My friend Brenda and I were talking about why pets poop in the house. Is it on purpose or not? Veterinary behaviorists explain that pets often defecate in the house because of a metabolic or physical problem. These problems must be resolved before a behavioral issue can be diagnosed. Veterinarians will tell you that pets never poop in the house because of vindictiveness or spite. Is this true or not?
Cat and dogs that are forgetting their house training do need to have a thorough medical workup by your veterinarian before they can be diagnosed with a behavioral issue. The three main problems that may be causing the issue are constipation, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
A physical exam and a full blood panel will help rule out arthritis and underlying metabolic reasons such as diabetes mellitus or underactive thyroid and kidney disease. More detailed tests may find vitamin or enzyme deficiencies that lead to inflammatory bowel disease. A radiograph of the abdomen/ pelvis/vertebrae will help diagnose arthritis, constipation, abnormal growths or lymph nodes that could be affecting defecation.
All the physical and metabolic causes of inappropriate defecation are very treatable. Arthritis is treated with special diets that have lots of Omega 3 Fatty acids, chondroitin sulfates and glycosaminoglycan’s, fish oil supplements and modification of the litter box or stairs in the house with ramps so the pet can get to the place where it should be defecating. Pain medications can help immensely in an older pet. Constipation is also treated with diet and supplements. Inflammatory bowel disease is treated with medications. diets and supplements.
How do you modify the litter box for the cat? An elderly cat with arthritis may just need a shallower wall to climb over to access the litter. The elderly cat may need larger box placed where it has been defecating. Once the box is being used it can be moved an inch or two a day to the location where you would like the box to reside. A large tub with higher sides can have an entryway cut out with a lower lip so kitty will not have to step so high to get in and will not urinate over the edge by accident
An arthritic dog may need environmental modification such as ramps built over the stairs and ramps to get in the car. Diets designed to support arthritic patients and pain meds can help these dogs immensely. Some dogs even need dog chariots/ wheelchairs to support their weak hind legs.
A diagnosis of Old Dog/Cat Cognitive disorder may explain symptoms of defecating and urinating inappropriately in the house. The pet may go outside and seem to forget why they are there, try to go around the door on the wrong side, get stuck in corners and defecate /urinate indoors. This diagnosis can only be made after all the other potential causes are ruled out. It is treated with medication.
It’ s not fair to the pet to assume there is a behavioral problem before testing for the illnesses. If your pet is truly ill then most of the behavioral training you attempt will not work so please do get the medical workup done. Too many pets are surrendered to shelters because of “behavioral” problems that were likely caused by an underlying physical problem.
If your vet determines that there is no physical or metabolic cause for the problem she will ask you a lot of questions about your home, number, and locations of litter boxes, type of litter you use, number of cats/ dogs pets kids in the house. She’ll ask about changes in your schedule or recent moves, new visitors, new furniture, vacations. She’ll give you a plan to modify the behavior. The plan will almost involve you the owner working with the pet on a daily basis. You may be referred to a veterinary behaviorist or lay behaviorist for training as well.
A cat of any age may prefer a softer substrate. This is indicated if they are going on the rug or bed. Try a ripped up paper towels or a cloth in the bottom of the box or a soft scoopable litter. A plug-in Feliway pheromone next to the litter box will calm kitty nerves and attract them to the litter box instead of your carpet.
A dog of any age may need further reinforcement with behavior training to defecate outside on command. Most learned behaviors in dogs need to be continually reinforced with praise from you the owner at the very moment the good behavior is performed. Usually, a bridging word such as “good” is used the second the dog performs the desired behavior (defecating/urinating outdoors). This signals the dog that the food reward or praise is coming. Yelling hitting and rubbing their nose in it accomplishes nothing except a pet that fears you.
When we placed a dog door in our home our German Short Hair Pointer Otis got much less reinforcement for going outdoors and started urinating and defecating indoors. He did have a brain tumor that caused him to urinate more that was managed with radiation at the veterinary oncologist office. We reinforced the good behavior by praising him every time he went outdoors during his walks and if we saw him going out in the backyard. The indoor mistakes ended with the positive reinforcement for the good behavior. Amazingly enough, we lost him to kidney disease, not the brain tumor, two years later.
All this being said I have heard numerous funny or not so funny episodes between families and their pets around this issue. My sister went on vacation and came back to a perfect ring of poo smeared on the rug encircling her bed. My sister-in-law said her cats did a “protest poop” in the planters or the top of the stairs only when she went on vacation and had the pet sitter attend to them. Brenda told me about her cousin’s Corgi who laid one on his pillow after his schedule had changed.