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Question from Bruce:

We have nine kitties.  Noel is our "first born", we adopted her from a rescue on 1/5/02.  She is a wonderful, alpha kitty who is apparently overwhelmed by us having 8 other feline companions.  For the past several months she has been spraying various walls/baseboards and urinating inappropriately in many unusual places in our home. 

 We have tried Elivil to no avail and are currently weaning her from that so she will hopefully have her former spirit back.  We have not consulted a behaviorist because we doubt that such a person will tell us anything we don't already know.  We have had Noel tested for all forms of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) and all are negative.  Letting Noel go to a shelter or anywhere else except her home is NOT an option.  Any suggestions?

 Response from Dr Emily Weiss:

While psychotropic (behavior medication) intervention is often very helpful, it should only be used when consulting with a behaviorist–either a DVM behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.  We would develop a behavior program to use in conjunction with the psychotropic, making your chances of success much higher.  Behavior does not occur in a vacuum, and we need to assess the full situation and develop a plan.

 

For example, in this situation, I am not sure I would have chosen Elivil–or any psychotropic up front.

 

First, I would be sure you had at least 9 litter boxes in your home, and many upright surfaces for scenting (for the cats to rub their cheeks. 

 

Next, I would start Noel on a consistent schedule of enrichment, with 3 activities a day:  two food device opportunities for enrichment, and one positive reinforcement training session. 

 

I would like to know about the schedule in the home, the ratio of males to females in the home, as well as type of food, placement of food, and a variety of other details to develop a good solid behavior program for you. 

 

So, while you may not feel that a behaviorist would have any information that you do not already know, they are trained to be keen investigators and can certainly develop a plan that would involve things that you may have overlooked, simply because you are too close to the situation…


Response from Best Friends Network:

Inappropriate elimination is an exhausting and all-too-common problem that results in the deaths of countless cats when people abandon or give up their pets because they can't cope with it. 

The first order of business is to set up a thorough physical exam with your veterinarian which it sounds as if you have already done. Several physical problems may result in a cat not using the litter box, so they must be ruled out before you can move on to working on the behavioral aspect of the problem. The good news is that the physical problems that cause lapses in litter box use can often be easily and inexpensively remedied. 

Once a health problem has been ruled out, there are several sources of help for working on the problem behavior. You will need to determine which is appropriate for you, your cat, and your situation. Here are your options:

Ask your veterinarian. Some vets have experience with behavioral issues, so check with yours to see if he/she may be able to offer some assistance in that area. You could also ask your vet to consult with a Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist at one of the university behavior clinics, such as Tufts University (see the behavior helplines below).

Consult a holistic veterinarian.  A holistic vet uses alternative means for diagnosing and treating health and sometimes behavioral problems. As with traditional vets, experience will vary, so you will need to talk to them openly about what they may be able to offer.

Consult an animal behaviorist. An animal behaviorist attempts to understand the reason for the behavior, considering the cat's history, temperament, environment, experience, etc. After making a diagnosis, a behaviorist would help you understand the way animals learn and how you can work specifically on this problem to control and/or correct it. You can ask your vet for a local referral or visit the Animal Behavior Society website at: 
http://www.animalbehavior.org/Applied/directory_cert9_97.html

Call a behavior help line. Here are some examples:

 * ASPCA Companion Animal Services Behavior Helpline (New York), 212-876-7700, ext. 4357.

* San Francisco SPCA Behavior Help Line (California), 415-554-3075. You may leave a voice mail message 24 hours a day. Within 48
 hours, a behaviorist will return your call (collect) or they will send you written information. 

* University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Clinic, 215-898-3347. If the clinic is not open at the time of
your call, their recorded message will give you their call-in hours for the week. 

* Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Clinic (Massachusetts), 508-839-7934. Offers consultations for a fee. 

* Feline Health Center, Cornell University, Dr. Louis J. Camuti Feline Consultation and Diagnostic Service, 1-800-KITTYDR, open 9
 am to 4 pm, EST, Monday-Friday, except holidays. You will be charged a $35 fee on a major credit card.
 

