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House soiling is the most common behavior problem reported by cat owners. It includes urination and/or defecation outside the litter box, as well as urine spraying.

Why do cats eliminate outside of the litter box?

One common misconception is that cats soil in inappropriate places for revenge. It is tempting to conclude, "He defecated on the living room carpet to punish me for leaving him for the weekend." But this kind of calculation requires sophisticated cognitive abilities that cats aren't believed to possess. Furthermore, this conclusion assumes that cats view their urine and feces as distasteful, when in fact they do not. It is only we humans who view it that way.


So why do cats urinate or defecate on your bed or carpet? Medical problems are one possibility. Inflammation of the urinary tract may cause painful or frequent urination, inability to urinate, bloody urine, and crying during urination. An affected cat is likely to eliminate outside the litter box if he comes to associate the box with painful urination, or if he has an increased urgency to urinate. In addition, kidney, liver, and thyroid diseases often lead to increased drinking and urination. Inflammation of the colon or rectum, intestinal tract tumors, intestinal parasites, and other gastrointestinal conditions may cause painful defecation, increased frequency or urgency to defecate, and decreased control of defecation. Age-related diseases that interfere with a cat's mobility (for example, arthritis, nervous system disorders, or muscular diseases), or with his cognitive functions can also influence his ability to get to the litter box in time. In short, any medical condition that interferes with a cat's normal elimination behavior can lead to house soiling.


Behavioral problems, such as litter box aversions, inappropriate site preferences, or urine spraying can also lead to house soiling. An aversion implies that there is something about the litter box that your cat finds unsavory. It could be the box, the litter, the location of the box, or all three.


  • The box contains harsh odors. The litter box may have an offensive odor if you clean it with harsh chemicals. Or, if you don't clean it enough, the box may smell strongly of ammonia (a normal byproduct of urine). In either case, covered litter boxes hold in and amplify such odors.
  • The sides of the box are too high. Cats with painful legs, sore joints, or other mobility problems may have trouble getting into a box with high sides. Kittens have similar problems.


  • The litter is dirty. Cats usually prefer clean litter.
  • The texture of the litter is distasteful. Your cat may have a preference for finer-textured clumping litter over coarser non-clumping litter—or vice versa.
  • The scent of the litter is unpleasant. Most cats prefer non-scented litter.


  • The box is in an unpleasant area. Avoid placing the litter box in a high-traffic, noisy, dark, or dank area.
  • Your cat is afraid to use the box. If another cat, dog, or human terrorizes your cat when she's in the box, or ambushes her as she exits, she may avoid the box altogether.

Cats with aversions usually eliminate on varying surfaces. You may find puddles of urine and/or feces on either soft surfaces like carpets, beds, or clothing, or on hard, shiny surfaces like tile floors or bathtubs. Depending on the severity of your cat's aversion, he may continue to use the litter box, but only inconsistently.


Alternatively, your cat may develop a preference for eliminating in a spot other than the box. Preferences can be categorized as follows:


  • Cats that prefer certain surfaces usually stick with that choice. For example, a cat that finds it more pleasing to eliminate on soft surfaces like clothing or carpets would be unlikely to use tile floors.


  • This usually results from an aversion to the current box location. As with aversions, cats with preferences for certain surfaces or locations may continue to use the litter box inconsistently.


  • For example, a cat with a urinary tract disorder that can't make it to the litter box in time will urinate wherever she is. She may then develop a preference for the new site and continue to eliminate there.


When your cat rubs against your leg with his face, or scratches his scratching post, he is also depositing his scent from the glands in his cheeks and paws. Another equally normal but less pleasant marking behavior is urine spraying--the deposition of small amounts of urine around a given area. Spraying announces a cat's presence, establishes or maintains territorial boundaries, and advertises sexual availability.

