Cats are very clean animals by nature. If they no longer use their cat toilet correctly or don't clean themselves adequately, this is the first warning sign of serious health or psychological problems!
Poor feline hygiene manifests itself in different manners and cannot be overlooked if your cat does its business outside of its litter box. Equally, if your cat no longer cleans itself or does so too regularly, this can indicate a serious mental or psychological illness.
Off to the vet's
If your cat shows unusual cleaning habits or a lack of hygiene, the first trip should be to the vet's, as they can closely examine your cat and rule out physical causes. Excessive cleaning can be a sign of allergies or a typical symptom of vermin. Poor hygiene can often occur with cystitis or other forms of infections. However, if your cat is in good physical health, a root cause analysis is required.
Marking or lack of hygiene?
With cats, a lack of hygiene is often written off as marking or something else. So how do you recognise if your cat is simply marking or rather unhygienic?
Observe your cat doing its business in the wrong place. You will recognise your cat marking if it is standing upright and urinating backwards with its tail stretched, quivering and pointing downwards. A large proportion of male cats that have not been castrated mark, although queens mark when in heat or before being neutered. However, marking is not always determined by hormones. In many cases, the cat simply wishes to mark its territory – for example, when other cats or animals form part of the same household.
However, if your cat squats when doing its business, this is down to poor hygiene.
Lack of hygiene
What happens to make clean animals like cats become unhygienic? If there are no physical causes and the vet gives the green light, poor hygiene often indicates chronic stress. Be aware that cats don't wish to annoy you with this behaviour. Often they just don't understand that urinating in unwanted areas is unpleasant for humans – they often simply have no alternative way to express themselves. Punishing your cat, berating it or even dunking its nose in the urine won't help – this will just generate more stress and sets a vicious circle in motion. The cat will feel under further pressure and its problem with poor hygiene will be intensified... You're better off investing your energy in determining the root cause. Poor hygiene is often coupled with inappropriate living conditions. Have you perhaps taken on a young cat from a farm but can't offer it any feline company, exercise in the garden or activity? Maybe you work so much that your cat is alone all the time? Perhaps there's a fundamental change in your cat's life too: moving house, a new partner, a baby? Maybe you have placed the litter box in an inappropriate area and your cat feels insecure in the access room, or fellow cats don't let your pet do its business in peace and quiet.
Just like sleeping, cleaning is an essential part of your cat's day-to-day life. Cats are very hygienic animals that use their tongue to release loose hairs from their fur and grass, leaves or small accumulations of dirt, for instance, after using the cat toilet. Should your cat's hygiene be thrown out of sync, this can be demonstrated by insufficient or extremely excessive cleaning.
Your cat's character is defined by the time and intensity it dedicates to grooming itself. However, there is cause for concern if your cat changes its cleaning habits all of a sudden.
So-called “over-grooming” means an often sudden onset of excessive cleaning habits. Humans often only realise that something isn't right when they spot bald patches on the stomach, inner thighs, tail head and other areas... Over-grooming can have physical and mental causes. If your vet cannot identify a health-related problem such as a general or food-related allergy, you should contemplate stress as a possible cause.
The same applies for insufficient grooming. If your cat no longer cleans itself after using the litter box, this can be due to advancing age or an infection in the mouth area. However, chronic stress or anxiety disorders are not to be ruled out.
In this regard, closely scrutinise your cat's living conditions too. Does your cat get enough sleep and appear fully exerted? Or do you get the impression that your cat is stressed – perhaps particularly in the presence of new family members or at a certain time of day? Maybe your senior cat can no longer rest due to a new kitten in the home?
Off to the experts
If you can't work out for the life of you why your cat is ill at ease, marking, unhygienic or cleaning itself excessively or not at all, so-called “feline behaviour therapists” or “feline psychologists” can help. These specialists have strongly engaged with cat behaviour and can arbitrate between you and your cat, identify problems and solve misunderstandings.
We wish you and your cat all the best!