Cats can be chatty creatures. You might find them greeting you when you return home or making sure you are aware that it is feeding time. In these situations, you wouldn’t find it strange that your cat is meowing at you. But what if you’ve noticed your cat has been meowing before using their litter box? Why are they vocalizing in the bathroom and what are they trying to communicate with you?
If your cat has always done this, then it is most likely one of their quirks. But, if it has recently started, there are some possible causes that would need further attention.
If your cat has always meowed while using the litter box, it is likely not a concern. If meowing in the litter box is a new behavior, it could signal a medical problem. A cat that is vocalizing in the litter box and straining to go but not producing anything needs urgent veterinary care.
If your cat has always meowed while using the litter box, it is likely not a concern.
If meowing in the litter box is a new behavior, it could signal a medical problem.
A cat that is vocalizing in the litter box and straining to go but not producing anything needs urgent veterinary care.
Just a Quirk?
If your cat has always meowed while using the litter box and there are no other signs, it is most likely not something of concern. It could just be something that has become a habit for them.
While there is no firm scientific evidence, there are several theories as to why cats might do this. Since cats must remain still while toileting, this puts them in a vulnerable position. In the wild, they would be open to attack from predators.
It is thought that a cat might meow before going to the bathroom to ask for your protection. However, cats being cats, they tend to prefer privacy when they are toileting. It wouldn’t be advisable to go and stare at them in their litter box as this might put them off.
Another theory is that they might simply be announcing that they are about to go to the toilet. Think of it as a heads up so that you know to clean up after them as quickly as possible!
Has the vocalizing while using the litter box started recently? Is it happening more frequently? Does it sound as if your cat is distressed? Various medical conditions could cause your cat to show this behavior. Read on to find out more about the most significant ones.
1. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is not a single disease. It is an umbrella term to describe multiple disorders that affect the bladder and urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body).
Cats with FLUTD will often meow or cry out when trying to urinate. This is due to the pain and irritation caused by an inflamed lower urinary tract. Some other signs that you might see are:
- Frequent passing of small amounts of urine
- Straining to urinate
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Blood in the urine
- Excessive grooming of the genital area
2. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Many people assume that cats with the above urinary signs have a urinary tract infection. However, UTIs are not commonly seen in cats, compared to dogs. They are caused by bacteria traveling up the urethra.
There is usually an underlying condition that makes it more likely for infection to take hold, such as chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or diabetes. Because of this, older cats are more prone to getting UTIs.
UTIs are treated with antibiotics, usually for five to seven days. Ideally, the antibiotic should be chosen based on culture and sensitivity testing. This is when a urine sample is sent off to a lab so that the bacteria can be identified, as well as a list of effective antibiotics.
3. Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)
Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) is the most common cause of FLUTD. Cystitis is bladder inflammation while idiopathic means that the cause is unknown. It is commonly seen in cats between 2 and 7 years of age. Stress is a big factor in the development of FIC. Other contributing factors include:
Treatment for FIC involves medical and behavioral therapy. Some episodes clear on their own after three to five days without any treatment. Anti-inflammatory medication can be offered to help ease pain and discomfort. If your cat suffers from severe FIC that keeps flaring up, your veterinarian may recommend antidepressant treatment.
4. Bladder Stones
Bladder stones form when there is a buildup of minerals and other substances in the urine. These stones can irritate the bladder lining, causing pain and inflammation. Some factors that increase the risk of bladder stone formation are:
- Diet composition
- Bacterial infections
- Reduced frequency in passing urine
- Concentrated urine
- Change in urine pH
- Breed (some breeds are more prone, e.g. Persians and Burmese)
Depending on the type of stone present, your veterinarian may advise a special prescription diet for dissolving stones, bladder flushing, or surgical removal.