Cats usually spray on vertical surfaces, like the backs of chairs, or walls. They don't squat to spray (as they do to urinate), but the tail lifts and quivers, and small puddles of urine are left in several consistent locations. Cats that spray are usually unneutered males and, to a lesser extent, unspayed females, but 10% of neutered males and 5% of neutered females also spray. In households with more than seven cats, the likelihood of spraying is high.

Spraying is generally motivated by territorial anxiety, such as adding new cat, moving into a new home, or having too many cats in the home. Your cats may spray urine to mark their territory when they feel stressed. Situations such as seeing neighborhood cats walking around your yard, moving, fighting among family members and even scolding kitty, may cause your cat to start spraying. An unacceptable litter box also could trigger a marking problem. On other occasions, items belonging to a certain individual are singled out and sprayed. These objects are associated with a less than pleasurable experience for the cat. Marking can be an expression of anger, stress or frustration! Anxiety caused by changes in work schedules, absences from home, spending less time with the pet, or inappropriate punishment may also cause a cat to spray in the home. It is not uncommon for cats to start spraying also when there are some problems with a member of the household or with another pet. For example, competition may exist with another cat in the neighborhood that she perceives as a rival or threat. Many people don't realize, but all these things can cause a cat to spray or urine mark. And when she does that, it is usually a sign that she is feeling stressed or threatened by something or someone.


Because spraying is different than other types of house soiling, different tactics are necessary to manage it. First, because there are often hormonal components to spraying, any intact animal should be neutered or spayed. Next, identify the stimuli that cause your cat to spray. If outside cats are responsible, motion detectors that trigger sprinklers can be used to deter them from coming onto your property. Additionally, you can discourage your cat from looking outside by closing blinds or shades, or by placing double-sided tape or electronic mats that deliver mild shocks onto your windowsills.

  • Address possible sources of frustration that may be causing your cat to spray. For example, introduce a new diet gradually, or discontinue it until the spraying is under control. Increasing the amount of playtime for an under-stimulated cat may also help ease frustration.
  • Spraying can also result from territorial disputes between cats in the same household. They may need to be separated and reintroduced slowly, using food treats to reward and encourage peaceful behavior.
  • Applying odor neutralizers anywhere your cat has sprayed may prevent him from spraying there again. Another useful commercial product is Feliway®, a synthetic pheromone that, when applied to household surfaces, mimics the scent of cat cheek gland secretions. Many cats will not spray on areas that have this scent.


First, address the problem promptly. The longer the behavior persists, the more likely it is to become habit. If you have more than one cat, you may need to separate them until you can identify the responsible party. Alternatively, your veterinarian can provide you with a special non-toxic stain given by mouth that will show up in the urine. In cases of defecation outside the box, you can feed one cat small pieces (about twice the size of a sesame seed) of a brightly colored non-toxic child's crayon that will show up in the feces. If you find urine puddles in the house, it is important to distinguish between spraying and other forms of house soiling. Watch your cat for signs of spraying—or set up a video camera when you're not around.

Once you have identified the house-soiling cat, it is wise to take him to your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination and appropriate diagnostic tests to see if there are underlying medical problems. Cats with medical conditions may not always act sick. Once medical causes have been ruled out, your detective work begins. Here are some patterns that may point to a cause:

  • Is there one type of surface upon which your cat eliminates? If so, she may have a preference for certain surfaces, and you can modify your litter to match it. If she likes soft surfaces like carpeting, buy a softer, finer litter, and put a carpet remnant in her box. If she has a penchant for smooth, shiny surfaces, consider putting tiles in her box, covered with only a small amount of litter. Over time more litter can be added.


  • Is there a certain location she prefers? She may have developed a preference for a new area because something bothered her about the old area. Try placing a litter box in her "preferred" location. Once she reliably uses it, gradually move the box just a few inches a day back to the desired location. Stop moving the box if she stops using it; instead simply move it back to the spot where she last reliably used it, then gradually begin moving it again.


