The Patient - Possum
Possum is a four year old, indoor, male Siamese mix. He lives in an apartment with his best friend Zannah (female, feline, 4 yrs) along with his two humans (mom and dad). Possum is an extremely talkative and affectionate cat with several hobbies which include chasing Zannah, opening cupboards, pushing things on the floor, wrestling with his humans, hiding toys in shoes, eating, learning tricks, and one of his VERY favorite pastimes is to sit on the window ledge and monitor outdoor activities, particularly the activities of neighborhood cats.
One very cold November night in 2015, Possum’s mom came home to find Jed, one of the neighborhood cats outside her apartment. She was very familiar with Jed, he lived in the apartment next door, was extremely friendly, and loved getting a good pet so mom would often visit with him. The neighbors were gone so she invited Jed into her house to warm up. After about ten minutes, during which time Jed enjoyed a light snack, a drink of water, and a look around, he decided he was ready to go back outside. Possum and Zannah remained in a separate room with the door closed for the duration of Jed’s visit so no direct interaction ever took place.
Shortly thereafter, Possum began eliminating inappropriately around the apartment. It started with a small amount of urine on the blanket in front of his favorite perch on the window ledge, but over the next few months it progressed to emptying his bladder fully and defecating in many of his favorite places around the house like the couches, the beds, fresh piles of laundry, and one time on the bathroom rug right in front of mom! He also started exhibiting increased frequency and intensity of kneading, and rubbing his cheek on mom, particularly when she would enter and exit the front door of the apartment. An additional litterbox was added to the house, but that made no difference.
Finally Dr. Fanucchi was consulted. After deeming Possum to be in apparently good physical health it was suggested that the etiology of Possum’s inappropriate elimination was likely behavioral. Dr. Fanucchi explained that as a dominant male cat, Possum may have felt threatened by another male cat entering his home and leaving his scent behind. He likely also felt threatened when mom would walk into the house smelling like Jed (Possum is particularly possessive of mom). Increased kneading, rubbing of his cheek, and elimination (particularly defecation) were all marking behaviors. Jed’s continued presence outside the window and the residual scent inside the apartment only enhanced Possum’s level of stress and anxiety and he responded by urinating and defecting in all of his favorite spots, or in other words - marking his territory.
Dr. Fanucchi suggested that Possum's behavior might improve if he felt less anxious and could forget about Jed. Possum began taking Solliquin supplements daily and a Feliway diffuser (a pheromone used for social anxiety) was installed. Opaque window coverings were also applied to the windows so Possum could no longer visualize Jed. Litter box use was rewarded immediately with treats and lots of pets. Possum was also introduced to several enrichment activities. He began working for his food. He now gets served his meals in a food tower which requires him to reach into holes and manipulate the food so it falls out and becomes accessible to eat. He also became the proud owner of several puzzle toys, his favorite of which is the Foobler. The Foobler is a ball that he needs to push around in order to release food (this is marketed as a dog toy, but works for food-motivated cats too!). This toy is particularly good because it can be programmed to jingle and release food at regular intervals throughout the day so even when mom and dad are gone he still has his Foobler to keep him busy. Possum has also become an avid hunter. Mom hides food pieces around the house in secret spots, and once he catches on he starts searching every nook and cranny throughout the house trying to find every last one! After a lot of hard work and dedication, Possum has shown remarkable improvement. He has not urinated or defected outside of the litter box for about 9 months, seems much more relaxed, and exhibits overall improved behavior. He's definitely a handful, but with Dr. Fanucchi's help in de-coding Possum's message to mom and dad, they are now better equipped to work with him and make the home a more comfortable and happy place for everyone!
Leticia Fanucchi, DVM, PhD
Behavioral Services - Clinical Instructor
Since moving to Pullman, Wa, Dr. Fanucchi has taken on various roles in academia as well as the community. She currently holds a Clinical Instructor position at Washington State University where she teaches courses on behavior of exotic and domestic animals, and is now seeing behavior cases in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She also runs the Shelter Training Program at our local Whitman County Humane Society where she serves on the board of directors.