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Retraining Catís Litter Box Habits

Dear Dr. Margaret:

I need info and canít find anything on all the sites about cat training, and in my case, retraining my cat to use the litter box.

I am so annoyed with this that I am tempted to get rid of my cat. We love this cat more than anything, but he will potty any place he chooses.

Itís not the liter, or the kind, and it is always changed. He will get right in the edge of it one time and urinate and thatís it. He wonít cover it himself; I do it for him. Then he gets out and scratches on the wall. I am constantly going around scrubbing the floors. He will pee and poop wherever he is when the urge hits him.

I have wondered if itís a power play or something. He is 7 years old and we've had him since he was about 3 months old. He has been neutered and is spoiled rotten. But he was born outside and his mama didnít teach the kittens these things since she was an outdoors cat all of her life.

Please help. Sandy via the Internet

Dear Sandy:

It sounds as though your cat may have a behavioral problem. Many cats will urinate and defecate inappropriately when they are agitated or upset. We feel they do this to demonstrate displeasure or stress.

It is often very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the cat's stress. Cat's are exquisitely sensitive to changes in their environment. Changes such as new furnishings, new foods, new litter, new housemates or houseguests can greatly affect a cat's mental and physical comfort.

If you have thoroughly exhausted all possible sources of your cat's dissatisfaction, and the behavior continues, you may have to employ medication. There are several drugs that come to mind that are used to "decrease anxiety" and "promote calm."

Rarely are these medications given indefinitely. Usually, the cat can be weaned off the medication within a few months.

Your veterinarian may have some recommendations regarding the best choice medication for your cat. It is also important to rule out metabolic problems, such as kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism. Your veterinarian should be able to confirm or negate these ailments with some simple blood work.

Another resource for you to tap is Tufts University of Veterinary Medicine. The university offers behavioral advice via the Internet or through phone consultation, and they were one of the first schools of veterinary medicine to offer studies in animal behaviors.

These conditions can prove very frustrating for you, your cat and your cat's health care providers. If they are truly behavioral problems, they often resolve, but not without a great deal of patience and trial and error.

Best of luck, Dr. M.C. Lane