  • Is yours a multi-pet household where another animal terrorizes your cat while she's in the litter box or as she exits? If so, the cat may be afraid to use the box. If you currently use a covered box, replace it with one that gives her a 360-degree view. This will give her more confidence while she's in the box and make her less prone to ambush. Also, position the box so that she has more than one way out (i.e. don't have the box surrounded on three sides). Finally, place multiple boxes in multiple locations to give your cat more options.


  • When your cat uses the box, does he cry, refuse to bury his waste, perch on the edge of the box without touching the litter, or eliminate right near the box? If so, first be sure the box is clean. Some cats refuse to use a box containing any urine or feces whatsoever; meticulous litter box cleanliness is necessary for these individuals. Your cat may dislike the litter you use, especially if you've recently and suddenly changed brands. If you must switch brands, do so gradually, adding more of the new litter to the old with each cleaning. Most cats prefer their litter unscented, and an inch or two deep. The box itself may be the offender. Larger cats need bigger boxes, and kittens and elderly cats need boxes with low sides. Although humans like covered boxes for reducing odor and stray litter, from your cat's point of view, covers hold odors in, and restrict his view of the area. You may need to purchase several types of boxes and several types of litter to determine which combination your cat likes best.


  • Most cats prefer a litter box location that is quiet, private, separate from their feeding area, and easily accessible 24 hours a day. Do not locate the litter box up or down stairs if your cat has trouble climbing.


  • If you use clumping litter, remove feces and clumps daily and add clean litter as needed. A liner may help keep the box cleaner, but many cats don't like them. To clean the box, scrub it with a gentle detergent, dry it, and refill with clean litter. Litter should be changed often enough so that it looks and smells dry and clean. The more cats using the box, the more often this will need to be done. Replace old boxes that smell or are cracked.


  • Finally, provide as many boxes as there are cats in the house—plus one. For example, if you have two cats, there should be three litter boxes. This decreases competition and gives each cat a box of his or her own.


Spraying is more responsive to anti-anxiety drugs than other types of house soiling. However, medication is only part of the solution, and must be used in conjunction with environmental changes. Any medication can have potentially damaging and/or unwanted side effects, and not all cats are good candidates. Cats placed on long-term medication must be monitored closely by a veterinarian.


Cats will re-soil and spray areas previously impregnated with their scent. Therefore, cleaning up your cat-soiled belongings is important, not only to undo the damage, but to break the cycle of elimination. Because it is much easier to eliminate odors in recently-soiled areas, clean them as soon as possible. A cat's sense of smell is far keener than ours; therefore odors must be neutralized, not just deodorized. However, avoid cleaning products containing ammonia or vinegar—they smell like urine and can be irritating.


  • Sheets of plastic, newspaper, or sandpaper, electronic mats that deliver harmless, mild shocks, or a carpet runner with the nubs facing up may all discourage your cat from entering a soil-prone area.
  • Try changing the significance of a soiled area. Cats prefer to eat and eliminate in separate areas, so try placing food bowls and treats in previously soiled areas. Playing with your cat in that space and leaving toys there may also be helpful.
  • Try denying your cat access to a given area by closing doors, or by covering the area with furniture or plants. Baby gates will not keep a cat out of a room.
  • Catch him in the act. A bell on a breakaway collar tells you his whereabouts. If you can catch him within the first seconds of his elimination routine, startle him with a water gun or shake a jar of pennies, so that he associates being startled with those actions. It is important that you startle rather than scare him; fear will only worsen the problem. Moreover, if you catch him after he's eliminated, your window of opportunity is gone—you must catch him just as he's about to eliminate.

Never hit, kick, or scream at a cat. Not only does this create more anxiety, which may contribute to house soiling behavior, but also such tactics provide no link between the "crime" and the punishment. Some owners resort to rubbing their cat's face in their excrement to "teach the cat a lesson." This is completely ineffective, first because cats do not view their urine and feces as distasteful, and second, because even moments later, cats cannot make the connection between the mess on the bed and this kind of punishment.


