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8 Health Risks of Keeping a Dirty Litter Box You Want to Avoid!

Cleaning the litter box is one of the most laborious (not to mention smelly) tasks a cat owner must do every day, so it’s easy to let this job slide to the wayside. But did you know that slacking on your poop-scooping duties can have severe consequences for both you and your cat? It’s true, and it’s something you need to educate yourself on before you put off your litter box cleaning for another day.

Keep reading to find the most significant health risks that can occur due to a dirty litter box.

divider-catclaw1The 8 Health Risks of Keeping a Dirty Litter Box

1. Urinary Tract Infections

When you don’t scoop out your cat’s litter, your beloved kitty may squat directly over top of old urine or feces when they go to eliminate next. They may also step in these old excretions, too.

Symptoms of a UTI in cats include:
  • Frequent urination
  • Only passing small amounts of urine
  • Bloody urine
  • Straining to pee
  • Crying while peeing
  • Not urinating at all
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Licking of the perineal area

The bacteria in its waste can then travel up your cat’s urethra, leading to a urinary tract infection (UTI).

cat in a litter box
Image Credit: Lilia Solonari, Shutterstock
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2. Feline Idiopathic Cystitis & Feline Urethral Obstruction

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) is typically not an emergency, but Feline Urethral Obstructions (FUO) can be. A dirty litter box can cause these conditions due to the natural fastidiousness of cats; they simply do not want to enter a dirty litter box because it’s gross and makes them feel unclean. This may mean your cat will urinate less throughout the day, causing its urine to become very concentrated, possibly resulting in FIC or FUO.

The symptoms of FIC and FUO include:
  • Multiple trips to the litter box
  • Howling or crying
  • Inappetence
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Acting constipated
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Straining to urinate
  • Licking of the perineal area

The most significant difference between the two conditions is that cats with FUO will have a large and distended bladder. Therefore, FUO is a medical emergency that needs to be evaluated by your vet.

While the signs and symptoms of FIC and FUO are similar and difficult to distinguish, one of these conditions can be life-threatening, so it’s essential to get your pet checked out if they’re presenting symptoms.

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3. Bladder Stones

Feline bladder stones often form as a result of UTIs, therefore, are often linked to dirty litter boxes. These stones occur when organic materials accumulate in your cat’s bladder, blocking the urethra and making it difficult and painful for your cat to pee.

Symptoms of bladder stones in cats include:
  • Straining to pee
  • Frequent urination
  • Genital licking
  • Chronic UTIs
  • Urine spraying#6AA892
  • Blood in the urine
  • Eliminating outside of the litter box
  • Urinary tract obstructions

Untreated bladder stones can cause urine to back up into your cat’s kidneys, potentially resulting in a complete urinary blockage. This is a life-threatening medical emergency, so immediate veterinary care is essential.

cat litter box with scoop on wooden floor
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock
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4. Cat Scratch Disease (CSD)

CSD is a bacterial infection that humans can get from dirty cat litter. It is caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria and is most often passed to humans via cat bites or scratches; however, CSD can also occur from direct contact with dirty litter boxes.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CSD is most common in children under nine and individuals with weakened immune systems. Those with compromised immune systems are more likely to experience complications from CSD, such as eye infections that can lead to blindness and bacillary angiomatosis, an illness characterized by skin lesions.

Symptoms of CSD include:
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Poor appetite
  • Fatigue
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5. Salmonellosis

Like CSD, salmonella first infects your kitty before spreading to you. Your pet may be asymptomatic, so you might not even know they have the infection.

Symptoms of salmonellosis include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

Since salmonella lives in the intestinal tract of animals, it is easy to see how it could be transmitted to you via your cat’s dirty litter.

tired sick cat lying on bed
Image Credit: Natata, Shutterstock
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6. Overexposure to Ammonia

Your cat’s urine is full of ammonia, which is part of the reason it smells so bad. Cat urine is highly concentrated, especially when we compare it to our own urine. This high concentration causes a strong odor, leading to eye, nose, and throat irritation and headaches. Long-term ammonia exposure can cause lung irritation, coughing, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

As with CSD, children and individuals with weakened immune systems are more at risk.

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7. Roundworms

Your cat’s excrement may be home to several types of parasites. Roundworms can pass from your cat’s feces onto you, causing a host of unfortunate side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and coughing.

If you believe your kitty has roundworms, a visit to the vet is in order. Left untreated, severe infestations of this parasite can cause life-threatening consequences.

sick cat
Image Credit: sick cat, Flickr
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8. Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. It’s relatively common and is generally mild in cats, but because of its zoonotic potential, all cat owners need to be aware of its health implications.

Symptoms of toxoplasmosis in humans include:
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever

Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems risk developing serious complications from this disease. In addition, the infection can pass onto unborn babies, potentially leading to stillbirth, miscarriage, or severe health problems like seizures, jaundice, or eye infections.

divider-catclaw1Final Thoughts

While no cat owner has ever looked forward to cleaning the litter box, it is a necessary evil that you must commit to doing daily. A clean box can not only prevent the above health conditions, but it will also stop your cat from eliminating outside of the box, too. The cleaner your cat’s litter box is, the happier and healthier you and your pet will be.

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Featured Image Credit: catinsyrup, Shutterstock

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