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Dr. Scott Sandeman

Dr. Scott Sandeman

Q. We have three cats that have always used the litter box, and we have had zero issues for at least five years. But the past couple of months, I have noticed there is a really strong ammonia smell to their three litter boxes.

My veterinarian wanted to know if any of the cats was in the litter box more often than the others or when in it, did it take the cat longer to go and get out.

Neither my husband nor I have noticed any change in their habits. We tried separating them for a few days which they hated, but we believe our male cat is the one that is causing the odor. He is slightly overweight but is a real lover and doesn't have any other problems. Obviously he eats well! We feed them a dry food for overweight cats that they like — maybe too well!

We had a urine sample checked, and it was normal. We have heard from others that the urine should be cultured, we should change the food, give them different treats etc. Any advice on ways to handle or diagnose this problem would be appreciated!

A. It sounds as though you have done some good investigative work already — good for you! Since your veterinarian has checked a sample that is negative for infection or disease and none of the cats is manifesting signs of a urinary tract disease like straining to urinate, blood in the urine or making frequent trips to the litter box, additional testing may not be necessary.

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Without these signs, it’s highly unlikely that an infection or inflammatory condition is involved. Culturing the urine would almost certainly not yield meaningful results; your veterinarian is the best judge of that, though.

While it may be troubling to you, a strong urine or ammonia smell may just be normal for your friend and not an indication of any abnormality. Domestic cats can have concentrated urine — we believe they are descended from wild desert cats — that reflects their water drinking or lack thereof.

You may want to invest in a simple water fountain to increase their water intake or consider canned food. Canned food is actually 70 to 75% water and a good auxiliary source of fluid. As cats age, this additional source of water sometimes becomes medically necessary.

Keep your veterinarian informed if any of the signs of urinary tract disease develop; these can be serious, especially in male cats. If odor is the only problem, you may simply have to live with it or figure out some way to keep the litter box out of normal household circulation.

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Questions? Send them to Dr. Sandeman, Home & Garden, Quad-City Times, 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, IA 52801. Or, email to papertrained@ mchsi.com. Dr. Sandeman cannot answer letters or email personally, but questions of general interest will be answered in this column.

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