December is a busy time for many of us with holidays, family time, and other events affecting our schedules and the home atmosphere . We hope that all of this is happy time, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Any changes in our households, good or bad, have the potential for affecting our pets. Right after Thanksgiving I saw my first “holiday related” behavior case. Smokey was unhappy after family visited his owners. He had witnessed some human emotional outbursts, and his litter box cleaning hadn’t been consistent. Within the past five days, he had urinated one time each on the husband’s clothing and on the throw rug in the guest bathroom.
During his behavioral consult, we checked Smokey’s urine for infection and performed a brief bladder ultrasound to look for any stones or debris that could trigger him to urinate out of the box. Both tests were normal, as was Smokey’s physical exam. His owner filled out our behavior questionnaire, and we discussed what was going on around the house and how that could be affecting Smokey.
Smokey’s owner admitted that the litter box wasn’t getting cleaned daily and that she had been fighting with her husband during their company’s stay. She said that she and Smokey had a very strong bond. I was not surprised to hear this since cats often exhibit undesirable behaviors when they sense tension and become secondarily anxious themselves. Also, while a few cats may tolerate a dirty box under normal circumstances, they are less understanding when they are upset.
Since we had been able to identify a couple of triggers for Smokey’s behavior, I felt optimistic that we could resolve his inappropriate urination issue. While patience and understanding between the owners might not be easy to control, making them aware that this was having an effect on their cat was important. Improving litter box hygiene would hopefully be an easy task. No one likes scooping the box, but scooping a minimum of once daily surely beats washing clothing and rugs and then worrying about what spots could be next.
A phone check-in two days later was positive. Smokey had not urinated out of the litter box again. I planned to follow up again in a week. If Smokey’s behavior recurred, we would need to work on some other ways to reduce his anxiety and modify his behavior.
We utilize a variety of techniques to decrease stress with our patients. There are calming treats, supplements and collars and pheromone diffusers. Creating vertical space with a high cat tree or window shelf can give your cat someplace safe to escape to. Establishing an interactive play routine so you can enjoy your cat and he can get some exercise is a good idea. Keeping a routine schedule for feeding and cleaning the litter box is helpful and what your cat prefers. We can resort to anti-anxiety medications if things are not improving, but they need to be used in conjunction with behavior modification.
Stressed cats can exhibit a variety of behaviors in addition to house soiling, including hiding, biting and being destructive. During hectic times or if you know that you are not doing well emotionally yourself, be sure that you pay attention to any changes in your cat’s behavior. Cats often mirror their environment and act out in response. Holiday decorations, visitors in the home and inconsistent schedules can affect your kitty, so help make this time of year as easy as possible for him, too.