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Frustrated cat owners take heart — new feline care guidelines outline why your cat may not be using the litter box. 

For frustrated cat owners, it can be a common issue—your cat not using the litter box, and urinating and defecating in your home.Dr. Hazel Carney provides feline behavior medicine at WestVet in Garden City, Idaho There are new tools to address house-soiling cats, thanks, in part, to WestVet’s Dr. Hazel C. Carney, Feline Behaviorist, who collaborated with other feline specialists to develop the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) Guidelines for Diagnosing and Solving House-Soiling Behavior in Cats.

The new guidelines, released in June, report that numerous cats are abandoned and/or relinquished to shelters because of house-soiling behavior. Most importantly, this behavior is not due to spite or anger toward the owner. Instead, the behavior presents itself because the cat’s physical, social, or medical needs are not being met. The collaborative team behind the new guidelines is hopeful that these veterinary and owner tools will result in less feline euthanasia.

It’s all about the litter box and home environment. The panel determined that the size, availability, placement, type of litter and cleaning routine of your cat’s litter box, along with other environmental factors play a significant role in this behavior. The “five pillars” of a healthy feline environment include providing a safe retreat (perches or enclosures that allow cats to evade perceived potential threats); multiple, separate locations for food, water and litter boxes; opportunities for predatory play and feeding; regular human interaction; and an environment that respects a cat’s sense of smell (cats can be extremely sensitive to new odors and fragrances). In addition, the AAFP guidelines evaluate the medical problems associated with house-soiling behaviors to assist veterinarians in making an accurate diagnosis.

“Our hope is that by using these guidelines, veterinary practices will be able to more effectively, and confidently address cases of feline house-soiling,” said Hazel Carney, DVM, MS, DABVP, and AAFP Advisory Panel Co-Chair. “Success with these cases will improve the veterinary–client–patient relationships and overall feline welfare while keeping cats in their homes with a good quality of life.”

Cat owners work together with their family veterinarian for individualized care. For you, as a cat owner, a questionnaire regarding your cat’s behavior is available; the answers will help your veterinarian assess your cat’s behavior in light of medical examination and the testing results. In addition, home care instructions that your veterinarian will individualize for your cat will provide practical guidance on the things that you can do to address house-soiling.

For veterinarians, both an algorithm and specific diagnostic suggestions help pinpoint the cause of the behavior. Information regarding specific treatments of the 4 basic causes of house-soiling as well as general management suggestions about the optimal litter box and meeting feline environmental needs will guide treatment recommendations. The paper also suggests logical steps to take if a frustrated cat owner is considering euthanasia.

Dr. Carney has been providing behavior and medical veterinary care to cats for the past twenty-five years. If you’re experiencing litter box aversion, house-soiling, or other anxious or difficult behaviors with your cat, she is available to assist you and can bring harmony back to your home with your cat. Please contact WestVet for appointment information, 208.375.1600.

 The AAFP/ISFM guidelines utilize scientifically documented information, and the combined feline veterinary clinical experiences of the authors: Tammy Sadek DVM, Dip ABVP (Feline), Terry Curtis DVM, MS, DACVB, Vicky Halls DipCouns, Sarah Heath, BVSc, DipECAWBM, CCAB, MRCVS, Pippa Hutchison, MSc, Dip(AS), CCAB, Kari Mundschenk, DVM, Jodi Westropp DVM, PhD, DACVIM.


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