Frequent, repeated visits of your cat to the litter tray could be a sign that your cat is suffering from feline lower urinary tract disease and there’s a number of different causes. They come in two broad categories, best described as medical causes and psychological causes. It’s certainly the case that stress in cats can produce signs of wanting to urinate more frequently.
It’s very important to note that if a cat is repeatedly going to their litter tray, straining but not passing any urine, that’s a true emergency. The cat’s bladder may be blocked and it requires immediate attention. If an owner observes this behaviour then the cat needs to be taken to the vet straight away.
Why it happens
If you have a cat that’s going to the litter tray repeatedly but successfully urinating, there are some things to watch out for. Is there blood present? Is the cat straining? Is it peeing in unusual places, such as a bedspread? All of these things can be caused by stress in the cat or there could be an underlying medical cause that’s triggering it.
Speaking very generally, in about 50 per cent of cases, we don’t find a cause and so these are described by the term, idiopathic cystitis. In about 20 per cent of cases, the cause is bladder stones. Usually these are quite small—although in some cases they can be quite large—and are located in the bladder. The stones irritate the bladder wall and makes the cat feel the need to pee more frequently.
A smaller percentage of cases are true urethral blockages. This can be caused by a wide range of factors from urinary tract cancer to urinary tract damage caused by being hit by a car. As a vet, the most important thing we can do is to differentiate a blocked cat from a non-blocked cat, and to identify whether there’s a medical or psychogenic reason for them to be straining to urinate.
Cats are very susceptible to stress and changes in their environment. It could be that another cat has moved into the household or that someone has been to stay. Even the weather can stress out a cat.
If they’re used to going outside to urinate and suddenly it’s wet, that can cause some cats to start urinating in inappropriate places. Many types of low-grade stress can frequently trigger urinary tract issues in cats.
A successful product for reducing stress in cats is called Feliway. It releases pheromones that comforts and reassures cats while being undetectable to humans. If you’re moving house and taking your cat, I would encourage the use of Feliway before you leave and in the new house as well. It certainly helps reduce urine spraying behaviour.
There’s a range of medications that can help a cat suffering from feline lower urinary tract disease. These relax its bladder so it can urinate normally. If the bladder is severely painful and inflamed due to stones or an infection, medical treatment may be required.