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What to do about pet toileting problems

What to do about pet toileting problems

You never know when your pet might become a toilet rebel. But what’s behind it, and what can you do? Deirdre Vine investigates.

‘Inappropriate elimination’ – two sinister words that strike fear into every pet owner – can happen out of the blue, even with the most domesticated, well-trained animals. It’s certainly not uncommon, but it’s vital at the onset to rule out any underlying medical reason for the toileting dysfunction.

As any vet will tell you, much of their job seems to involve discussions about pee and poop. In a career spanning 30 years, vet Peter Culpin of the Pets Naturally surgery in London’s Notting Hill has seen it all.

‘Many years ago, a client of mine couldn’t understand why his newly acquired rescued female dog couldn’t stop weeing indoors and out,’ says Peter. ‘On examination, we found that she had developed cystic calculi, or stones in her bladder. This is usually the sequel to a long-standing bladder infection and must have been very painful for her. She underwent surgery to remove them and we found she had more than 400 stones of various sizes in her bladder.’

He warns: ‘Aside from the obvious risk of getting “caught short”, if your pet suddenly starts exhibiting unusual soiling behaviour, don’t just assume he has forgotten his training.

‘There is usually a very good underlying reason and the most common is a urinary tract infection, so get help early, otherwise your pet may end up with an even worse problem. If all medical reasons for your pet’s inappropriate soiling have been ruled out, then it may be that the problem is a behavioural one.’

Stress plays a major part in behaviour changes in cats. However, we owners sometimes take an overly humanised view of toilet malfunction. Abby Ward tells how when she went away for a few days her partner discovered that their cat, Phoebe, had burrowed into a wardrobe and peed in Abby’s best handbag. ‘I felt she was punishing me for leaving,’ says Abby.

Dr Claire Corridan, a vet with a special interest in behavioural medicine, sees the likely explanation for such moggy misdemeanours very differently.

‘Cats have no comprehension of revenge or malice,’ she says. ‘Owners sometimes underestimate the stressful effect they’re having on their animals. Depositing a substance containing their smell and pheromones is a pet’s response to the stress of the situation.’

Claire says that whereas an odour is merely something humans consider pleasurable or offensive, our pets’ world revolves around pongs – they’re motivated and driven by scent morning, noon and night. ‘If an animal is feeling stressed for any reason, the one thing they’re going to do is make sure they express their scent to try and override that.’

In addition, says Claire, we underestimate just how much the emotional and mental state of our companion – whether it’s a cat, dog or rabbit – can affect their short- and long-term health, both mental and physical. ‘Stress directly affects the part of the bladder that makes the animal feel uncomfortable and can also affect the musculature, which increases the risk of incontinence, so you have two different physiological mechanisms that are directlyrelated to how the animal is feeling,’ she explains.

The majority of behavioural cases at Claire’s Lanarkshire practice are related to the pets’ environment. ‘If we got that right, we’d prevent a lot of the problems that we end up seeing,’ she says. ‘If their surroundings are too restrictive, lacking in mental or social stimulation, or excessively social, a cat, dog or rabbit is going to have difficulty coping with that.’

Soiling outside the litter tray is one of the most common reasons for a healthy cat to be given to a shelter, yet in most cases it can be easily overcome.

Aside from it being caused by medical problems like blocked anal sacs or cystitis, litter tray aversion can result from a recent domestic change, such as the introduction of another cat, a scrupulous puss disliking the texture of a new type of litter, or the litter tray not being clean enough or having the wrong kind of smell.

Using a non-ammonia-based cleaning product on the tray is recommended. ‘Never use a “deep litter” system,’ advises Peter Culpin. ‘Scooping out the solid clumps of litter is not a satisfactory way of managing your cat’s toilet.

‘Place a layer of paper or a liner in the tray and add about half an inch of litter. When it is soiled, throw the whole lot away, clean the tray and replace the liner and add fresh litter. This simple measure recently saved a wealthy client of mine with a lavishly decorated home thousands of pounds.’

Cats, like us, appreciate privacy but a cat going to the loo outdoors also wants to feel secure. Ipswich cat owner Jim Best reports how he noticed that a new moggy in the neighbourhood liked to sit on the wall eyeing his cat flap, thus making his puss suddenly reluctant to toilet in the garden.

Cats, more than dogs, will soil one part of the house over and over again. ‘Products such as Feliway are a great help when cats begin to mark the house through stress, as are special calming diets containing amino acids such as L-Tryptophan and L-Theanine,’ says Peter.

Karen Wild is a dog trainer, behaviourist and founder of Intellidogs, which specialises in online advice. She cites one commonly reported cause of inappropriate elimination. ‘Dogs can sometimes be left alone for so long that they need the toilet in the middle of the day and no one’s there to let them out,’ she says. ‘They eliminate in the house because they simply cannot hold it in.’ Separation anxiety may actually compound the problem.

Moving house sometimes initiates toileting shenanigans and some remedial house training might be needed following a move, in order to remind the dog of the desired place for them to go.

Beverley Cuddy, editor and publisher of Dogs Today, recalls one incident of ‘inappropriate elimination’ having an unusual payoff. Her beloved (late) Bearded Collie, Sally, used to go to work with her.

‘One evening, a colleague and I had a late meeting with an unpleasant character who owed us money,’ she remembers. ‘We’d been trying to negotiate but the atmosphere became increasingly tense. Then Sally intervened. She turned her back on him and sprayed diarrhoea in his direction. Sally had created a diversion as only she could.’