5. Urinary Obstruction
Cats can become blocked—this is an emergency! If your cat is vocalizing and straining in the litter box without passing any urine, you should contact your veterinarian straight away. Male cats are mainly affected as their urethras are long and narrow compared to female cats. In this way, it is much easier for a blockage to occur.
It’s important not to forget that cats may vocalize in the litter box due to issues with defecating. Other signs of constipation include:
- Straining to poo
- Small, hard, and dry poops
- Tense and uncomfortable belly
Various causes of constipation include:
- Intestinal blockage (foreign body, hairballs)
- Underlying medical conditions (e.g. chronic kidney disease)
- Nerve or muscle damage in the guts
- Certain drugs
- Megacolon (weak colon)
It is important to contact your veterinarian if you suspect your cat is constipated. Without treatment, they can become obstipated, which means they are unable to pass feces at all.
Based on the medical history and symptoms, your veterinarian will recommend further diagnostics. Treatment for constipation depends on the severity. It generally involves laxatives (stool softeners), enemas, and fluids for rehydration.
The Final Word
By having a better understanding of your cat’s “bathroom behavior,” you will be more aware of when something might be wrong. Meowing before using the litter tray could just be an extension of your cat’s personality. However, it may prompt you to look out for other unusual signs. This allows you to raise concerns with your veterinarian sooner rather than later.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I do at home to help my cat with feline idiopathic cystitis?
The main goals to help your cat with FIC are to increase water intake and reduce stress.
Ensure fresh water is always available. Chicken or fish flavored water and cat water fountains may encourage drinking. Cats who have been fed dry food only should have wet food gradually increased. Those already fed a mix of wet and dry should be fed wet food only while the episode clears up.
If a stressor can be identified, minimize or avoid it as much as possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint a specific trigger. Cats can be very particular and very small changes may be enough to cause them anxiety without us realizing it. Here are some beneficial changes that you can carry out:
- Provide the same number of litter boxes as there are cats in the house, plus one extra.
- Maintain strict litter box hygiene.
- Keep litter boxes away from food and water bowls.
- Ensure there are safe hiding places, particularly ones that are high up.
- Use pheromone therapy, such as Feliway plug-ins and sprays.
- Allow time for interaction with your cat each day and provide plenty of toys and scratching posts.
Why is my elderly cat meowing before using the litter box?
There are various reasons for this, as discussed in the above article. Other considerations for elderly cats include arthritis and cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).
Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes painful joints. Often, signs of arthritis in cats can be subtle. They might vocalize while using their litter box due to difficulty accessing it or discomfort from squatting.
To help them, provide a spacious litter box that has low sides so that they can climb in and out more easily. If you suspect your cat has arthritis, contact your veterinarian so that a management plan can be made to keep your cat comfortable.
With old age, cats can suffer from cognitive dysfunction syndrome (feline dementia). Increased vocalization, especially at night, is one of many signs that they might show. They might meow before using their litter box due to confusion and anxiety.
Other medical conditions need to be ruled out before a diagnosis of CDS can be made. Again, it is best to contact your veterinarian for further advice on how to proceed.
How often do you need to change cat litter?
Waste should be removed a couple of times a day, ideally, soon after it is produced. Extra litter can be added on as needed. Litter boxes should be washed and disinfected, and litter replaced every on to four weeks.
Once weekly is the best if you have multiple cats and/or the litter box is most favored. It is also dependent on the type of litter that you use (for instance, non-clumping litter will require more frequent changing).
Weese, J. S., Blondeau, J., Boothe, D., Guardabassi, L. G., Gumley, N., Papich, M., Jessen, L. R., Lappin, M., Rankin, S., Westropp, J. L., & Sykes, J. (2019). International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Diseases (ISCAID) guidelines for the diagnosis and management of bacterial urinary tract infections in dogs and cats. London, England, UK: Veterinary Journal, 247, 8–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2019.02.008
Heseltine, J. (2019). Diagnosing and Managing Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. US: Today’s Veterinary Practice, 9(5).