always best to play it safe but armed with these simple, at-home tricks, you’ll be able to get a better grasp on your tabby’s temperaments and overall health.
interested in more pet health information? Check out these other blogs by rover-time!
Brock Casper is the Southwest Region Team Manager for Rover-Time and has been part of the RT team for over two years. When he isn’t working he enjoys reading, playing video games, watching horror films, and going on walks with his dog, Loki. He lives in Cleveland with his partner, Laurel, his dog, Loki, and cat, Coltrane. Go Browns!