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Litter box woes targeted

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Two cat medical groups released new guidelines June 25 to help veterinarians stop feline patients from urinating or defecating outside a litter box.

The 21-page document, developed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the International Society of Feline Medicine, explains that while "house soiling" is a major reason pet owners give up their cats to animal shelters, fixing this behavioral problem could prevent many of these surrenders.

“The document emphasizes that this unwanted behavior is not due to spite or anger toward the owner, but because the cat’s physical, social or medical needs are not being met,” AAFP said. "The guidelines replace the term 'inappropriate urination' with the term 'house soiling' because 'house soiling' implies no misconduct by the cat and, thus, may encourage owners to better follow veterinary recommendations."

The guidelines contain a questionnaire that clients can fill out to help their veterinarians assess house-soiling cats. A second form, to be completed by veterinarians, provides take-home instructions for cat owners.

Fulfilling all five “pillars” of a healthy feline environment is crucial to minimizing the kind of stress and boredom that can cause house soiling, the guidelines say. The pillars are: “safe retreats,” such as perches or enclosures, that allow cats to evade perceived potential threats; multiple, physically separate locations for food, water, toileting and other “environmental resources”; opportunities for pseudo-predatory play and feeding; regular human interaction, such as petting; and an environment that respects a cat’s sense of smell.

“It is important for pet owners or other humans to avoid introducing odors or substances (e.g. detergents, medications, foods, laundry or unfamiliar clothing items) that compete with or disrupt the cat’s sensory perception of its environment,” the document says. “When a cat encounters unpleasant or threatening olfactory stimuli, anxiety-associated problem behaviors often occur.”

The guidelines underscore the importance of “optimizing” litter boxes, including determining the right quantity, location, size, design, litter type and cleaning schedule. They also explain how to diagnose and treat urinary tract infections and other medical causes of house soiling.

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