Treating feline elimination disorders

Part two of a three-part series: For problems with an underlying behavioral cause, try these options
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Jun 01, 2011

Last month, I discussed how to identify which factors might be contributing to a cat's elimination problem, whether behavioral or medical. If the problem is behavioral, there are several options you can choose to help stop the frustrating behavior.

Treatment options

For purely behavioral elimination and litter box issues, a few key instructions will usually resolve the situation or provide more data about issues to be addressed. If friction between cats in a household is a possibility, the client should identify potential stressors or conflicts (e.g., intercat aggression) and redress them. Intercat aggression is a serious concern if a cat

  • Is avoiding one or more other cats
  • Consistently leaves the room or a preferred resting spot when another cat enters
  • Does not eat or drink in the presence of others
  • Frequently hides
  • Is hyperreactive to noise or tactile stimuli.

If any of these conditions are identified, instruct the client to separate the cats when they're unsupervised. The more timid cat should have free-range, while the more aggressive cat should be confined to a space not highly contested or desirable (i.e., not the client's bedroom or the kitchen). If this isn't sufficient to resolve elimination concerns, a more complex behavioral work-up of the social situation in the house is warranted.

If anxiety or aggression is involved in any aspect of the litter box issue, a benzodiazepine, tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) may be a useful treatment for an anxious or aggressive cat. Benzodiazepines are helpful primarily in behavior modification programs involving food reward (i.e., teaching cats to tolerate each other). TCAs and SSRIs can be extremely useful in helping to overcome aversions and address anxiety involved in marking behaviors and intercat aggression.

Specific therapies could include:

  • Benzodiazepines: Alprazolam (0.1 to 0.25 mg/kg orally once or twice daily); oxazepam (0.2 to 0.4 mg/kg orally once or twice daily)
  • TCAs: Amitriptyline or nortriptyline (0.5 to 1 mg/kg orally once or twice daily for 30 days minimum); clomipramine (0.5 mg/kg orally once daily for 60 days minimum)
  • SSRIs: Fluoxetine or paroxetine (0.5 mg/kg orally once daily for 60 days minimum).