A common and frustrating problem, inappropriate elimination can be difficult to control. A full resolution depends on early intervention, followed by detective work to determine the cause of the behavior, and time and effort on your part to solve the problem. In partnership with veterinarians, both cats and the people who love them can live in harmony and good health.



Aggression in cats can be a complicated and upsetting problem for owners to solve. An aggressive cat can be very dangerous, especially toward children who may not be able to recognize the physical cues that are the warning signs of aggression. Additionally, cat bites and scratches are painful and can transmit disease. The different types of aggression are not mutually exclusive. Your cat may show more than one type of aggression, and the problems may be more or less serious than those described below. However, some general principles apply to all types and levels of aggression: Early intervention is best, before your cat's aggressive behavior becomes a habit. Physical punishment, even a light tap on the nose, increases your cat's fear and anxiety. Some cats may even see it as a challenge, and become more aggressive. Certain medications can help, but only in conjunction with behavior modification and environmental changes. Recognizing the signs of aggression, then startling your cat without making physical contact are effective in curbing most aggression problems. Whenever possible, avoid situations that increase your cat's aggression. Separate cats that have aggression issues and re-introduce them slowly. Food treats can be used to effectively reward non-aggressive behavior.


Because aggression may be caused by a medical problem, first take your cat to your veterinarian, who will perform a physical examination and appropriate diagnostic tests. Painful conditions, like arthritis and dental disease, as well as central nervous system conditions and hyperthyroidism, have all been implicated in aggression. Alleviation of underlying medical conditions often resolves the aggressive behavior. Once medical causes have been ruled out, it is important to determine what kind of aggression your cat is displaying in order to formulate a management strategy, and ultimately, a solution.


My kitten sometimes bites and scratches me when we play. I know kittens love to play, but her attacks are painful.

Biting and scratching during play are typical of play aggression, a behavior most commonly observed in young cats and kittens. Kittens raised with littermates learn how to bite and scratch with reduced intensity, because play that is too rough causes pain to a playmate, resulting in either retaliation or the cessation of play. Consequently, play aggression is usually seen in kittens that were not raised with littermates or playmates, are under-stimulated, or lack appropriate play outlets.

Play aggression can usually be recognized in a kitten's body posture. The tail lashes back and forth, the ears flatten against the head, and the pupils (the black part of the eyes) dilate. This sort of posture usually develops from normal play and is followed by biting and scratching. Kittens that stalk moving objects, like your hands and feet, are also displaying play aggression. Play aggressive cats often stalk or hide, then jump out and attack as you pass.

Try keeping a record of when this occurs to see if there is a pattern. You may learn, for example, that your kitten tends to hide under your bed and jump out as you're getting ready to go to sleep. By anticipating this, and encouraging play prior to the attack, you may be able to curb this behavior. A bell on a breakaway collar around your cat's neck clues you in to his whereabouts. You may need to deny him access to his favorite stalking places in order to stop this behavior.

Another management technique is to use noise deterrents, such as a human-generated hiss, or a blast from a compressed air canister. These must be used within the first few seconds of the onset of aggression to startle, rather than scare the cat, into ceasing his behavior. Do not physically punish your cat, even with a slight tap on the nose. The pain of being struck can lead to more aggressive behavior, and your kitten will learn to fear and avoid you. Additionally, any physical contact may be interpreted as play, which rewards your kitten's rambunctious behavior. Simply walking away and ignoring your kitten is much more effective; it teaches him that the consequence of rough play is no play.

All of your play objects should be at a distance from your hands, so your cat has no opportunity to bite or scratch you. For example: Toss moving objects like ping-pong balls, walnuts, or aluminum foil balls for your cat to chase. Provide climbing perches, scratching posts, and ball toys that deliver food when batted about. Buy a fishing pole toy with feathers on the end to dangle in front of your cat.


These are signs of fear aggression a defensive behavior toward unfamiliar stimuli, like people, animals, and noises. Unpleasant experiences, like a trip to the veterinarian's office, may also trigger fear aggression. A cat displaying this sort of aggression hisses, bares her teeth, and crouches low with her tail and legs tucked under her body. Her ears are flat against her head, her pupils are dilated, and her fur stands on end.

