Ask Dr. Dolamore: Cats & house soiling
Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a three-part series.House-soiling is the No. 1 behavior problem in cats and many cats are given away, sent to the humane society, put outside or even put to sleep for this behavior problem. I am compelled to present this complicated issue in the hopes that it may help prevent their displacement or euthanasia. Be aware that this is a complex problem that may require you to eventually see a veterinary behaviorist. I would like to give credit to The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cornell Feline Health Center for the information in this column. Applying odor neutralizers anywhere your cat has sprayed may prevent him from spraying there again. Another useful commercial product is Feliway, a synthetic pheromone that, when applied to household surfaces, mimics the scent of cat cheek gland secretions. Many cats will not spray on areas that have this scent.
Spraying is more responsive to anti-anxiety drugs than other types of house soiling. However, medication is only part of the solution, and must be used in conjunction with environmental changes. Any medication can have potentially damaging and/or unwanted side effects, and not all cats are good candidates. Cats placed on long-term medication must be monitored closely by a veterinarian.
Cats will resoil and spray areas previously impregnated with their scent. Therefore, cleaning up your cat-soiled belongings is important, not only to undo the damage, but to break the cycle of elimination. Because it is much easier to eliminate odors in recently soiled areas, clean them as soon as possible. A cat’s sense of smell is far keener than ours; therefore odors must be neutralized, not just deodorized. However, avoid cleaning products containing ammonia or vinegar-they smell like urine and can be irritating.
Sheets of plastic, newspaper, or sandpaper, electronic mats that deliver harmless, mild shocks, or a carpet runner with the nubs facing up may all discourage your cat from entering a soil-prone area.Try changing the significance of a soiled area. Cats prefer to eat and eliminate in separate areas, so try placing food bowls and treats in previously soiled areas. Playing with your cat in that space and leaving toys there may also be helpful.Try denying your cat access to a given area by closing doors, or by covering the area with furniture or plants. Baby gates will not keep a cat out of a room.Catch him in the act. A bell on a breakaway collar tells you his whereabouts. If you can catch him within the first seconds of his elimination routine, startle him with a water gun or shake a jar of pennies, so that he associates being startled with those actions. It is important that you startle rather than scare him; fear will only worsen the problem. Moreover, if you catch him after he’s eliminated, your window of opportunity is gone-you must catch him just as he’s about to eliminate.Never hit, kick, or scream at a cat. Not only does this create more anxiety, which may contribute to house soiling behavior, but also such tactics provide no link between the “crime” and the punishment. Some owners resort to rubbing their cat’s face in their excrement to “teach the cat a lesson.” This is completely ineffective, first because cats do not view their urine and feces as distasteful, and second, because even moments later, cats cannot make the connection between the mess on the bed and this kind of punishment.Helpful hints for preventing litter box problems1. Choosing an appropriate litter and box2.Most cats prefer unscented, finer-textured litter, at a depth of one to two inches.3.Young kittens, elderly cats, and cats with mobility problems need boxes with low sides.4.Overweight and large cats need bigger boxes.5.Most cats prefer an uncovered box that lets odors escape and allows a 360-degree view of their surroundings.6.Have as many litter boxes as cats in the house-plus one.7. Choosing a good litter box locationMost cats prefer a location that is quiet, private, separate from their feeding area, and easily accessible 24 hours a day.8.Do not locate the litter box up or down stairs if your cat has trouble climbing.9.Place multiple boxes in different areas of the house.10. Keeping the box clean. If you use clumping litter, remove feces and clumps daily and add clean litter as needed.A liner may help keep the box cleaner, but many cats don’t like them.To clean the box, scrub it with a gentle detergent, dry it, and refill with clean litter. Litter should be changed often enough so that it looks and smells dry and clean. The more cats using the box, the more often this will need to be done. And, replace old boxes that smell or are cracked.Suggested cleaning products and resources:Anti-Icky-Poo (AIP)Nature’s MiracleOutright Stain and Odor RemovalOxyfresh Pet DeodorizerPheromone Spray: FeliwayElectronic MatsScatmat/Scarecrow Motion Activated SprinklersPetMatMotion DetectorsScarecrowThe Dog’s Outfitter (Motion detector that turns on a sprinkler when activated) Dr Dolamore is a veterinarian residing in Summit county. Please send your pet health questions to email@example.com
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