The next time someone surrenders a cat with litter box problems to your shelter, consider using a 'litter box blues' intake form to give that cat the best chance at being successfully adopted. Here are some suggestions for what that form should include from Maddie's Fund consultant Susan Krebsbach, DVM, of Creature Counseling.
Urinating and defecating outside of the litter box is a common behavioral problem seen in cats – perhaps the most common. Most people who answer the phones or staff the desk at a shelter will have had some experience trying to counsel these owners, but it's not always successful or even welcome.
When that’s the case, having the person surrendering the cat complete a separate form with a history of the inappropriate elimination can be very helpful. This form should include questions about medical/physiological issues, the home setting and the litter box environment, allowing you to be better prepared for the role of elimination detective.
It is essential that medical issues be ruled out as a cause of, or a contributing factor to, the inappropriate elimination prior to implementing any behavioral therapy. All the behavior modification in the world isn’t going to help a kitty with a medical problem!
For example, inappropriate urination can be related to kidney disease, bladder stones or lower urinary tract disease, while inappropriate defecation can be associated with colitis, parasites and intestinal disease. Ask if the cat has ever been diagnosed with a medical condition, in particular a urinary tract infection. Then schedule the cat being surrendered to be evaluated by the shelter veterinarian.
Be aware that even when a physical diagnosis is made, behavioral therapy may be needed in addition to medical treatment since behavioral problems can arise as a result of negative conditioning by pain, fear and discomfort associated with the underlying medical condition.
Another physiological factor to consider: What is the neuter status of the cat? C
ats communicate indirectly by leaving messages in their territory, which can be in the form of urine marking. The urine serves as an environmental tag, providing information not only about the presence of the individual cat, but also his or her reproductive status. Consequently, the incidence of urine spraying is higher in intact animals as a way of advertising their reproductive availability. Thankfully, spaying/neutering is very successful in curbing spraying behavior at any age.
What other pets share the cats home? Was the cat allowed to go outdoors and if so, how often, and was he or she supervised?
How long was the cat typically left alone during the day? How often did episodes of urinating and defecating outside of the litter box happen? Were the episodes related to any particular event or stimulus?
Answers to the above questions may be integral in understanding the problem better. You might find out the newly obtained puppy was chasing the cat being surrendered whenever he would go by the litter box, or the episodes of urinating outside of the litter box took place only after the cat returned from outdoor adventures, or the cat would soil in the hallway right outside of the laundry room where the litter box was kept (could the soiling be related to the cat being scared by the sound of the washer and dryer?).
This information can guide you to finding an appropriate new home, but can also reassure the adopter that the problem is not likely to happen in their home.
Litter box environment
Start with the litter. What type and brand of litter was used? How long was it used? Was it scented? Where there any types of additives used, such as baking soda?
Then expand your questioning to the litter boxes. How many litter boxes were in the house? Where were they located? What was the style of the litter boxes? Were any of the boxes covered? Were liners used?
Once you get the answers to the litter and litter box questions, inquire about litter box hygiene. How often were the litter boxes scooped out? How often were they changed completely and cleaned? What was used to clean the litter boxes?
Finally, query about the soiled areas. What areas of the house did the cat soil? Were the sites vertical or horizontal? What type of surfaces did the inappropriate elimination occur on (carpet, wood, tile, etc.)? Were particular objects sought out? What was used to clean the soiled areas?
All this information will help your shelter team beat the litter box blues and get that cat adopted. Start creating your litter box blues intake form today!