The management of this problem involves identification and, if possible, avoidance of fear-eliciting stimuli. You can attempt a gradual desensitization program, in which your cat is exposed to such stimuli a safe distance away for short periods of time, then rewarded with food treats for non-aggressive behavior. For example, if your cat has a fear of men, a man might stand at a distance that does not trigger aggressive behavior in your cat. Your cat gets a treat for her calm demeanor. With each session, the man moves closer, and gradually, the cat learns to associate the man's presence with a tasty treat.

There are two important things not to do with a fear aggressive cat: Do not console her. Kind words and petting communicate your approval of her inappropriate behavior. Visitors to your home should not retreat or show fear in front of a fear aggressive cat, because this teaches the cat that her behavior can make unwanted visitors go away. Lack of attention is a better strategy.


My cat kills outside mice and birds. I worry that he will attack our pet gerbil.

A normal, instinctive desire to hunt prey, predatory aggression includes the stalking, chasing, and attacking of rodents and birds. This behavior is inappropriate when directed toward humans, and can be disturbing when directed toward wildlife or small indoor pets.

A cat on the prowl shows hunting body postures. He slinks with a lowered head and a twitching tail, and lunges when the prey is within reach. Because this behavior is instinctive, it is especially hard to control. There are, however, some effective management strategies.

If your cat shows predatory aggression toward indoor pets like gerbils, hamsters, or pet birds, it is wise to deny him access to those animals. If you do not want your cat to hunt wildlife, consider keeping him indoors. Some wildlife can also be deterred from your property by removing bird feeders and using tightly sealed garbage containers.

Putting a bell on a breakaway collar around your cat's neck so you know his whereabouts can help foil his sneak attacks on people. Take precautions with infants and toddlers, who are especially vulnerable to predatory aggression.


My arthritic cat growls and hisses when I pick her up to give her medicine. I don't want to hurt her, or be hurt, but I have to give her pills.

A cat that dislikes being touched in a painful area may display pain-induced aggression in an attempt to stop you from handling her. This behavior can also be associated with past trauma. For example, a cat whose tail was once caught in a door may continue to resent any touching of his tail long after the pain is gone.

Resolving or alleviating the pain is the best way to manage this problem. However, like the arthritic cat described above, you may need to handle a cat in pain in order to treat her. If so, handle her as gently as possible, wear gloves if necessary, and give her food treats so that she associates your touch with a tasty reward. If she acts aggressive while you are handling her, do not reward her with kind words and petting; this demonstrates that aggressive behavior is acceptable. Finally, ask your veterinarian about medications that can help your cat cope with her pain.


Sometimes when I approach my cat while he's on the windowsill looking outside, he turns around and swats at me, unprovoked. Why?

Redirected aggression typically occurs when a cat is aroused by one stimulus, but another pet or person intervenes. In the example above, a bird outside the window may have stimulated the cat, but the unsuspecting owner became the recipient of the lashing instead. A cat exhibiting redirected aggression may growl and pace; his hair stands on end, his tail swishes, and his pupils dilate.

Avoid the cat until he is calm. Interaction can lead to injury, and any attention, including punishment, may encourage his behavior. You may have to gently herd your cat to a quiet, dark room for a "time-out;" if necessary, use a thick, folded blanket or a board to protect yourself from injury. Periodically, enter the room, turn on the light, and put down a bowl of food. If your cat is still aggressive, turn the light off and leave. If he is calm, pet and praise him.

If your cat has exhibited redirected aggression toward another cat in the house, re-introduce the two cats slowly, once the aggressor has calmed. Place the cats on opposite ends of the room and feed them; if necessary, you can place each cat in a carrier to ensure their safety. This will allow both cats to associate food with the other's presence. Such behavior modification techniques are important for maintaining household harmony; if severe redirected aggression occurs regularly, your two cats will learn to fight whenever they are together.

