It’s been a year since I made Lynn, one of my technicians, a very, very, happy woman. At our Christmas luncheon last year with the Secret Santa gift exchange, Martin was her gift.

Remember Martin, a handsome butterscotch tabby with chubby cheeks and golden eyes, who became our clinic cat after he was given to us “to fix”? He was on death’s door when he came in because he was blocked with crystals and unable to urinate. He needed emergency surgery and hospitalization. It didn’t stop there, though, because he also needed basic care of vaccines, deworming, neutering and a special diet with bottled water for the rest of his life. He was not a cheap date!

Was he grateful to us for saving his life? Of course not, cats bring their own rules to the table! To make matters worse, as he wheedled his way into our hearts, he picked up a sneaky habit of urinating in secret areas throughout the clinic. He literally scoffed at using his litter box.

It’s extremely frustrating when a cat urinates on a computer keyboard or on clean laundry and bedding. I empathized with clients in the same situation. Elimination problems, not consistently using the litter box, are the number one causes for kicking a cat to the curb. They are given away, dumped outdoors or worse, euthanized.

We veterinarians know that to save a cat with this problem, we must figure out if it’s due to a medical or behavioral problem. It’s a complicated process, and it becomes expensive with medical diagnostics. Every test showed that Martin was totally healthy. He had no medical problems. Inadvertently, we had caused this problem, and he was telling us that he disliked where or how he lived.

We then began the process of changing and adding litter boxes, utilizing pheromones and calming collars, trying behavior drugs, changing his living space and toys. Nothing worked. We had lots of tricks up our sleeves because we know cats. We’re a certified American Feline Practitioner Cat Friendly Practice, but there’s a limit to what we can even do.

Martin is truly an exceptionally sweet and playful cat. His antics made all of us fall in love with him, but it was a one way street. Even with all the activity and busyness of patients and humans in the hospital, he was feeling alone and bored. He wasn’t happy.

Cats are interesting creatures. They’re very hard to “read” and masterfully hide their illnesses so they don’t fall victim to their predators. They may be solitary and independent (as versus dogs who love company), but this doesn’t mean they enjoy being isolated and left alone. We humans are here to entertain them!

Martin isn’t the only cat that I’ve had to piece the puzzle together when peculiar behaviors bubble to the surface. A common enemy for cats is boredom.

Again, it’s been a year now since Martin moved in with Lynn. He hasn’t had a single accident outside of his litter box, not one. He’s happy. If I didn’t love the cat so much, I would hate him. He’s the only cat in the house, and Lynn knows how to engage and enrich his life.

To keep your cat happy, curious, and in good physical and emotional health, consider a different play approach and different toys this Christmas. A climbing tree, perches on the wall angling up to the ceiling and a porch or Catio with ladder walkways and hammocks increases their activity. Food stuffed into Smart toys (toys with openings that allow food to dribble out when smacked around) and hiding meals in different bowls placed around the house engages their brain. Rotate their toys to make them seem new and more interesting. Toys that buzz, move, light up and even talk with your voice makes life more interesting (plastic squeak toys are a thing of the past). There are even cat entertainment Apps that can be downloaded on your tablets!

I actually am appreciative to Martin (please don’t tell him!) for opening my eyes to the problems and issues of boredom in pets. It’s totally all right that he ended up loving Lynn more than anyone else at the clinic. He’s happy, and that’s all that matters in the long run.

As a final note, all of us at Veterinary Services are grateful for our wonderful clients and patients that we have taken care of for the last 30 years. We hope that you, too, will engage, enrich, explore and enjoy the next year. Merry Christmas, good will, health and happiness to all creatures great and small.

Dr. Holly Woltz (Doc Holly), Chief of Staff at Veterinary Services, has practiced veterinary medicine for 30 years and specializes in senior care. A former teacher and writer, she enjoys talking and writing about the human-companion animal bond and its importance. Visit her at www.aikenpetvet.com.