Visit the Members and Pets forum. The Pet Health and Behavior bulletin board on the Best Friends website may be able to help you.

Dr. Margaret Muns is available to answer questions. Click on the following and scroll down to the Pet Health and Behavior link:
http://www.bestfriends.org/theanimals/forums/

Consult an animal communicator. An animal communicator takes a holistic approach to understanding and modifying behavior. He/she
tries to tune in to your pet's state of mind, and helps you to do the same. Generally, if you work with an animal communicator on a serious behavior issue like aggression, you will also need to work with a behaviorist or trainer. You will find a list of communicators at Penelope Smith's online directory. They're listed regionally and the website also includes some information on what to expect from an animal communicator. Here's the URL:
 http://www.animaltalk.net/consultlist.htm#DIRECTORY%20OF%20INTERSPECIES%20TELEPATHIC%20COMMUNICATORS

 

You may also find it helpful to read one of the following books on cat behavior: 

"The Cat Who Cried for Help" by Nicholas Dodman
"Think Like a Cat" by Pam Johnson-Bennett
"If Only They Could Speak" by Nicholas Dodman 
 

If none of these options work, or if trying them is not feasible, you might consider changing your cat's current living situation so that the inconsistent litter-box use is not a problem. A possible solution is a cattery; an outdoor enclosure, roofed and protected, that you can place near a door or window, to allow the cat some inside access. Or, it can stand independently (similar to the idea of a dog run, but built for a cat). If you are interested, we have information on cat fencing and catteries that we would be happy to send along (bfnetwork@bestfriends.org).
 

Also, here are some great tips on reducing kitty stress in the home.  [Some of the research sources for this article include Twisted Whiskers, Psycho Kitty, Hiss and Tell, and Cat Love, all by Pam Johnson-Bennett, a feline behavior consultant.]
 
A kitty feels stress. They react much like we react to stress. Kitties become bad tempered, shaky and nervous.
 
Kitties are creatures of habit and love familiar faces, voices and places.  Even changing the type of litter can trigger an anxious state.

Playing with your kitty builds self-confidence in the kitty. It creates a bond between guardian and kitty and may help in reducing the kitty's anxiety.
 
Kitties respond to classical music, (the soothing variety, that is). If you don't care for classical music New Age music is suggested. Play the music at a low volume.
 
Provide peaceful retreats and a hiding place or two. Kitties really do need to sleep a lot and need a quiet spot to do that! Preferably, a hiding place that is higher up like what a cat tree offers is best.
 
There are A-Frame beds, (they look like miniature tee-pees), that are suggested for nervous kitties. It creates a hiding place for kitties. These beds are available at most pet supply stores.

Ionizers are good at calming kitties. An ionic air filter sends out negative ions as it filters the air. I had an ionic air filter in my closet to keep my clothes fresh and my kitties adored sleeping in there! There is an abundant supply of negative ions in sunshine and in ocean spray. Ever wondered why you felt so good during those times? These air filters are great for kitties with respiratory difficulties. If you have allergies or other difficulties with breathing ionizers are supposed to also be great for you!
 
Vitamin Support for Stress:
 
Vitamin C:
 
This is available in a paste form, (like tooth paste), at most pet supply stores. Most kitties like the taste. Vitamin C is not stored in the body and must be supplied as a part of the kitty's diet. It is very useful during a  time of great stress. Vitamin C may also help keep the urine acidic to dissolve the crystals which cause lower urinary tract disease.
 
Vitamin B Complex:
 
Vitamin B is also water soluble and is not stored by the body. It should also be supplied in the kitties' diet. Brewer's Yeast is a great treat for most kitties and is chock full of B vitamins and needed amino acids. These are needed when the kitty is going through a period of stress, i.e., the veterinarian's office, moving etc.
 
Check out a new web site devoted to kitty behavioral problems and ways to modify that behavior
www.io.com/~mvb/cats
 
I wish you the best of luck with Noel and the rest of your furry family. Please don't hesitate to write back (
bfnetwork@bestfriends.org) if you would like to discuss this further.