Clare Wilson MA VetMB CCAB MRCVS PGDipCABC delivered last week’s webinar on the topic of house soiling and feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) offering the perfect follow up to last year’s webinar covering feline behaviour for the general practitioner. Ideally the two webinars should be watched back to back as the key to managing these challenging problems in our feline friends is the understanding of their general behaviour. Clare does, however, recap on some key areas of feline behaviour at the start of this webinar including the importance of the cats territory layout, their social relationships and the requirement for access to resources such as food, resting places, latrines, water, territory exit and entry points. It is the lack of access to these resources which can lead to so many cats developing behavioural problems and conditions relating to stress including house soiling and FIC.
House soiling is usually as a result of a cat marking or inappropriately eliminating. Cats usually mark within the house because of stress or perceived territorial issues. Inappropriate elimination usually occur because the cat may not want to use the litter tray for a variety of reasons, or may have a preference to urinate or defecate elsewhere in the house or could be suffering from medical problems such as cystitis or diarrhoea. It is important to try and distinguish between marking and inappropriate elimination as each issue will require a different and individual approach. Clare explained that marking usually occurs in areas significant to the cat and can be on vertical or horizontal surfaces whereas elimination tends to take place in areas hidden away and is usually performed on a horizontal surface. In multi-cat households it can also be really useful to use a camera to try and identify the culprit house soiling although Clare also gave some top tips on how to use fluorescein for urine and wax crayons for motions as identifying markers if a camera is not available.
If a client presents with a house soiling cat it is important to offer some first aid tips to help the client short term whilst trying to seek help from an appropriate behaviourist. Clare advised using extra litter trays in areas where the cat has been soiling and to ensure there is always one litter tray per cat plus one extra in multi-cat households. Problem areas can also be made less private by placing a light source in the area thereby deterring the cat from eliminating in this area. Longer term solutions however have to be sought and this usually means seeking the help of a veterinary behaviourist where house visits are essential. This is necessary as only house visits can ascertain if there is a lack of access to resources such as litter trays and to ensure there are no obvious neighbourhood threats from other cats. Under these circumstances it may be necessary to block the visual access to feline intruders and provide cat flap security.
Of course it is also essential to ensure there are no obvious medical problems leading to cats inappropriately eliminating such as idiopathic feline cystitis, arthritis, dental disease and any other painful condition. Clare focused the last half of this webinar on feline indiopathic cystitis (FIC) and explained it is by far the most significant cause of FLUTD in cats less than ten years old and is usually diagnosed by excluding other differential conditions. Despite stress being a known trigger for FIC,the underlying pathophysiology is not fully understood. Some potential mechanisms for the link between stress and FIC were discussed in depth by Clare with studies showing that cats with FIC have an abnormal response to stress in comparison to normal cats. Medical management of FIC usually involves treatment with analgesia and anxiolytics but in order to manage FIC long term behavioural intervention will be necessary through environmental enrichment. This has been shown to decrease the signs of FIC, make cats less fearful and nervous, as well as normalising circulating catecholeamimes and bladder permeability.
Clare offered many practical tips on how to enrich a cats environment in order to minimise any stress which could eventually lead to house soiling and/or FIC in our patients. Clare has such a passion for the topic of feline behaviour that her discussions are always engaging and packed full of evidence based facts. This webinar emphasises the importance of seeking the help of a feline behaviourist in cases of house soiling and FIC in our feline patients. There are, however, many questions that general practitioners can be asking owners to aid them in formulating a basic first aid action plan which can help clients manage these frustrating and challenging conditions whilst taking the time to seek the help of an experienced feline behaviourist.