Helping veterinary clients understand and treat cats with elimination disorders
The steps below are designed to help cat owners resolve substrate and location preferences and aversions.* They are intended to help reinforce what clients will consider appropriate litter box use, while also meeting cats' social and personal hygiene needs. Also inform clients that the feline social system may be having an effect on the behavior of a cat that is not using its litter box. In fact, social interactions might be compounding the problem. They should watch for changes in relationships among the cats in the household. Keep in mind that changes in the canine and human relationships, schedules and composition are all destabilizing influences on cats that like some degree of predictability. Accordingly, alterations of some social situations may be necessary to fully resolve an elimination problem.
*Adapted from Overall KL. Manual of clinical behaviorial medicine for dogs and cats. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier, 2011.
How you can help correct elimination problems in your cat1 Identify the problem. Follow your cat around and see what it chooses in terms of the area and substance on which it eliminates. If this doesn't work, videotape your cat while it is at the litter box. If the video camera is on a tripod, most cats will ignore it, and you will be able to see what behaviors your cat uses when it explores the litter box. You can then view this video with your veterinarian and identify normal and promising behaviors and ones that indicate a problem. Also, consider videotaping your cat's normal daily activities and its interactions with anyone else—feline or not—in the household. This lets you see your cat through new eyes and, with the assistance of your veterinarian, helps you learn about both the problem and what you can do to fix it.
2 Clean, clean and clean again. Because cats are so good at smelling and identifying scent, you need to take this step immediately. First cleanings should involve soaking the area with plain water (club soda or seltzer can also be used and may help urine that has sunken deep into carpets bubble to the surface). After soaking, blot the area. Repeat this until you can no longer detect even a trace of the scent of urine or feces on the towels that are used to blot the wet area. You'll go through a lot of towels, so consider using rags, disposable sponges or paper towels. Remember, this is the baseline cleaning—repeat it more often if possible because, although you cannot smell the urine or feces, the cat will be able to do so. Once you think you are done, use a small black light to go over all relevant areas since urine fluoresces. Continue to clean until you cannot detect it.
3 Clean all affected areas with a good odor eliminator. The best odor eliminators have enzymatic capabilities to breakdown or degrade the substances in the urine and make it harder for the scents to aerosolize when the cat sniffs the area. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on specific products you can use.
4 Cover affected areas. After cleaning, cover problem areas with heavy gauge plastic to alter the tactile sensation for the cat and to prevent further penetration in the event of elimination.