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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 24467
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
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I have a 7 month old kitten who we've had since August.

Customer Question

I have a 7 month old kitten who we've had since August. She's been having a problem with going to the bathroom on stuff. In the beginning she would go to the bathroom in my moms plants, her pile of clothes, and her laundry basket. She did also go the bathroom in my closet once. We knew she knew how to use her litter box as we've seen her do it numerous times. We moved her letterbox from my top floor bathroom to the basement bathroom (those are the only two places where a litter box will work) And also got her a pheromone glade plug in to put in that bathroom to help her a little. Another thing we did was get her two big water and food bowls to put in the basement so it would draw her towards her litter box and it worked she hadn't gone on anything in about a month. But just recently she pooped in my moms plant again, peed in her bed with her in it, and pooped on the carpet floor where the plant use to be. My mom wants to get rid of her but I think she might've started again because her pheromone plug ran out or that she might need a litter box with a cover. I also think it might have something to do with my mom as everything she's gone on has connected to her, other than that time in my closet. My mom treats her just as good as I do and never hits her or anything. Please help me find a way to get her to stop so I don't have to get rid of her.
JA: I'm sorry to hear that. Strange behavior is often perplexing. I'm sure the Veterinarian can help you. What is the kitten's name?
Customer: Sabella
JA: Is there anything else important you think the Veterinarian should know about Sabella?
Customer: We took her to the vet to see if it was a health problem they checked her urine and said nothing seemed wrong.
Submitted: 18 days ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 18 days ago.

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Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 18 days ago.

I have advanced training in feline behavior and am pleased to discuss SAbella's behavior with you. I must admit that retraining her is going to be a challenge but perhaps after reviewing my notes that I use when lecturing about her behavior you'll have a better idea of how to address it.

Sabella is clearly exhibiting marking behavior. She is not likely to be eliminating inappropriately due to litterbox aversion or a medical disorder. Marking on a horizontal surface (clothes and especially beds) is marking behavior (a communicative function) caused by the same stimuli that causes spraying. We’re not sure what cats are trying to communicate to us but we do know that wild cats will mark to announce their presence. It’s reasonable to assume then, that Sabella is doing so as well. She’s essentially “taking ownership” over marked areas which then assuages her anxiety. The most common cause is increased cat density - in the home or nearby. Emotional problems, such as a stressful relationship with a family member, separation anxiety, anxiety over her status in the existing hierarchy, fear, owner absence, moving, new furniture, inappropriate punishment, teasing, household changes and remodeling in the home are examples of stimuli that can induce anxiety in our cats. The etiology can be difficult to diagnose, especially if the behavior is only manifested intermittently and because the stimuli for her inappropriate eliminative behavior may be imperceptible to you but readily so to her - another cat roaming outside, e.g. If emotional factors are influencing the housesoiling, you might notice other changes such as avoidance, aggression or an alteration in her general temperament.

Treatment involves two major considerations: 1) Remove the cause - easier said than done. You might have to be quite the detective to discern the stimuli for her inappropriate eliminative behavior 2) Prevent her from returning to previously soiled areas by confining her to a very small area with the box and only allowed out when she can be supervised 100% of the time. When confined to a relatively small area, most cats seem to prefer to eliminate in the box rather than soiling the floor. It’s then a matter of confining her long enough for a consistent habit to become established. As a rule of thumb, one week of confinement is usually recommended for every month of soiling. Sabella should be removed from the confinement area as much as possible for socialization and play, but never allowed out of sight. Food rewards may help when given after she uses her box. If she refuses to use the litterbox when confined to a small area, the confinement area should be changed to a large cage. The floor should be covered with litter, forcing her to use it for elimination. The litter is gradually removed and replaced with a litterbox. Once she has used the litterbox in a confined area for an appropriate amount of time, she can be allowed to have more freedom in the home. Previously soiled areas can be safeguarded by changing the behavioral function of the area by placing food bowls, cat bedding or toys in the area. The area can also be made unacceptable for her by placing a motion-activated alarm or lemon-scented room deodorant in the area. Plastic carpet runners can be placed upside down with the "feet" facing up. Plastic, foil, or double-stick carpet tape can be used to protect specific areas. Removing urine and stool odor is important. Products such as Nature's Miracle which are specifically formulated to work on these types of odors are recommended.

Some cats are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. They may mark in response to the most minor of alterations. You must strive to keep the home environment as constant as possible. When situations exist that are likely to upset Sabella, you might want to consider confinement, closer supervision and the use of anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication such as paroxetine (Paxil) and fluoxetine (Prozac). In fact, most behaviorists feel that without the use of psychotherapeutic drugs our chance of correcting inappropriate marking behavior is near nil. (Personal note: My two cats began marking as kittens. After 6 months of fruitless treatment they became outdoor cats - for 12 years.)

Nobody wants to confine their pet as I've described but her behavior requires desperate measures. My male urinated on my pillow while I slept - an obvious behavior designed to make sure that his sister and I knew who's bed it really was. He apparently was anxious about his status in the hierarchy of my home.

Success in management with psychotherapeutic drugs is measured by a 70% reduction in adverse events. In other words, if my cat urinated on my pillow 10 times monthly prior to drug administration but only 3 times monthly after drug administration, success in treatment is acknowledged. Needless to say, that didn't please me and I certainly hope that you have better "success" than I. Perhaps you will not having another cat in the house.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.

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