Archives for October 2014

Why Wont My Cat Use the Litterbox?

      Cats can urinate outside the litterbox for many reasons… a frustratingly large number of reasons. Some cats will posture to urinate in a normal way then will typically “bury” the urine spot afterwards. If this is on your floor, then they are probably just making the burying motion with their paws around the spot, but are not actually burying anything. The alternative to this would be marking or spraying, and they are doing just that, “marking” what belongs to them. When cats do this they typically have backed themselves up against a wall and spray urine on it while they are standing and their tail is straight up. This is most common in intact male cats, but neutered males and females will do it also. The very basic reason that cats will do each of these (with the exception of the intact male) is the same: the cat is displeased about something and is feeling stressed out. Remember dogs have owners, but cats have staff. And cats generally let you know when something is not to their liking.

      The first step is to make sure that there is not a medical reason for your cat to be urinating outside of the litterbox. Some medical conditions cause cats to urinate large amounts which can cause them to occasionally not make it back to the litterbox in time before they have to go. Alternatively, they can develop bladder inflammation or stones that cause them to have difficulty urinating or have painful urination. If this is the case, then a cat may have had a painful experience in the litterbox and then choose to avoid it in the future. The veterinarian will likely want to test your cat’s urine +/- blood and do some imaging of the bladder.

      If it is determined that your cat has no medical concerns, the next step is to make sure that the cat is happy with her litterbox. Litterboxes are not fun for pet owners to clean, but cleaning urine out of your carpet is much much worse. First of all there should be at least one litterbox in your house for every cat, and every litterbox should be scooped at least daily. Cats are very clean creatures, and a dirty litterbox can be off putting. Some cats prefer for the litterbox to be cleaned multiple times a day. Cats often also prefer litterboxes that aren’t covered and clumping litter. The box should be large enough for the cat to get in all the way, head to tail, comfortably. The litterbox should be in a place where there is some privacy and no loud noises that might startle the cat while they are using it, such as a washing machine or furnace. Inter-cat aggression can also be a reason that a cat may not be using a litterbox. Sometimes one cat will keep another cat from being able to get near the litterbox, another reason that it is important to have multiple boxes in your home. Remember that if anything negative happens within the box, that your cat will be more wary about using it in the future.

      But cats need more than a beautiful litterbox to be happy and mentally healthy. First of all, cats need somewhere to scratch. This is a natural behavior for a cat and they should be provided with an assortment of horizontal and vertical scratching opportunities. They need a place to rest where they feel safe. They need a cozy place in a back bedroom or den that they can relax and not be startled. Being high up makes cats feel safer as well, so having a perch for your cat can decrease stress, and some perches or resting places need to have a view outside. A view of the birds outside in the tree can be great entertainment, but your cat needs toys so they can play inside the house too. Playing with your cat is important to provide a chance for them to practice normal hunting behaviors, to provide your cat with exercise, and as a bonding opportunity between you and your cat. Some cats are very particular in the types of toys that they like to play with. Take the time to find out what they like.

      Next we need to make sure that your cat is not stressed by anything else in the home. Cats do not like changes in their lives, and any change such as a new animal, new baby, moving, or change in your work schedule can be extremely stressful. Try your best to make any of these changes slowly and try to keep the routine as normal as possible for your cat. For more ideas on any of these specific situations or anything about cat or dog emotional needs, please reference the website at the bottom of the page.
Finally some cats need a little extra help. Feliway is a product that is a synthetic version of the feline facial pheromone. This is what cats are spreading on the furniture when they rub their chins on it. It says to the cat that they are in a safe and familiar place. Feliway comes in sprays in diffusers. They can be located near litterboxes or in locations where a cat is marking. And some cats need oral anti-anxiety medication. Some anti-anxiety medications are very effective in decreasing marking behavior.

Please reference the website indoorpet.osu.edu for more information on making a happy and healthy home for your cat (or dog!)

