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"When you change your thinking

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you begin to communicate with your pet in new and more satisfying ways.  And, your pet responds to you with  renewed love and good behavior."


 Cat Behavior Library  

What is it with some cats?  You take them in off the street and provide the lap of luxury, and they repay you by peeing on your carpet - or worse.

Cat pee is too big a topic to cover in one column, so I am going to assume you have had your leaky cat checked by your vet. Thirty percent of the time, the problem is medical. I will further assume that you have already provided numerous litter boxes, and clean them twice a day. The advice here is indicated when the wayward urine is directed down onto the floor, and not sprayed up onto walls like some urban territorial tagger.

If you love a toilet-intransigent cat (don't admit this publicly), or consider yourself a cat lover, read on to discover the secret world of litter & box testing and retraining.

For a human comparison, consider people who are remodeling their bathrooms. Some people would just ask the contractor to deliver the most inexpensive toilet. But other more discriminating people might object to the cheap seats, and actually go to the toilet show room, and struggle over look and feel. These same people might also carefully choose their toilet paper (the human equivalent of cat litter), since that is what they touch.

Fast forward to the most discriminating of domestic animals - the cat. Since cats bury their waste, they get down and dirty with both the box and the litter. I have news: your cat might think you are a nice person, but clueless about kitty potty picking. If your cat's problem is a repulsion to the litter or box, this data is for you! 

One secret of litter retraining, is discovering this cat's toilet preferences. Don't care you say? Then either live with scent of cat pee, take the risks of allowing the cat outdoors, or consider the guilt trip of surrendering a good friend because you were unwilling to investigate his or her cat toilet predilection. 

Pick a testing room in the house that is as quiet and neutral as possible and ideally not a location where the cat has soiled. Consider options such as a laundry room, bathroom, enclosed patio, study, or other less used room. Plan on the cat being semi-confined to this room for 1-2 weeks. Like a college kid participating in a clinical study, your cat will be sequestered, but you can make it pleasant. Make roughly half of the room is for living - beds, scratching posts, toys, food and water bowls, and the other half is for elimination. The goal is to limit the toilet options.

Starting with brand new litter boxes is preferred but not required. If urine has reached and impregnated into the plastic bottom of the box, your cat may balk at the stinky odor the way you would at an unclean porta-potty. If another cat has used the box, your cat may think it has been marked as private. Begin by testing a minimum of 3 shapes of litter boxes, 3 types of litter and 3 different locations in the room.

If recycling, the proper way to clean a cat box is with hot soap and water, letting it dry thoroughly, preferably in the sunlight because ultraviolet rays kill some susceptible bugs. Do not use chemical cleaners that might leave their own smell. Once dry, do the litter-box-sniff-test. First, make sure no one is watching. Then put your head inside the clean dry box with your nose close to the bottom surface. If you smell anything funny, buy a new box. 

Start with three different models of litter boxes. Your best bet is one that is large and deep - as long as the cat can easily get in and out. The second box must be somehow different, such as a covered box, and the third dissimilar from the other two, e.g. low and long.

Kitty Litter cost and brand name do not matter, as long as 3 or more options are offered.  First, offer 1 hard-clumping litter.  This looks like fine-sand with minimal dust. Get the unscented option. Hard-clumping litter does not break apart into smaller clumps when buried or scooped.  Avoid flushable.

Your second and third litter options probably depend on what your local pet store offers.  It might be made from processed paper, wheat or pine pellets, corn, or even silicon. For litter testing, offer your cat a variety.

Start a "Poop and Pee Diary" noting the date and time you start the test. (Hint: don't leave this laying around where your friends will find it.) Number the boxes so you can track them, and write the exact names of each type litter that you start with in each box. Fill each box with two to three inches of the selected litter. Depth matters!

Keep a pen and your secret diary in the room where you are testing and faithfully note the following items for each deposit:  date, time, urine or feces, estimated volume (small, medium, large), stool consistency (formed, loose, liquid) and if the deposit was covered up or not. Lack of covering usually means the material is undesirable. Ichk!

 After two days (or an average of five eliminations), rotate the litter within each box. Continue rotating and testing, until you either you have a clear favorite, OR there is no pattern, which may mean random use, or the cat just uses the cleanest available. Now you are ready to allow the cat gradual reintroduction into the rest of the house.

Allow the cat one more room or hall in addition to the testing room. The idea is to see if the cat returns to the boxes, or soils the new area. If your house is not laid out to allow room by room enlargement of the space, then gradually increase time-outside-the-room. Begin the new freedom 30 minutes before feeding time. The goal here is to use the food or treats to reward the cat for returning to testing room. Place the favorite box-litter combos around the house, and increase the freedom daily.

Every organism must eliminate. Thankfully, cats have an instinct to routinely bury their waste and they are the only domestic mammal that does.

However, some cats respond to medical, emotional or physical stress by changing their elimination habits. This may serve to lower stress or communicate social rank, sexual availability, territory or a personal statement. One theory suggests it is one way to signal cat traffic. Another is that a cat's urine mark enhances his confidence.

The individual may be attracted or repulsed by a surface, scent or location. In multiple cat households there may be status statements by forcing a low ranking cat away from the litter box. In other cats, it may be displacement of another problem, or a statement of fear. The easiest component to correct is a medical motivation.

Marking vs. Urinating
This is an important distinction. Marking is usually found on vertical surfaces (e.g. walls) and suggests a territorial marking. Marking near glass doors or windows suggests a response to strange cats seen from that location. If this seems part of the problem, cover the glass temporarily during retraining.

Urinating is always found on horizontal surfaces (e.g. floors) and is more suggestive of an emotional or litterbox related problem. Some cats will territorially mark on horizontal surfaces. If so, marking is likely to occur near windows, doors and imposing furniture, and at a repeat spot.

There are some signs you can look for at home that suggest a medical problem. These include crying out when urinating, straining for an extended period, urinating on porcelain surfaces, and a pattern of frequent small eliminations in a variety of locations.

Urine Vs. Feces
Inappropriate urination occurs twice as often as defecation in cats. If one occurs and not the other, it may suggest a litter or location preference. If the deposit is close but just outside the box it may be litterbox aversion. The litterbox was initially attractive, but at the last minute aversive.

Prognosis for Problem Solution
Some cases are easy, others are never resolved. Here is a list of variables:

1) Genetic Predisposition
2) Duration
3) Number of cats in the household
4) Frequency of soiling
5) Number of areas soiled
6) Number of different types of surfaces soiled
7) Number of cats participating in soiling
8) Practicality of allowing limited outdoor access
9) Ability to discern one or more modifiable causes
10) Ability to rearrange the structural household environment(move chairs, close doors, etc.)
11) Strength of owner bond to this cat
12) Willingness of the owner to pay for a complete medical workup
13) Amount of time the owner is willing to devote to solution
14) Willingness to accept and execute use of psychoactive medications

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