Using Video to Quantify Feline Urination Patterns

April 27, 2017
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM, ELS

Dr. Walden received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from North Carolina State University. She is a practicing veterinarian and a certified editor in the life sciences (ELS). She owns Walden Medical Writing, LLC, and writes and edits materials for healthcare professionals and the general public.

In a comparison of video versus owner observation in assessing urination behaviors in cats, researchers concluded that a combination of the two methods may be best.

Diagnosing urinary tract disorders in cats relies partly on observations of urination characteristics such as frequency, location, volume, and discomfort. However, cats’ urination patterns may not always be apparent to owners. In a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, researchers from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine evaluated the use of a video recording system to assess urination behaviors in cats.

“The ability to record and accurately quantify urination patterns in cats with various urinary disorders could substantially enhance our ability to meaningfully assess the impact of various treatments and other risk factors on disease expression,” they write.

The investigators installed motion-activated video recording systems aimed at litter boxes and other areas “consistently used for house-soiling” in the homes of 11 healthy cats and 8 cats with urinary abnormalities (4 with chronic kidney disease, 3 with chronic feline idiopathic cystitis, and 1 with untreated subclinical bacteriuria). Cat owners completed daily logs of litter box activity during the 14-day recording period.

The video recording system detected significantly more urinations (99% of all events) than did cat owners (27% of events). Caregivers did not see 5 cats use the litter box at all. However, cat owners reported 9 urinations outside litter boxes that the video recording system did not detect.

The mean number of urinations detected per day was significantly higher with the video recording system (2.5 ± 0.7 events per day) than with owner observation (0.6 ± 0.6 events per day). The video recording system also recorded significantly more urinations per day for abnormal cats than for healthy cats—a difference that did not appear in the caregiver logs. The number of urinations per day ranged from 0 to 5 in both healthy and abnormal cats.

Compared with caregiver estimates, mean urination times detected by the video recording system were longer for both healthy and abnormal cats. Video recordings showed that abnormal cats spent significantly less time than healthy cats covering their urine. The authors suggest 2 possible reasons for this: cats with a history of painful urination could have developed litter box aversion, and older cats (such as those with chronic kidney disease) could also have had orthopedic disease that affected their urine-covering time.

Caregivers reported that 3 of the 8 abnormal cats vocalized during urination. The video recordings, which did not include audio, did not detect vocalization. Stranguria and macroscopic hematuria were not reported by either method.

One cat had microscopic bacteriuria but no pyuria, hematuria, or observed signs of urinary tract infection (such as increased urination frequency), all of which fit the definition of subclinical bacteriuria. However, this cat’s litter box was in a closet where it could not be easily seen. Video recording revealed that this cat urinated significantly more often than did healthy cats. “Our observations in this case raise concerns that absence of clinical signs as perceived by caregivers could be an unreliable criterion for defining subclinical bacteriuria in cats and emphasize the need for further studies to identify and evaluate more objective indicators of host responses,” write the authors.

The authors conclude that the video recording system detected urine frequency, urination time, and urine covering time more accurately than did caregiver observation. However, video was less useful for identifying dysuria and urination outside the litter box. A combination of the two methods may be best for identifying and quantifying urinary patterns, they write, adding that the video recording system could be useful in future studies of feline urinary disorders.

Dr. Laurie Anne Walden received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from North Carolina State University. After an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Auburn University, she returned to North Carolina, where she has been in small animal primary care practice for over 20 years. Dr. Walden is also a board-certified editor in the life sciences and owner of Walden Medical Writing, LLC. She works as a full-time freelance medical writer and editor and continues to see patients a few days each month.