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A Lesson in Tolerance

Susan Nilson presents Ruby, an adult cat who developed a long-standing aversion to the litter tray as the result of a short-term medical condition

n estimated 40 - 75 percent of all cats that present with behavioral symptoms have some kind of elimination disorder, making it the most commonly reported feline behavior problem of all (Source: Overall, K. (1997): Feline Elimination Disorders in Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals Mosby Inc) and the most common reason cats are abandoned or surrendered to shelters. In this particular case, nine-year-old Ruby had started urinating around the house for no apparent reason. Ruby was an indoor spayed female domestic short-hair who lived in a four-cat household comprising her male sibling and two much younger cats, one male and one female. Nothing major had occurred in terms of environmental changes and she had always been tolerant of the younger cats if not overtly friendly. These particular owners had adopted Ruby with her brother from a rescue at the age of two years old and had already moved house with them three times without Ruby getting particularly stressed. She was always the intrepid, independent one they told me. She kept herself to herself and nothing really fazed her. They had always followed the rule of thumb and had a litter tray for each cat plus an extra one, and had not experienced any issues like this previously. So they took Ruby to the vet for a check-up, which confirmed she had developed oxalate crystals in her bladder. These had caused urination to be painful, a pain that Ruby had apparently begun to associate with using the litter tray before her owners had realized what was going on. So, she started eliminating elsewhere - on the curtains, sofa, furniture and carpets - to try to avoid this unpleasant experience. At its height, the behavior was occurring several times a day. As soon as the clinical diagnosis was received, Ruby was placed on a special diet to dissolve the crystals and she


BARKS from the Guild/July 2014

started to recover. The discomfort gradually went away and she was given a clean bill of health. However, her elimination habits did not change. It is probable by this stage that Ruby had 'learned' using the litter tray was a painful experience to be avoided at all costs. Conversely, given that the pain had disappeared relatively soon after she had embarked on the special diet, her more recent strategy of urinating outside the litter tray did not have quite the same unpleasant association. Just to complicate matters, the relationship between the two male cats in the house deteriorated rapidly around this time as the younger male reached social maturity. This lead to some aggressive behavior and even some fighting. Ruby was very anxious about this situation as, if the young male could not find her brother - to whom she was very bonded - he would victimize her instead. So she resorted to a behavior that had brought her relief in the past - urinating around the house. She may also have been trying to assert herself and make herself feel more secure in the multi-cat household by marking objects with her scent. Her owners rarely – if ever - saw her performing the behavior and were unable Escalating tensions between certain felines in the home exacerbated Ruby’s behavior problem (note curtains tied above the ground to avoid temptation)

BARKS from the Guild Summer 2014  

Your BARKS summer edition. The quarterly publication from The Pet Professional Guild

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