Chris Kouwenhoven

Pinpointing the problem

Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, director of Animal Behavior Consultations in Westwood, Kansas, has written an article entitled, "Feline Housesoiling: A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment" which offers detailed and practical information to help cat owners identify and correct this vexing problem Consider the following excerpts...

Litter box avoidance is often the first sign of a cat with a lower urinary tract disorder. It is likely that the discomfort associated with eliminating may lead to aversion. Polyuria due to conditions such as renal disease or diabetes may result in a litter box that is constantly soaked and unacceptable to the pet. Diarrhea, constipation and colitis are other problems that can result in discomfort during the act of elimination and cause litter box avoidance. During physical examination, special attention should be paid to the urinary and gastrointestinal systems.

The reasons why a cat might eliminate away from the litter box are numerous. If the pet abruptly starts urinating and defecating outside the box, there is probably something about the litter box that the cat finds undesirable. The accumulation of waste, organic and disinfectant odors, unacceptable litter, or an aversive experience associated with the litter box may cause the pet to avoid it. The cat may have been disciplined, medicated or frightened near the box. The box nay have been moved to an area with high traffic. Harsh punishment for any reason might cause the cat to eliminate in secluded areas in order to avoid family members.

Although most cats urine mark on upright objects, some may mark on horizontal surfaces. When the cat is urinating on top of specific objects, such as the owner's clothing, bed, or favorite chair, an anxiety-motivated problem should be considered. If emotional factors are causing the housesoiling, you may see related behavioral changes occurring, such as avoidance, hiding, aggression or a general alteration in the pet's behavior patterns. Keeping a diary may help the owner identify situations that trigger the problem when the housesoiling is very sporadic and the reason for the problem is not immediately apparent.

Most owners use punishment in an attempt to change the pet's behavior. This approach is rarely effective and often makes the situation worse. This is especially true if it is harsh or delayed, or when anxiety is an important factor in the development of the problem. No matter what the circumstances might be, the cat should never be swatted or physically punished. The owner should be cautioned against rubbing the cat's nose in the mess or roughly handling it and placing it in the litter box.

Whether the problem is due to an aversion to the litterbox itself or due to environmental stress, make sure that the litterbox situation is ideal and that the soiled areas have been properly cleaned and deterrents have been set up. (See our articles..."What Every Cat Owner Should Know About the Prevention of Litterbox Problems" and "What Every Cat Owner Should Know About the Solution of Litterbox Problems".)

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