Become a feline elimination expert to grow your practice

It's not a glamorous title, but polishing your communication skills can help attract business from clients whose cats experience litter box problems.
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May 01, 2011
By dvm360.com staff

If cats used their litter boxes consistently and without fail, their owners wouldn't have to spend time scrubbing stains and odors out of the carpet—or be driven to consider relinquishment and even euthanasia. No doubt about it: inappropriate elimination is one of cat owners' top concerns. Therefore it's one of veterinarians' top concerns as well—or should be.

By helping cat owners eliminate their elimination messes, you'll earn their gratefulness and loyalty. So how can you position yourself as the go-to veterinarian for litter box issues? Like so much else, it starts with communication, says Dr. Gary Norsworthy, DABVP (feline), owner of Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio.

TAKE A LOOK BACK

Just getting clients into the clinic is often a battle itself, Dr. Norsworthy says. Clients often call Alamo Feline Health Center seeking phone advice for litter box issues. And he refuses to give it. Dr. Norsworthy instructs his receptionists to be compassionate but firm with these clients. "They say, 'This is probably a more complex problem than you may realize. We need to make an appointment with the doctor,'" he says. "I insist that they come in. This problem should not be addressed over the phone."

When clients do bring their cats to you, your first task is to get to the root of the problem, Dr. Norsworthy says. Is it caused by a medical condition or a behavior issue? Many cats suffer from arthritis in the lumbar spine, knees, or hips, which causes them to associate the litter box with pain. Others might have urine crystals, bladder stones, anal sac disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or any number of other medical issues.

If you've ruled out medical issues, ask about the cat's daily routine—have there been major changes in its life recently? Did a new dog or cat enter the house? What about a new person, like a spouse or baby? Did a beloved teenager recently leave for college? Even something as simple as new furniture or carpet can interrupt a cat's routine and cause anxiety. "The cat's nice, calm lifestyle is suddenly interrupted," Dr. Norsworthy says.

CHANGE THE PATTERN

Here are some more questions you can ask clients to determine what steps they can take to address the problem:

How many cats do you have? Generally, every cat a client owns increases the likelihood of a litter box problem by about 10 percent, Dr. Norsworthy says.

How many litter boxes do you have? Clients whose cats experience any type of inappropriate elimination problems should provide at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra. Cats like to be choosy.

How often do you clean your litter box? Many fastidious felines can't resist a pristine litter box. And if they eliminate there, guess what? They're not peeing on the carpet. Encourage clients to scoop the litter twice a day.

What type of litter do you use? Most cats prefer clumping litter because it feels more natural, Dr. Norsworthy says. And strongly scented odors can overwhelm cats.

Does your litter box have a hood? Many cat owners assume cats prefer hooded boxes since they offer privacy. But they often turn the box into a smelly cave, which doesn't meet some cats' standards, Dr. Norsworthy says.

Litter box problems can be complicated to resolve, so managing expectations is crucial. Clients need to understand that one change might not do the trick. But let them know you're their partner in solving the problem and if one method doesn't work, you can always try something else. The key is to stay in touch. Cats may be creatures of habit, but you can develop a habit of creating open and ongoing communication with your clients.