Communicate purr-fectly about feline behavior

Communicate purr-fectly about feline behavior

Clients become frustrated when their cat starts spraying in the house. Here's how to touch on the topic and help clients get to the root of the issue.
Jan 01, 2009
By staff

Clients don't always understand why their cat starts urine marking around the house, but they do know they hate the odor and the cleanup duties that come along with that behavior. Some cat owners will contact a veterinarian when they notice a behavior problem, but some won't bring it up at all—even when it's a major source of frustration. To help ease clients' stress levels—and their cats'—be proactive and make behavior part of every feline wellness visit.

Get started early

To get to the root of any potential behavior issues, Dr. Debra Horwitz, DACVB, a behavior expert in St. Louis, recommends asking the client questions during a wellness exam. This will also alert you to any potential behavior problems that may worsen. Ask questions like:

> What issues do you have questions about?

> Do you have questions about your cat's behavior?

> What does your cat do that you don't understand?

Dr. Horwitz says behavioral issues that upset clients are often normal feline behaviors—urine spraying may be a cat's normal response to a stressful situation or perceived threat. But clients might not know what's normal, or how to manage the stressful environment to alleviate the behavior. So start educating clients early, before any issues arise. Kitten visits are a great opportunity to discuss feline behavior. And keep client education materials handy.

Reach an understanding

Unfortunately, when clients want to talk about a spraying issue, they may be at the end of their rope. And who can blame them? Living with the stench of cat urine isn't fun. So be sure to ask enough questions that you can intervene before euthanasia enters the conversation. "I try to be understanding because I wouldn't want cat urine all over my home," Dr. Horwitz says. "But then I focus on why the cat does this so clients can move from perceiving the behavior as spiteful and angry to understanding that the cat is probably anxious and upset, and its needs aren't being met."

Take it step by step

The next step is to talk about treatment. Is the client willing to try a treatment for a few weeks to see if that leads to changes in the cat's behavior? Can the client establish a routine with predictable interactions to help comfort the cat? What about providing a safe haven for kitty where she can play with her toys and get some peace and quiet? You could even encourage the client to try a calming synthetic feline pheromone in a room the cat frequents.

Finally, make it clear that a change in the behavior will often mean a decrease in occurrence—not necessarily complete elimination of the problem right away. Together with the client, decide what the improvement and the resolution will look like and what the time frame for that process will be. Dr. Horwitz says treating a behavior issue is no different than treating any other illness in a cat. You're going to try treatment options and then assess improvement. Help clients understand that. "It's not an all-or-nothing situation," Dr. Horwitz says. "But hopefully it's something we'll improve on over time."