African servals, exotic cats as pets

Exotic Feline Training
Solving and Managing House Training Problems
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The ability to train is an essential skill for a serval owner.

Modern animal training methods make the process fun for both the animal and the trainer.

Positive reinforcement based methods developed by dolphin trainers get great results on servals and other exotic pets.

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Discovering the reason for the problem is an important first step towards a solution. Some common factors in inappropriate elimination are:

Surface preference. In these cases, the cat simply prefers a specific surface, such as bedding, carpet, or clothes. Cats with a surface preference problem may use a litter box part of the time as well.

Location preference. In these cases, the cat has chosen a favorite location, and doesnít care so much about the surface. Surface and location preferences are not exclusive of each other. Location aversions can occur if the box is in a high-traffic, isolated, cold, hot, or otherwise distasteful location.

Litter or litterbox aversions. A sure indication of litterbox aversion is elimination just outside the box. This can occur if the cat has negative associations with the box, if the box is dirty or too small, if the cat dislikes the type of litter being used, or if the box has an unpleasant odor.

Urine marking (spraying).

Here are some tips for solving common litter box problems. More complete instructions for diagnosing and solving elimination problems can be found in the book Pet Behavior Protocols.

Change the litter. One common cause of litter box avoidance is dislike for the litter. Most cats prefer soft, fine-grained litters to hard clay litters. However, use caution with clumping litters, as they can cause internal blockages if ingested. Scented litter may also drive some cats away. Any large pet store should have a wide selection to choose from. You can also try alternative litters such as sand, soil, stove pellets, and wood shavings. Avoid cedar shavings and cocoa husks, as they can be toxic. One good alternative litter is layer feed for chickens. If your serval has a marked preference for peeing on blankets and towels, you can use towels instead of litter in the box as a last resort. Servals often like to relieve themselves in water; in most households a watery grave for cat excrement is impractical, but itís worth noting.

Get a larger litter box. If your cat feels he doesn't have enough room, he may avoid using the box.

Change the cleaner. Strong or unpleasant smelling cleaners and air fresheners can cause aversion to the litter box.

Add another box. Some servals do not like to urinate and defecate in the same box, so providing two litterboxes may help. Does your serval have a favorite peeing area? Put a litter box there and your problem may be solved.

Keep it clean. Keeping the litterbox meticulously clean is the solution in some cases. Also, be sure you clean any soiled areas of the house thoroughly with an enzymatic odor remover.

Deny access. If your cat only eliminates inappropriately in one location, the solution could be as simple as keeping the door to that room closed. Scat Mats can be used to keep your serval off a favorite peeing area. You may also be able to create an aversion to a particular location by using a scent the cat dislikes. You can try various aromatic oils, Direct Stop, or commercial cat repellants.

Adapt the environment. If youíve tried everything and your serval still insists on peeing on your bed, you can get an easily washed acrylic blanket and sew on a waterproof backing. Just cover your bed with it, and throw it in the wash when it gets soiled. Some disposable puppy housebreaking pads are soft with a waterproof backing. Putting these down in a problem area will make cleanup much easier.

Reward litterbox use. Whenever you see your serval using the litterbox, praise him and provide positive reinforcement such as a favorite treat or toy.

Try medication. Some urine marking problems can be successfully managed by medications such as Busparone. Most veterinarians have little training in the use of drugs to modify behavior problems, so you will probably need to consult a veterinary behavior specialist for an accurate prescription.

Use Feliway. There is a non-prescription pheromone-based product called Feliway that may be useful in controlling spraying. Feliway is sprayed in the locations your cat tends to mark or placed in a diffuser. The effectiveness of Feliway has yet to be determined. Some serval owners have noticed marked reduction in spraying, as well as improved inter-cat relationships and an increase in affectionate behavior. Others notice no change at all. High success rates were reported in two studies on domestic cats, but many people have found the product ineffective. In any case, itís worth a try. If you purchase it from PetSmart you can get your money back if it doesn't work for you.

Read a book If your serval has developed litterbox problems, I suggest that you also read The Cat Who Cried for Help, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman and Pet Behavior Protocols, by Suzanne Hetts for detailed advice. Pet Behavior Protocols is an expensive book, but well worth the price if you are faced with a severe problem. It is written for animal behaviorists and covers elimination problems in much greater detail.


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© Jessi Clark-White, 2004
Litter Training Servals and Other Exotic Cats