Advice from the Experts

Don't give up on curbing cat's inappropriate urination

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Q: Chuck Norris has been urinating inappropriately. He and our other male cat have lived together since they were littermates. Chuck Norris tends to go on our dog's little couches. We tried buying new couches, and now we pick the couches when the dogs aren't using them. I must say, Chuck Norris is an easily stressed out cat.

Recently, one of our cats started peeing behind the litter boxes in the basement. It might be our other cat, Spike. I'll try to remove the litter box covers and see if that helps. My husband and I are reaching our limit on this issue. Soon, the only answer may be no more cats. Any advice? -- L.M., Cyberspace

A: Your dogs have their own couches?

I'm surprised that a cat named Chuck Norris can't get his act together. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ilana Reisner, of Philadelphia, PA, says, "You're doing a lot, but you didn't say that both cats had a thorough veterinary exam. You also didn't mention the ages of the cats, but certainly if they are older I'm thinking about hyperthyroid (disease)."

If these cats only have two litter boxes, both located in the basement, this could also explain the problem. For starters, arthritis in cats is under diagnosed, and as cats age, navigating steps in the dark is not so easy, so they just don't bother to find the litter box. Regardless of your cats' ages, add a litter box at the main level of the house since the rule is one more box than the number of cats in the home.

"Basements aren't all bad," adds Reisner. "A basement may offer security and privacy, which some cats prefer."

For a specific response, it's important to determine if the cat with the problem is spraying (which is territorial vertical marking, often dripping down from furniture or walls) or voiding (simply urinating on a flat surface). There's a distinct behavior difference between the two. In any case, using Feliway (a copy of a comforting feline pheromone) is a good idea to reduce stress. Since you point out that Chuck Norris is easily stressed, hang in there with the Feliway.

Reisner says the relationship between the cats might be at the heart of the problem. Even if they seem to be buddies, that doesn't mean they're pals 24/7. Could Spike be purposely or coincidentally blocking Chuck Norris' access to the litter boxes?

Be sure to offer each cat lots of space and hiding places, says Reisner. Remember that cats think about space vertically. One or both cats might enjoy a perch up high (at the top of a high bookshelf or cabinet) to securely watch over activities.

No matter what's going on, Reisner says both litter boxes should be scooped daily, and washed out monthly. Sometimes problems are solved by simple hygiene.

If Reisner's tips don't help, don't give up. Litter box issues may be frustrating, but they're typically solvable. Consider seeking out a referral to a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (, a veterinary behaviorist (, or certified cat behavior consultant (

Q: We adopted a darling dog from the pound. We have a gravel yard with lots of foliage, but we can't get her to pee there. We have to take her to the park twice daily, and it's not easy for us. I'm 84 and my husband is 82. Any advice? -- B.L.P., Las Vegas, NV

A: "I doubt your dog likes the gravel very much," says Cheryl Smith, author of "Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs" (Dogwise Publishing, Wenatchee, WA, 2003; $19.95). "And I don't blame her."

Smith, of Port Angeles, WA, says the good news is that your dog does her business in the park with no apparent problem.

"One solution is to buy a small piece of sod. Take your dog to this piece of sod on leash, and be armed with lots of cookies and be ready to say, 'Good Dog.' She'll see grass, and I bet she goes," says Smith.

You'll need to replace the small piece of sod once a month or so, but this option is likely more amenable to your dog than training her to relieve herself on the gravel. Eventually, you'll be able to allow your dog to go out without the leash, which would likely be far easier for you.

Q: My Shiba Inu seems to have chronically clogged anal glands. I've had dogs my entire life, but I've never seen so much licking of the butt. I took my dog to the veterinarian for manual extraction but it didn't help. The veterinarian suggested surgery. What do you think? -- S.L., Cyberspace

A: "This is a very common problem," notes Chicago veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Rubin. What's likely occurred is that the anal sacs have become impacted. The sacs are supposed to empty with each bowel movement. However, in some individual dogs this doesn't happen or they don't fully empty. Eventually, they may become impacted. Sometimes the sacs become infected.

"We express (empty) them, and then flush them with antibiotics," Rubin says. "When there is a chronic problem, we also look at the possible effects of allergies, even the possibility of cancer, particularly in older dogs."

Surgical removal of the anal sacs is not a procedure to be taken likely. One potential complication might leave your dog incontinent. If you do ultimately opt for surgery, Rubin suggests you search for a surgeon with lots of experience at this procedure.

Q: What's a Munchkin? -- C.C., Appleton, WI

A: Aside from characters in the "Wizard of Oz," the kind of Munchkin I suspect you're referring to is a cat breed, referred to as the Dachshund of the cat world. According to the International Cat Association (TICA), the breed descended from a spontaneous mutation in a stray. This isn't a particularly new mutation; it's been documented many times over decades. Still, this breed with a long backbone and short legs remains controversial for its awkward appearance and potential medical problems as a result.

TICA accepted the Munchkin into its New Breed development program in September 1994, and nine years later into TICA Championship status. Munchkins are surprisingly active and agile, given their body shape, and quite sociable.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.