Frequently Asked Questions by Cat Owners: Part 3

Kitten Lies on its ToyKitten Lies on its Toy
Kitten Lies on its ToyKitten Lies on its Toy

Table of Contents:

  1. Is Panting Normal in Cats?
  2. Why Does My Cat Vomit Hairballs?
  3. Is Increased Drinking and Urination a Problem in Cats?
  4. Why Do Cats Urinate or Defecate Outside the Litter Box?

In our final installment of Cat FAQs, we’ll focus on feline bodily function, which is a topic that fascinates and frightens every pet parent.

Is Panting Normal in Cats?

Panting is never normal in cats. Cats are obligate nasal breathers, meaning they preferentially breath through their noses. Dogs, on the other hand, breathe through their nose or mouth.

If a cat is panting, this indicates that they are showing signs of respiratory distress. The most common reason that cats pant is stress. This can occur during a trip in the car or a visit to the veterinarian, or be indicative of underlying breathing problems.

Underlying diseases that cause panting in cats include:

  • Heart disease. Cats, like humans, can have underlying heart disease. When heart disease progresses, cats can develop congestive heart failure and respiratory problems.
  • Lung disease. Common pulmonary diseases that induce panting in cats include asthma, pneumonia, parasites, and cancer.
  • Endocrine (hormone) imbalances. Cats with elevated thyroid hormone levels may pant on occasion.

If your cat is persistently panting (longer than 1 minute) or seems to be in a state of respiratory distress, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian and examined for underlying causes.

Why Does My Cat Vomit Hairballs?

Hairball Prevention for Cats

Cats develop hairballs from grooming themselves and ingesting hair. Intermittent vomiting of hairballs can be normal in cats. If your cat is excessively grooming themselves, they may vomit hairballs at a higher frequency than normal, and investigation of causes of over-grooming should be pursued. Check out our article on over-grooming for more information.

Here are some recommendations that can help decrease the frequency of hairballs in your cats:

  • Try cat foods that are specifically designed to minimize hairball formation.
  • Brushing your cat’s fur daily can help decrease the amount of hair that your cat ingests during grooming.
  • Ask your veterinarian about over-the-counter hairball remedies, which are mild, petroleum-based laxatives that can be administered to your cat once a week.
  • Consider having your long-haired cat groomed twice a year to keep their coat short.

If your cat is vomiting frequently, presenting unproductive retching, not eating, or lethargic, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Is Increased Drinking and Urination a Problem in Cats?

Yes, sudden increases in your cat’s water intake and urine output can be an indicator of underlying disease. The most common causes of increased water intake in a cat are:

  • Kidney disease. When a cat has underlying renal disease, they consume more water and subsequently urinate more often. This is due to the kidney’s inability to concentrate urine.
  • Diabetes Mellitus. One of the first clinical signs of diabetes is increased water consumption. This can also be an indicator in chronic diabetic patients that they are unregulated, which means that they are receiving too much or too little insulin. If at any point your diabetic cat has a sudden change in urination habits or consumption of water, they should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
  • Hypercalcemia. An elevated calcium level can cause increased water intake, which can be confirmed through blood work.
  • Cancer. Unfortunately, many types of underlying cancer can cause increased water intake in cats.

A physical exam and blood work conducted by your veterinarian can help determine if any of these causes are the culprit, and if treatment measures need to be taken.

Your cat should always have access to clean water. Water should never be restricted from a cat, even if they are consuming more than usual. Please let your veterinarian know if you think your cat is drinking more often or urinating more frequently.

Why Do Cats Urinate or Defecate Outside the Litter Box?

This question is complex and can be one of the most frustrating problems for cats owners. The most common reason cats have inappropriate elimination is secondary to behavior problems. Behavior-related changes to litter box habits are usually accompanied by stress. Stress is hard to perceive in some cats, while others have clear indications or causes. Stress for a cat can be caused by a new piece of furniture in the household, the rearranging of furniture, new additions to the household (babies, other pets, significant others), or moving houses completely. As with humans, stressors are unique to the individual and a cat’s reaction to a stressful situation may differ from that of another cat. Other household cats can be culprits for triggering inappropriate urination and defecation if bullying is occurring. Unfortunately, cats are capable of trapping a housemate in a litter box or preventing them from accessing a litter box, which can lead to inappropriate elimination elsewhere in the home.

Inappropriate litter box habits can also be due to underlying medical ailments. Some common medical conditions that manifest as inappropriate urination and defecation include:

  • Constipation. Cats that have constipation may avoid the litter box due to an association with pain, causing them to defecate outside of the box.
  • Diarrhea. Cats with diarrhea may have increased frequency or inability to make it to the litter box in time and have accidents in the house.
  • Osteoarthritis. Cats with osteoarthritis can have chronic pain, which makes it difficult for them to crawl in and out of a litter box or easily get to their litter box. In elderly cats with arthritis, placing multiple litter boxes close to where they spend their time could help alleviate these issues. Placing litter boxes upstairs and downstairs can also help minimize joint pain, if possible.
  • Urinary tract diseases. Urinary tract diseases can include, but are not limited to, infection and cystitis (inflammation). Cats who have urinary tract diseases often have increased frequency of urination and may have accidents.
  • Kidney Disease and Diabetes Mellitus. Cats with kidney disease or Diabetes Mellitus will have marked increase in water intake and urine output, which may make it difficult for them to get to the litter box and could result in urinary accidents in the home.
  • Cancer. Cats with cancer can have increased thirst and urination or difficulty getting into or out of the litter box.

All cats that have sudden changes to their litter box habits should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Your vet can rule out an underlying disease process or discuss behavior modification or medication.

To read more common cat questions, check out Parts 1 and 2 of our Cat FAQ series.

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