Feline Eliminative Behavior
ELIMINATIVE BEHAVIOR DEVELOPMENT
Infantile PatternsThe neonate cannot voluntarily urinate and defecate, Instead, eliminative behaviors are controlled for several weeks by the urogenital reflex. Stroking of the kitten's perineal region or caudal abdomen results in urination and defecation. When the young are not mobile enough to leave the nest, it is critical to their survival in the wild that the nest be reasonably undetectable, which requires that it have relatively little odor. Because the kittens can eliminate only when the queen is present to tactilely stimulate them, the urogenital reflex assures that she can consume their wastes and prevent their soiling the nest. Even after this period of relative kitten immobility, the queen continues to stimulate this reflex because the home nest remains the center of activity until the kittens are about 6 weeks of age, when it begins to share significance with other sites specific for feeding, playing, and eliminating." The anogenital reflex disappears between 23 and 39 days of age, although kittens can voluntarily eliminate by 3 weeks of age.
Most of the queen's grooming and ingestion of waste initially occur during nursing or shortly thereafter; as the kittens grow older the queen may directly approach certain individuals. The kitten commonly assumes dorsal recumbency with the limbs abducted. Younger kittens are passive until the groomingtoilet session is completed, whereas older ones tend to squirm more.
Kittens have a natural tendency to "earth-rake" loose sand and dirt as a prelude to the use of this behavior in elimination. Around 30 days of age a kitten begins to spend time in a litter box or in soft dirt, moving the particles from one side to another. Ingestion of litter or dirt as a form of oral exploration also is common at this time. This oral behavior usually is followed within a few days by the species' behaviors of eliminatinin a certain area and covering the elimination.
The neural mechanism for eliminative behavior can be demonstrated to be functional by electrical stimulation of the hypothalamus at2 weeks of age. Thus neurologic maturation of these pathways has occurred as ,long as 2 weeks before the actual onset of the behavior .... .. The kittens learn the specific toilet area by observing the queen as well as by olfactory cues.
Because kittens naturally complement innate behaviors, such as burying wastes, with learned patterns, such as where to eliminate, a newly acquired kitten normally does not have to be litter trained. Some individuals, such as orphans and outdoor cats, do not have the opportunity to learn, and the owner must educate them. Young cats also learn surface and location preferences.
It is initially important that any cat be confined to a small area to take advantage of the fastidious feline nature. It is not realistic to expect a kitten that spends most of its time in the living room to reliably use a litter box kept in a back bedroom on the second floor.' The owner should place the untrained kitten in the litter pan shortly after each meal and manipulate its forepaws to make digging motions. The kitten should then be allowed to jump out so that this process can be repeated one or two times." For the older outdoor cat, the same procedures can be used, but it often is desirable to use dirt or sand initially and gradually change to litter. With these older individuals, particular care must be taken to keep potted plants out of the area so that the cat does not use the dirt in the pot for its toilet area. The plant also can be protected by putting decorative stones, pine bark chips, moth balls, or aluminum foil on the surface.
Litter training at first may require leaving small traces of excretions in the box so that the smell can be used as a cue. If the kitten uses the area of the litter box but not the box specifically, the owner can place the droppings in the tray to give it the appropriate odor and show the cat where the preferred area is. For the really difficult animal, the entire floor area of the small room, except where the cat's food, bed, and litter pan are, can be covered with a thin layer of litter. This arrangement will necessitate the cat's urinating and defecating on the litter because it will not do so in its bed or food. After2 to 5 days the owner can reduce the litter-covered area by a fourth, and after another 2 to 5 days, by another fourth. This sequence is repeated until only the area with the litter pan is covered. If necessary, the owner gradually can move the litter pan over a period of several days, using successive approximation to put it more desirable location. Cats normally visit the litter box three times day for two short visits to urinate and one longer visit for defecation There is a 73 per cent frequency of these trips occurring in the morning
Certain individuals, especially of popular breeds such as the Persian may be exceptionally difficult for either the queen or the owner to litter train. This may indicate a genetic problem owing to the popularity the breed and consequent indiscriminate breeding. Perhaps house trainability was not considered in selection, or cat domestication in general has created the difficulty.
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