to pinpoint specific triggers or contexts - aside from Ruby’s primary emotional state, which at the time was one of anxiety. She favored no specific spot, although curtains and furniture were the most commonly sought out. She had also managed to deposit large quantities of urine against the owners’ old CPU, which was on the floor under the desk in their home office, causing it to rust quite badly. The urine had dripped down underneath and soaked into the carpet. It wasn’t pretty. Nevertheless, the owners were endlessly tolerant and dutifully went round cleaning thoroughly whenever they found Ruby’s latest offerings. The treatment plan involved separating the warring felines at all times they could not be supervised, ensuring they were all able to relax without fear of being attacked or feeling compelled to attack. The aim was to remove stress, anxiety and fear and elevate Ruby’s overall mood state. When the cats were permitted access to each other, it was always at a safe distance and focused on positive events, such as feeding or attention from the owners. Calm behavior was rewarded and any signs of aggressive body language or behavior were interrupted and redirected onto a cat toy before they could make any real progress. Cats can be masters of both overt and covert aggression and the owners were schooled in watching closely for all signs, such as staring, dilated pupils, piloerection, lowered slashing tail and flattened ears, as well as the more vocal growling and hissing. We also added in more play time and exercise to give Ruby some extra highlights to her day to help improve her overall mood state while simultaneously reducing her anxiety levels. We discussed confinement while Ruby could not be supervised but, as the owners were unenthusiastic, we continued to allow her free range. In addition, we addressed more practical considerations. Curtains were tied up off the floor, sofa corners were covered in transparent plastic, rugs removed, carpets professionally cleaned etc. Unsurprisingly, the owners were desperate to sort out the problem so we took a multi-faceted, holistic approach. As such, litter trays were placed in popular elimination areas (unpleasant but only temporary). Dishes of dry food were placed in areas where a litter tray was not practical. The aim was to restrict access to soft furnishings while providing Ruby with an acceptable alternative in the litter trays in
Ruby associated urinating in her litter tray with a painful experience, so started avoiding it
her favored locations, as well as anticipating that she would steer clear of urinating in areas where she was likely to eat. Thorough cleaning of all soiled areas was essential, using a biological detergent to break down the fatty proteins in the urine that a cat would otherwise still be able to smell and be tempted to overmark. Over a period of a number of months, the frequency of the inappropriate urination gradually started to decrease until it became occasional and then infrequent, instead of several times a day as it had been at its peak. During this time, the owners were gradually able to remove the litter trays and dishes of food scattered around the house and put them back in more appropriate locations. Eventually all the cats were able to be together again without supervision. Over the next few years, in times of extreme anxiety, Ruby would still occasionally urinate on the curtains, resorting to the behavior she had once learned would bring her relief. The fact that the feeling of relief is chemically addictive should never be under-estimated, and can be a contributing factor in many a behavior problem. Eventually however, after a few years and when the feline dynamics in the house had settled down again (and thanks to her owners’ unwavering patience), Ruby never performed the inappropriate behavior again. n Susan Nilson BA (Hons) DipCABT (UK) is a journalist and animal behavior consultant. Currently based in Los Angeles, CA, she sees behavior cases on an ad hoc basis, assists START Rescue with temperament assessments and is a volunteer clicker trainer at the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation.
BARKS from the Guild/July 2014
Your BARKS summer edition. The quarterly publication from The Pet Professional Guild