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My cat has episodes of going in and out of the litter box frequently, and my veterinarian is closed on the weekend. If he has an episode on the weekend is it safe to continue to monitor him until my regular veterinarian is available to evaluate him?


It is always advisable to have your cat evaluated as soon as possible when he is exhibiting the above behavior. Cats can frequent the litter box for a variety of reasons, but generally it is a sign of discomfort. Upon observation, you may notice your cat straining to defecate and/or straining to urinate. However, they may also frequent the litter box because they have to void multiple times without obvious evidence of discomfort. It’s helpful to note the amount of urine produced each time, the frequency of urination, any evidence of discoloration of urine, as well as the characteristics of your cat’s stool (amount, evidence of blood/mucous, and texture). A thorough history coupled with a physical examination will allow your veterinarian to determine whether the primary problem stems from the urinary tract or the gastrointestinal tract (more specifically, the colon).

There are several reasons for cats to have urinary discomfort and feel the need to frequently void. The most common causes consist of the following: sterile cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder), urinary tract infections (however, quite uncommon in cats), and urinary obstruction. Upon physical examination, the veterinarian will determine whether or not a urinary obstruction (UO) is present. If a UO is present, this is a medical emergency that will need to be addressed immediately with the placement of a urinary catheter. If a UO is not diagnosed, the veterinarian will attempt to obtain a sterile urine sample for analysis, and medical treatment will be initiated as deemed necessary while the analysis is pending. Blood-work and abdominal radiographs may also be recommended.

The most common causes of straining to defecate are constipation and diarrhea. Constipation may be secondary to any of the following conditions: dehydration (secondary to kidney insufficiency or another disease process), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), cancer, megacolon (abnormal dilation of colon), neurologic damage, and/or arthritis (painful to posture). The causes of diarrhea are vast and can range from a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection, neoplasia, IBD, among others. A differentiation between the two will be made through the help of the history, as well as the physical examination.

A complete work-up by your veterinarian may be necessary to determine the underlying primary problem, but it is very important that your pet is evaluated as soon as possible to rule out a life-threatening condition.

Tanya Karlecke, DVM

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