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Q: I've owned cats for years; my current one is a female. Periodically one would develop a urinary problem, with sometimes a male becoming unable to urinate. It seems that whenever I go to my vet for help, the treatment recommendation is different.

A: Welcome to the quagmire of idiopathic (cause unknown) feline lower urinary tract disease. The theories and treatments of this trouble have taken many twists and turns over the last 30 years. We are at a point now where the cumulative knowledge on the subject has proven, without a doubt, that we don't have any idea of what's going on in many cases.

Beware, there are complications that can develop that are life threatening, not being able to urinate being the worst in the short run. Be sure to have any affected kitty checked out for the extent of its problem.

I read an article recently, co-authored by the urine guru himself, Dr. Carl A. Osborne of the University of Minnesota, that addressed the value of using 33 different treatments for non-obstructive, idiopathic feline lower urinary tract disease. Predicted efficacy of the treatments: Six were contraindicated (should not be used). One worked its way up to very unlikely. Nineteen were bunched at unlikely. Two sneaked into possibly. One equivocated at maybe. Three tried hard at probably only in some cases. One floated around at unknown.

Most affected, but non-obstructed cats will get better in seven to 10 days regardless of what's done.

Gregory W. Gallagher, DVM

Cats like to scratch

Q: I just graduated from college and am in the position of having my apartment and being able to have a cat. Currently, I have no decent furniture that a cat could ruin by scratching, but someday I might. Because I am opposed to declawing, I would like your advice on how to start out with my kitten to train it to use a scratching post rather than furniture.

A: You are on the right track by taking a proactive approach to your kitten's training. It is much simpler to start a kitten out with good habits than to train it away from furniture scratching once misbehavior has begun.

Scratching is a natural behavior that has positive benefits for your cat. These include removing dead outer nail sheaths from the front claws, territory marking with scents from footpads and relaxing, muscle stretching exercise. Because scratching is so enjoyable for cats, you will never succeed in eliminating this behavior.

In choosing a scratching post for your kitten, there are several factors to keep in mind. Cats like to reach upward and pull down, so the post should be tall enough to allow a full-grown cat to stand on its hindlegs and still not reach the top. Because cats like to brace themselves and really lean into their scratching, a sturdy post with a stable base is also essential.

The covering of the scratching post should provide resistance to the cat's downward pulling motion. Sisal and carpet seem to be the materials that work best. Later, if you notice that your cat has a different substrate preference for scratching (e.g. bare wood, tree bark), you can always make a post with is preferences in mind.

Some cats prefer to scratch on horizontal surfaces. If your cat turns out to favor that position, you can purchase a flat scratching pad to lay on the floor.

Once selected, you should try to make the post as attractive as possible to the kitten. Since many cats like to scratch and stretch after a meal or a nap, choose a convenient location near your kitten's food bowl or favorite sleeping spot. Putting the post in an out-of-the-way place will increase the likelihood of your couch becoming an easier target.

You can also increase the allure of the scratching post by rubbing it with catnip, applying catnip spray or attaching a catnip toy to the post. Disposable boxes of corrugated material treated with catnip are readily available and can be used in a vertical or horizontal position. Keep in mind that approximately one third of domestic cats don't respond to catnip.

Now for the hard part. Start the training process by taking your kitten to the post several times a day -- after naps, following meals and whenever else it appears to be considering a little workout on the furniture. Encourage the kitten to use the post by gently holding its paws up to it or by moving a favorite toy up and down the post. When it does use the post, follow up with lots of praise and petting.

At the same time you must discourage use of unapproved areas for scratching. If you catch your kitten scratching inappropriately, interrupt its activity with a loud noise by clapping, blowing a whistle or shaking a pop can containing coins. For some cats, a spray of water from a plant mister may prove more effective. Remember your goal is not to frighten the kitten, but rather to get its attention. Having done so, guide the kitten to its post and encourage its use.

Jan M. Freeman, DVM

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