Q: We have two cats and a dog. When we moved into our new condo, the older cat started peeing under the windows and by the front door. She could see other cats outside so we figure maybe it was territorial. In order to stop the peeing, we put a litter box by the front door. It’s constantly cleaned, but the idea is unsavory to some people. She’s a picky cat and won’t go in anything with a cover or flap, so it’s just an open box. Problem two is that the dog eats her feces, and there is no way to keep him out of the box other then being aware when the cat relieves itself and swooping in to quickly clean the mess. We’re hoping the pet behaviorists can help. We have decided that the lingering smell and damage of cat pee takes precedent over our dog eating “kitty treats” but know that this behavior is not good for him and, quite frankly, makes us sick.
— R. L., Hartville
A: Cats leaving urine by windows and doors is often associated with a diagnosis of urine marking. However, the brief history submitted is not enough information to completely rule out house soiling as a possible diagnosis. That problem has a different treatment and is why it is important to get an accurate diagnosis through your local veterinarian or through a referral clinic, such as Ohio State or the Behavior Clinic.
The first step is to rule out any medical conditions by testing a sterile urine sample. Assuming the test shows that there are no medical conditions, there is a three-pronged approach to the treatment of urine marking.
First, change the meaning of the locations, then reduce the trigger for the behavior and finally reduce associated anxiety directly. You have successfully changed the meaning for your cat by changing it to a potty location by adding the litter box by the front door.
There are other options however and the success of each depends upon each feline’s preferences. You can change it to a feeding location, a play location, a grooming spot, a scratching post, a kitty water fountain or anything else your cat would like to do.
A common problem is when owners try to reduce this behavior by using deterrents. It can work but it often also increases associated anxiety and therefore can backfire. Cats may then just pick a different location to leave urine. By changing the meaning in a different way, this can eliminate your dog’s access to the litter box and his “snacks.”
To reduce the trigger for your cat’s behavior we need to look at the locations your cat has picked. These are at doors and window which are access points to the outdoors. Seeing things such as outdoor cats and mammalian wildlife have been urine marking triggers for some of my patients. You can reduce seeing these things by covering windows with drapes or opaque contact paper from local home improvement stores. You can also deter the triggers (outdoor cats and wildlife) with scents such as lemon juice or pelleted fox urine.
Finally, reducing associated anxiety directly is done through a diet change to a veterinary calming diet, anti-anxiety supplements or medication. Hopefully these changes can help lead to harmony between your household, your cat and your guests.
— Dr. Elizabeth S. M. Feltes
The Behavior Clinic;
Animal Behavior of Northeast Ohio, Olmsted Falls
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