Beverley adds that, in general, ‘Sally was a dog who had a lot of excuses. She’d been very ill, missed all her socialisation and was very high maintenance. The slightest upset went to her bottom; sometimes she’d poo so much she’d end up on a drip at the vet’s. If you can’t control the continence of your dog it’s socially embarrassing and hard to live with.’

But thankfully for pets and owners, help is just a trip to the vet’s away.

Do you have your own pet-poop story to share? Let us know by commenting in the box below.

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B-secure Housesitters
Recently me and my husband were house-sitting at a place where the pet dog underwent similar problems. Initially we had a lot of trouble cleaning the massive amounts of poo. Finally a trip to the vet solved it all. I wonder what the poor guy must be going through!Thanks for the tips though, I will keep 'em in mind for next time!
Suresh Naidu
This is a great advice regarding pets, where I loves dogs very much but this inappropriate behavior raises internal fear for me.... thanks for advise..... I ll keep this in visit doctor regularly
Heather Stewart-Cameron
Cato my 13 month old kitten does sometimes poo outside the edge of the litter tray and even pee as well though that's usually partially in the tray and partially outside the edge of it. I have been trying different litters, so now I know why he may be doing that. But using a liner is out as the older cat GB aged 4 and a half, rips it to shreds and may eat it if plastic bags, so I don't use a liner. However I do clean it out at least twice a day often more often. I shall go back to the original type of litter! Thanks.
Lynda Platts
I took in a stray kitten about 11 months old. For the first 3 months he soiled around the house 2-3 times per day. I was convinced he was not going to change but he had had a bad start so I decided I owed this to him! I tried everything. Eventually by trial and error we discovered that he needed a private space under the stairs for his trays where he could spend a few minutes with no-one being able to see him and he liked to urinate in one tray and step into a second tray to defecate, both trays had to be absolutely clean. Having sorted this out over all this time he decided that he preferred outside!Stick with them, you will find out their preference eventually and you will love them more and they will certainly love you more for helping them.
Christine lancastle
I have 2 boxer dogs, currently 7 & 9, about 2 years ago, in the winter, I was getting up to both pee and poo! Confused by this as both dogs are let out in to the garden last thing at night to do their business.After a lot of thought, I decided that it could be that the older dog was possibly getting cold during the night, he does feel the cold. Solution - they now have what I call their dressing gowns. No more getting up to mess. (Henry had been under investigation for other ailments with the vet, so I had checked that his new behaviour was not a medical problem)
i live with my 18 month old shi-doodle, max. he is very good and house trained.on christmas day my family arrived , daughterand husband three teenage grand children, he was very excited to see them, with the usual jumping around. to my horror i realised he was weeing all over the place,i was mortified , grabbing we put him in the garden and cleaned up, then put him in the cage while we had our lunch, afterwards we all went for a walk,with max. thinking it was all the excitement, he was allowed to jion us for the rest of the day, but i kept findin little wet spots, then i discovered his bed was wet.next morning his bed was dry and no more accidents, i put it down to excitement and change to his day, i had to leave him for awhile , no more wet bed, but the incident bothered me he was usually so good and lets me know when ghe wants to wee.off we went to the vet, and after ascan and tests result he had a urinary infection, with blood and protien in his urine, it was coincidence it all erupted on christmas day. poor max if only they could speak he must have been so uncomfortable.i am pleased to say all is well now after antibiotics, and a special urinary diet.miriam
Sue Malcolm
I am training to be an animal communicator and in my short time of training I have come across 4 dogs with toilet issues. In most cases these dogs have gone to the toilet in the house between or after walks rather than letting their owners know that they needed to go outside. In all of these 4 cases the problem has been resolved after just one session much to benefit of the animal and the owner. If petplan members have issues such as I have described above I would be happy to help as part of my training if owners would be agreeable to providing feedback that I may for my training notes. FAO Petplan. If readers can contact you regarding such toilet issues I would be happy for you to forward the details to me via my email address and I will update you on progress if aggreable with the owners to produce a nice follow up story for you. In all cases if there is a medical issue that I become aware of, I will recommend that the animal is taken to a vet. I am not at liberty to make a medical diagnosis but I can advise feedback from the animal which may help is suggesting what the vet may idealy check. Regards Sue
Becky Dunmore
Hi SueI am interested if you might want to investigate our cats for a follow up story? We have 5. They age in human years roughly 15 > 5> 2.We appreciate that multiple cat house-holds can cause stress but their stories remain unique and amazingly against all odds it is a happy household.One of our crew (one of the 5 age group) is however, a serial problem when it comes to toliet etiquette. He has become a house-cat and lazy with routine and our lawn is now the litter which we are not happy about. We don't wish to re-introduce a litter into the house-hold as all other 4 seemed to have no problems and issues in this respect. We know it is marking but we cannot afford to buy litter to stem the relentess tide. Help Please!
Hi BeckyIf you'd like to let me have either an email address or tel no I will contact you directly so that I can gather more details and see if I can help
Gwen Tomlin
we have 4 dogs - 3 pekes and one cross peke/shi-t-zu - Nell. Nell is nearly 2 and we are not getting anywhere with her toilet training. She is an adorable dog but poos and wee wherever she wants. I am always with the dogs and will only leave them for very short spells to do supermarket shopping. We have had several animals spread over decades and Nell is the only one with which we have experienced this beyond puppy stage. Any suggestion?Gwen Tomlin
Becky Dunmore
Thanks SuePlease see details. We would welcome some help but understandably remain a touch reticent if it will end up costing the earth. If Zak supports your research and payment for pubilication etc. and is potentially covered on on a behavourial issue with the Petplan Insurance, all good.If not, we will just battle on, on our own.Let me know your thoughts.Best wishesBecky
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