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    Thinking Outside the (Litter)box

    By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM


    This is the fifth in a series of blogs about fabulous felines written for “Adopt-A-Cat Month.”

    Two weeks ago, The Animal Medical Center hosted Dr. Bonnie Beaver, an internationally recognized expert in animal behavior. The focus of her seminars was feline behavior issues and my favorite presentation was about the number one behavior problem in cats – inappropriate elimination. Dr. Beaver had some great suggestions for cat owners and I hope readers of Tales from the Pet Clinic find them helpful.

    1. Location, location, location

    Cats prefer a litter box near, but not in the midst of, household activity. Make sure not to place the box in the back bedroom on the second floor, or in the furthest corner of the basement. You may live in a house or apartment with multiple bathrooms in convenient locations; your cat needs the same arrangement. Cats prefer a quiet spot with privacy, but also with easy access. The litter box should not be near your cat’s food bowl. A good rule regarding the number of litter boxes is one box for every cat and one extra.

    2. Cleanliness is next to feline godliness

    A clean, odor-free litter box is critical. When my recent litter of six foster kittens started using a litter box, I was quickly reminded how fastidious cats are. The minute I changed just one of the boxes, six kittens and their mother were racing to be the first into the pristine box. With so many cats, I was on continuous scooping patrol and I changed the entire box every other day. If I was late coming home from work or slow to change the box, the kittens would empty a nearby trash can and go on the scattered papers.  Who knew six-week-old kittens could be so fussy?

    3. A sign of illness?

    Illness may cause inappropriate elimination. If your cat stops using the box, your cat needs to visit her veterinarian. Medical conditions such as a urinary tract infection, pain when defecating, or a systemic disorder known as interstitial cystitis may cause your cat to associate discomfort with her litter box. If untreated, she may stop using the box and use the corner of your dining room rug instead.

    4. Beaver’s best tips

    • If your cat has a favorite out-of-the box location, prevent access to that area using an upside down plastic carpet runner. The little prongs on the bottom of the runner will not hurt your cat, but will serve as a deterrent to bad behavior.
    • To clean up cat accidents, use enzyme- or bacteria-based products that break down smelly urine molecules.
    • If the box is covered, remove the cover. If it doesn’t have a cover, try one and see if your cat just wants more privacy.
    • Make sure the box is big enough for your cat. Sometimes out of the box really means just can’t fit in the box.
    Photo: iStockphoto

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