Erin Clark, DVM

Emergency Preparedness for Pets

Medical emergencies can be terrifying, especially when the emergency involves your pet. Being prepared for an emergency ahead of time can not only make the situation less scary but can even improve your pet’s chances for making a full recovery. In some cases, being prepared can save precious time and mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

Every pet is different and you, as the owner, are in the best position to notice when something abnormal is going on with your pet. Signs that something is serious and your pet should be evaluated ASAP can range from vague signs (lethargy, inappetence, panting excessively) to more obvious signs (vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, collapse, trouble breathing, lameness, inability to stand, etc). If your pet is obviously sick, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. There are some things that you can do to help make the process more efficient and to help your veterinarian provide the best care for your pet as quickly as possible.

When is an emergency really an emergency? When in doubt, call your primary care veterinarian or an emergency clinic if it is after hours. Veterinary clinics receive calls frequently from clients asking about whether the current clinical signs are enough to warrant an emergency trip to the veterinarian. The staff are usually very good at asking the right questions to determine whether your pet should be seen right away.

What can I do to be prepared?

Phone numbers! Keep the number and address for your pet’s primary care veterinarian and the emergency veterinary clinic in your area in an easily accessible place. If you do not know which emergency clinic to take your pet to, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation or go to the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society website (www.veccs.org) and click on the directory link for emergency clinics. If you think your pet is sick, don’t wait to call! Waiting can lead to bigger problems, a more challenging disease or problem to treat and more expensive treatment. You should also keep the number for poison control with your list of emergency numbers. If your pet has ingested a potential toxin, call poison control before or when you arrive at your veterinarian’s office. It is usually less expensive for you to call poison control than if your veterinarian calls. When you call poison control, you will receive a case number. Give this number to the veterinarian seeing your pet. Your veterinarian will then be able to call poison control and discuss the case with a toxicologist without being charged another fee.

Medical record and current medications: Keep a copy of your pet’s medical record (including all bloodwork, test results, CDs with xrays, etc) on hand to bring with you. If your pet is seeing a veterinarian other than your regular veterinarian, it will be very helpful for the veterinarian evaluating your pet and preparing a treatment plan to have access to your pet’s previous medical records. You should also keep a list of all current medications, doses and frequency. This is very important information for your veterinarian to know so that they can make appropriate treatment decisions (some medications can cause serious side effects if used together!).

For further information on being prepared for pet emergencies, visit the following websites:
• American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)/Healthy Pet: https://www.aaha.org/pet_owner/pet_health_library/general_health_care/default.aspx
• The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine: http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/petcols_article_page.php?OLDPETCOLID=530
• American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/pet-safety
• VeterinaryPartner.com: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=SRC&S=1&SourceID=20
• AVMA First Aid Tips for Pet Owners: https://www.avma.org/public/EmergencyCare/Pages/First-Aid-Tips-for-Pet-Owners.aspx

Renee Hartshorn, DVM

Why Does My Cat Scratch My Couch?

Most people know that cats will scratch objects with their front paws to sharpen their claws, but there are secondary reasons as well. Believe it or not, cats often use scratching for communication. They have scent glands on their paws, which leave their specific scent onto objects telling other cats they have claimed those objects as their own.

As a consequence, cats will scratch very obvious objects, such as couches, trees, doors, fence posts, etc. Both male and female cats will do this so it is not related to gender specific hormones. Therefore, spaying and neutering will not change the scratching behavior. Declawing will also not change the scratching behavior since the scent glands are still left behind on the feet so the drive to scent mark is still there.

Cats will also scratch as part of their play behavior, to stretch, to greet people, and occasionally to relieve frustration.
Overall, it is much easier trying to prevent problematic scratching behavior rather than trying to change a cat’s preference for a scratching surface. This means that owners should work hard to provide appropriate scratching surfaces as soon as they acquire a cat as a pet before problems arise to establish appropriate behavior. This will lead to a greater human-animal bond and reduce the likelihood of cats being relinquished to shelters.

General Recommendations
– Provide several scratching posts in multiple areas of the house where your cats like to spend their time (focus on areas where they sleep or play).
– Encourage cats to use the scratching surfaces by scenting them with catnip or placing dangly toys for them to play with easier.
– Try covering the inappropriate scratched surface with something cats do not like to scratch to try to deter them from further destroying that object (plastic, aluminum foil, mesh).
– Praise cats when they use the correct scratching substrates.
– Trim your cat’s nails regularly to minimize damage to your furniture.
– Declawing cats should be the last option.

Alex Philippine, DVM