Helping veterinary clients understand and treat cats with elimination disorders - DVM
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Helping veterinary clients understand and treat cats with elimination disorders


DVM360 MAGAZINE


Remember that cats like soft, clean-smelling substances. This means that cats will not like litter that holds onto odor.

Studies have shown that clumpable, recyclable litters may be terrific for owners but are not always so good for cats. By reusing these litters, you are stirring around and redistributing microscopic pieces of feces that come to coat the silicaceous grains. From your cat's perspective, these litter grains stink, even if there are clean grains interspersed among them.

6 Scoop the litter daily (at least). Most litters should be dumped totally at least every other day. The clumpable litters must also be scooped multiple times a day but can be topped up and stirred. Still, given the findings about microscopic feces adhering to the grains, these litters should be dumped and replaced considerably more often than is discussed on their labels. Dump them every few days, and more often if more than one cat is using the box.

7 Scrutinize the litter depth. Some cats like to dig in deeper areas, but some don't like to bury their paws. Learn what your cat likes. One hint is that cats dig more in litters they like, whether or not they cover their urine or feces.

8 Use mechanized litter boxes with caution. Some cats will use these litter boxes and other novel formats.But these boxes are not for fearful cats or those that easily startle. While they are appealing because of the ease of clean-up, remember that the point of a litter box is actually to meet your cat's needs.

9 Remember that cats are not truly trained to use litter boxes. This is true at least in the sense of how we think of housetraining a dog. Seeking out a preferred substrate, digging and covering urine or feces if the cat chooses to do so are behaviors that develop in kittens in the absence of human intervention. Accordingly, we cannot train cats with an elimination problem to use a litter box; however, they can be encouraged to do so by taking them to the litter box frequently, waiting with them and praising them whenever they use the box.

10 Avoid punishment for accidents. If you see your cat squat outside the box, most forms of punishment or extreme startle will only make your cat more secretive about where or when it eliminates. If you use a gentle interruption just as your cat is beginning to eliminate (e.g., when it sniffs, circles), it may stop your cat from eliminating in the undesired spot. This will only work if you can then take your cat to a preferred spot, have your cat use it and praise your cat. Frankly, this sequence of behaviors is not highly likely. Given the amount of damage you can do by scaring a cat, you may wish to abandon this and related tactics. Regardless, punishment after the fact is useless. Physical punishment, including rubbing your cat's nose in the soiled area, should be avoided at all costs since it teaches your cat to avoid people and may also lead to physical or behavioral injury.

11 Consider confining your cat to a restricted area at first. If you do this, make sure that your cat has the same choice of litters and litter boxes mentioned above and that you pay lots of attention to it during its confinement. If your cat was very social before confinement, arrange the confinement to meet the cat's social needs. If the behavior of the other cats in the household changes when one is isolated, this hints at a social problem that may need to be addressed as part of the therapy for the elimination disorder. Access to the rest of the house can be expanded once your cat is using the litter box appropriately in the confined area. Be sure to closely supervise the expanded access because of the potential for relapse and because of potential social problems that may not have been previously recognized. A bell attached to a break-away collar can act as a reminder that supervision is necessary. Access should be gradually expanded. Don't give your cat free access to the entire house all at once after six weeks of confinement. If your cat has truly learned and demonstrated a preference for a litter or litter box style, this will generalize to the rest of the house only if the reintroductions are gradual.


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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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