Elimination Behaviors in Cats

Elimination behaviors in catsThroughout their lives, many household cats will experience some problem with elimination behaviors. These behaviors may include urinating, defecating or scent marking outside of their litter box. Although the causes for these behaviors vary greatly, most stem from medical issues, litter and litter box aversions, or stress caused by changes to environmental factors. In order to diagnose and correct the behavior it is important to determine the underlying cause behind the new behavior.

There are many different medical conditions that may cause your pet to begin eliminating in unwanted areas. It is important for your veterinarian to perform a complete examination and, perhaps, other tests to determine if there is a medical condition that would precipitate the behavior. Some of the medical conditions that your veterinarian would look for are diseases of the urinary tract, liver, kidneys or endocrine system. Many of these diseases can cause pain when urinating or may cause increased fluid intake and excretion. Other diseases of the colon and digestive tract may also cause defecation problems. When examining your cat for medical causes, your veterinarian will also look for limitations in motor and mobility functions. If your pet is having difficulty with its senses, joints or other muscular issues it may not be able to access its current litter box as easily and, therefore, result in unwanted elimination behaviors.

At times, some cats may experience an aversion to their current litter or litter boxes. These aversions may be due to smell, size or the tactile sensation. If your pet has started to eliminate in unwanted areas, analyze where the behavior occurs, the type of substrate, the time of day, and the frequency with which the animal demonstrates the behavior. Your pet may demonstrate these behaviors if the litter box is located in an undesirable area. Area that are considered undesirable vary by pet, but are often high traffic areas, areas that are far away from all family members, such as basements, or areas that are inhabited by many pets. Determine the type of substrate your pet prefers to eliminate on, such as hard surfaces or on carpet. Some pet owners notice that their pets only practice the unwanted elimination behaviors at specific times of day, such as when the owners are preparing to leave or when a child returns home from school. Other animals may demonstrate these behaviors when their box is cleaned, due to an aversion to the scent of the cleaners used.

In order to minimize unwanted elimination behaviors it may be necessary to try many different combinations of location, litter and box, until your cat is satisfied with its new litter box. Begin by offering your pet two litter boxes. One box should remain in the current location and the other should present a new option of box, litter or location. Once your pet demonstrates a preference for a new choices, change the first box to that choice and keep offering new options with the second. This process will allow you to find the perfect match for your pet.

Some ideas for determining different animals preferences include: For a cat that location appears to be the problem, work to move the new box to a quite are of the home. If your pet prefers to eliminate on a specific type of substrate, mimic that feeling in the litter box. For example, for a cat that prefers to eliminate on tile, linoleum, or another hard surface, line the litter box with newspaper or a fine layer of litter over plastic; for a cat that prefers carpet, line the rim of the box with carpet and place a fluffy litter inside; and for a cat that prefers eliminating in plants, use a sand or very fine litter. For a cat that may be experiencing physical conditions such as muscle pains, experiment with low sided boxes or ramps. Some cats crave privacy and will only eliminate in boxes with hoods, while others feel that they may be ambushed and will not enter a box that is covered. The key to determining your cats preferences is to slowly and patiently analyze your pets behavior and choices. Continue to work with your cat and offer new choices, until you and your pet are satisfied with the perfect combination.

During the process of determining the best elimination scenario, it may be necessary to confine your pet when you are not able to be present and supervise its behaviors. If confinement is necessary, be sure to choose a secure location where the animal has not inappropriately eliminated in the past and provide comfortable bedding, food, water and a litter pan with the preferred substrate. As you find the right combination of elements and your pet begins to eliminate appropriately, the confinement periods should be able to be eliminated.

When analyzing the cause of your pets behavior, be sure to look for factors that may cause stress elimination. Cats are very sensitive to changes in their territory and may stress easily. Strong stress factors such as new pets, a new baby or the loss of a family member may trigger unwanted elimination episodes. Other factors such as new furniture, changes in routine or moving may also cause issues. Finding the perfect combination for your pet, may take time and patience, but your beloved pet will soon be demonstrating model behavior.

