DEAR DR. FOX: I have been around cats for decades and love them dearly. I would like to offer my insight into a question posed by one of your readers. She wanted to know why her otherwise wonderful cat gets into and sleeps in his litter box. My firm belief is that he wants to leave his scent in it, marking his territory. The reader mentioned that the cat does this "mostly when I clean the box and add new litter; or if I add a refresher scoop." New litter (even a small portion of it) does not carry his scent, so he is leaving his scent to let the other cat know "this box is mine."
I speak from experience. I had a cat, Norman, who would do this every time I put in new litter. He was a most intelligent cat, very sweet and communicative, but he was also an alpha male. Everything in the house belonged to him, and that included his litter box. Cats are very attached to their litter boxes. Right after I cleaned the box that he shared with two other cats, he would urinate in it before any of the other cats could get into it. If he could not urinate, he would at least walk all over the box and leave his paw prints and smell. It was his way of letting the other cats know that this box was his, but they could use it when they needed to. -- Y.S., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR Y.S.: Your observations on this puzzling aspect of feline litter box behavior certainly call for some cat behavior research studies.
It is surely not a normal behavior for cats in the wild to share the same latrine site, so this sharing may be stressful for some house cats. On occasion, this can lead to one cat not using the litter box. This is why some cats do best in homes where there is one box per cat, even though they may share more than one box.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have a small cockapoo who seems to need her anal glands cleaned often. She licks that area a lot and scoots on her bottom frequently.
How do I know when it is necessary to take her to the vet? Can it hurt her to have it done too often? Is it enough to have them expressed from the outside?
Please help me. I have not been able to find the answers in any publications. -- P.O., Marco Island, Florida
DEAR P.O.: Please check my website, DrFoxVet.com, to access the archives of my answers to various companion animal health problems. Simply enter appropriate terms (e.g., "anal glands in dogs"), and you will find some ways to help prevent this distressing condition.
To answer your specific query concerning how best to empty or express these glands: Rough and frequent squeezing can cause more inflammation and secretion, so being gentle and expressing the glands every 10 to 14 days -- or as needed -- is advisable. The most effective way to examine and evacuate the glandular sacs is to use a latex finger cover or glove and squeeze from inside the rectum with the dog restrained by a second person. External expression by pressing on each side of the anus can be effective, but can also be more painful and not as thorough a technique. Above all, read up on ways to prevent this, one being a close evaluation of the dog's diet, fiber content and possible food allergy to corn, other cereals and soy.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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