Dr. Sara SmithTo follow up on my article about the most commonly asked questions regarding dogs, I couldn’t leave out our feline friends. I notice that while dogs mostly eat strange things, cats have strange behaviors that are difficult to explain. Hopefully I can help you decipher some of these oddities.Q: Why is my cat urinating outside of the litterbox?A: Inappropriate elimination (urinating or defecating outside the box) is a very common problem, and has several possible reasons. First of all, the majority of cats prefer unscented, clumping litter, and the box should be changed weekly and scooped daily. For multiple cat households, there should be one litterbox per cat plus one more. A box that is close to a noisy object, such as the furnace, may scare your cat. Make sure the box is large enough — at least 1.5 times the body length of your cat — or else you may find “presents” around the outside. Cats are solitary animals by nature, and may mark or spray because of stress with housemates, or visualizing other cats out a window. There are also many medical problems that can cause inappropriate elimination, such as idiopathic cystitis (stress induced bladder inflammation), bladder infections, bladder stones, kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism, so before “diagnosing” your cat, make a trip to the veterinarian.Q: Why is my cat crying at night? I can’t sleep!A: This may depend on the age and health of your cat. Older cats may undergo behavior changes because of underlying illnesses, such as hyperthyroidism, which increases metabolism. Cognitive dysfunction is also a reality for some cats and dogs, as with humans, and many older cats need more stimulation with toys, treats and activity. There are treatment options for these conditions, and your veterinarian will determine the best course of action. Cats are nocturnal (more active at night), so a younger cat may vocalize due to boredom or hunger. Hiding treat toys around the house with some of your cat’s daily ration of food and providing more activities such as vertical places to jump and scratching posts may keep kitty occupied … and if nothing else, it may be time to introduce a new little kitten to keep him busy!Q: Why does my cat lick my hair or suck on my shirt like he is nursing? Yuck!A: “Wool sucking” behavior is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder in cats, and is more common in certain purebreds. Cats that are weaned early (before 4 weeks) of age may be more likely to have this behavior, although it has never been proven. The nursing-like action triggers a feeling of comfort in the brains of these cats. If your clothes are falling prey to wool sucking, distract your cat with favorite toys or treats. Some cats, however, need drug therapy to treat their OCD, so consult your veterinarian. Q: My cat’s belly looks like it’s dragging the ground. Is that just loose skin?A: Unfortunately, that flap is not just skin — it’s excess fat, and means that Fluffy is going to need to go on a diet! One of my coworkers referred to her cat’s abdominal pooch as “Buttercup and her baby.” After limiting her food and increasing her activity, she is now just “Buttercup” again!Q: How can I stop my cat from “counter surfing”?A: Some cats learn that the counter is a great place to find a snack or a drink from the faucet, and gives them a great view of the house. If this is bothersome to you, resist the urge to use physical punishment to banish kitty from the counter. Cats learn from their environment, so using an unpleasant deterrent that they don’t associate with their owners is best, such as covering the counter surface with double sided tape, foil or plastic wrap. Startling your cat by spraying a water bottle or shaking a can of coins are second line defenses, and scat mats (they emit small electric shocks when stepped on) should only be a last resort. Make sure your cat has plenty of appropriate vertical places to feel safe, and the counter may become less interesting.Q: What do I do with these stray cats or kittens?A: Alas, this is probably the most common question regarding cats that is fielded at our clinic. The local humane society and shelters do as much as they can, but there is very limited space for more cats at these places. That leaves care of unwanted cats to, well, the rest of us. If you cannot find homes for the kittens that have shown up around your house, and you have the means, bring them to your veterinarian to be spayed and neutered to keep the cat population from expanding.Dr. Sara Smith is an associate veterinarian at Delphos Animal Hospital.