Debra Garrison, DVM

Introducing the family dog to your new baby

Introducing Family Dog to new baby

Congratulations on your new baby! When most pet owners learn that they are expecting, they begin to wonder how their pets will react to the new baby and how to introduce them to each other. Introducing your dog to the new arrival is an important process and should be started well before the baby is born and arrives home. When working through the training process, remember that no matter how well you know your pet, accidents do happen and a baby should never be left alone with a pet under any circumstances. The process outlined below will help you as you begin the introduction process and your life with the new addition.

Most dogs learn quickly to adapt to a new baby in the home. However, extra precautions should be taken if your pet has ever shown aggression to adults or other babies and toddlers. Great care should also be taken if your pet has ever demonstrated predatory behaviors in the past. Predatory behaviors are such things as stalking, catching and/or killing small animals, such as birds, squirrels, mice, cats, other dogs etc. If your dog has ever demonstrated these aggressive behaviors, it is best to err on the side of caution and consult with a behavioral specialist. This specialist will be able to work with you one on one to develop acceptable behaviors in your pet and ensure the safety of your new baby.

The introduction process and essential steps should begin well before the baby arrives home from the hospital. Most non-aggressive dogs will view your new infant with great curiosity and after an initial period of exploration will adapt easily to the changes in your household. However, in any new situation it is essential that your pet know, understand and quickly obey certain obedience commands.

The two most essential commands for this introduction are sit and stay. These two commands may initially be encouraged with food rewards and should be practiced frequently. However, as these commands will soon be associated with the new baby, they should not be used as punishment or taught in a harsh manner. Instead, treat the learning process as a game and work to make it an enjoyable experience for your pet, as this process will soon be associated with the new baby.

Once the basic commands of sit and stay have been successfully mastered, begin teaching your pet to remain in the sit and stay positions as you move away from him. Once your pet will hold the sit and stay commands as you walk and turn away, begin adding in some elements that the animal will experience once the baby is home. For example, while holding a baby doll, give the sit/stay command and then proceed to feed, burp or diaper the baby. This will acclimate your pet to many of the new behaviors that will occur around the house and will soon be associated with the positive reinforcement of the sit/stay games. Be sure to reward your pet with praise, attention and food rewards during each step of this process, as the hopefully positive experience will soon be associated with your new baby.

Once the baby is born, but before it is brought home, bring home some of the baby’s personal items, such as a blanket or outfit. These items may initially be given to the pet to sniff and lick in order to become familiar with the baby’s scent. After this period, take the items and practice the sit/stay game by giving the sit/stay command and then performing common actions while holding the scent items. Also practice having the animal sit/stay while you are standing close to them with the scent items, this allows them to practice proper behavior with the new scent close by.

Your pet should be introduced to the new baby in a calm, quite and controlled environment. Unfortunately, this is not usually the description of a family just arriving home from the hospital. Therefore, the best time to introduce your pet to the baby is after the initial excitement period. Do allow your dog to greet the mother upon arrival and get used to the babies scent on her skin and clothing.

When the initial excitement has calmed, the introduction can take place. Depending on your pet, one person should either sit or stand while holding the baby. A second person should hold the leashed dog and give the sit/stay command. The dog should be allowed to slowly move closer to the baby as long as it obeys the sit/stay commands and is not unduly aroused by the babies cries, movements or scent. If your pet becomes agitated, then stop the exercise and begin again after the animal calms down. Once the animal is acclimated to the babies noises then, depending on your comfort level, allow the animal to sniff the baby, but do not allow him to get close enough to bite. After the animal is calm and obedient on the leash, then the same exercises should be practiced with the dog off the leash. Your initial introductions may take anywhere from an hour to a few days, depending on the comfort level and calmness of your pet. Once you are confident in your pets ability to remain calm around the new baby, allow him to wander supervised around the house. Be sure to watch his reactions and interest level in the baby, as you make this acceptance period a fun experience for everyone involved.

As a responsible pet owner, it is essential to remember that no matter what amount of introduction or socialization has occurred, an infant should never be left unsupervised at any time with a family pet. Unfortunately, accidents and aggression do happen. If you are at all concerned with your pets reaction to a new addition consult a behavioral specialist.