You may be able to prevent your cat's redirected aggression if you can identify the stimulus that sets him off. However, if the stimulus is an outdoor noise, smell, or sight, you may have to block your cat's exposure to the outside world. You can install electronic mats that deliver a harmless, mild shock, or put sticky tape on your windowsills. Window blinds are also effective deterrents. You can discourage outdoor animals from coming near your house by installing motion-activated sprinklers, removing bird feeders, and using well-sealed garbage containers.

Finally, you can interrupt redirected aggression between cats by immediately startling them with a water gun or shaking a jar of pennies. This sort of remote punishment keeps you from getting hurt, and if consistent, may discourage further attacks.


My cat begs for attention, but when I pet him for too long, he lashes out and runs away.

A cat exhibiting petting-induced aggression will usually seek out attention, but at some point while being petted, he acts as though he's had too much, and he attacks.

Although a tensed body, flattened ears, and lashing tail are typical of the warning signs a cat gives before an attack, cat owners must learn to recognize signs that are particular to his or her cat. Young children are especially at risk because they may be unable to read a cat's body language.

To manage this problem, examine the ways in which you handle your cat. Try holding or touching your cat only when he seeks you out; avoid uninvited handling, physical punishment, or picking up your cat when he's eating. When petting your cat, do not use physical restraint; this can increase his anxiety.

You can systematically discourage your cat's petting-induced aggression with the following tactics: Entice your cat onto your lap with a tasty treat, and lightly stroke him. Well before you detect his aggressive warning signs, place him on the floor with a treat to reward his peaceful behavior. Gradually increase the length of time you spend petting him, and he will learn that calm interactions are followed by treats.

The hardest part of dealing with petting-induced aggression is accepting that your cat has limits to what he will tolerate. Yours may never be a cuddly cat, but he can learn to interact without violence.


Our cat growls and hisses when we try to move her off our bed, although she constantly seeks our attention.

This cat is attempting to control the situation through status-induced aggression. Other examples include cats that block doorways, or solicit attention from their owner or another cat by biting or swatting them as they pass, often with unsheathed claws. The signs of this kind of aggression include tail swishing, flattened ears, dilated pupils, growling, and hissing.

To manage this cat, the owners must ignore the cat's demands for play, food and attention; such rewards must only be given when the cat is relaxed. A relaxed cat holds her tail up, has normal sized pupils, and does not swat. Owners should never physically punish their cat; even a harmless tap on the nose may be viewed as a challenge and the cat may become even more aggressive. The most effective reaction to status-induced aggression is to ignore the cat completely.


My cat has been very nasty toward the new cat I just brought home. They have violent interactions and I worry that they'll hurt each other.

Cats tend to defend their territory by exhibiting territorial aggression when a new cat is added to the household, and even when a resident cat returns from a hospital stay bearing unfamiliar smells. Owners often observe the territorial aggressive cat swatting, chasing, and attacking the new or returning cat.

The most effective management of territorial aggression is to prevent it from occurring when first bringing home a new cat. However, the following steps can be taken even if you have already introduced a new cat and your cats are brawling. All of the following steps should be taken slowly; rushed introductions are the most common cause of failure. Your new cat should be confined to his own room with litter, food, and water. The two cats should be able to smell and hear each other through the closed door, but there should be no physical contact. After a few days, switch the positions of the cats. Allow your cat to investigate the smells of the newcomer, while the new cat explores the house and the scent of his new playmate. Expect some hissing. Switch them back after they have had some time to explore. The next step is place them on opposite ends of the same room, either in carriers or restrained with harnesses and leashes. Both cats should be fed, so that they learn to associate the pleasure of eating with each other's presence. If the cats won't eat, or seem anxious or aggressive, they are probably too close together. However, if they eat and seem relaxed, they can be moved closer together at the next feeding session. The final step is to release them from their carriers and feed them, still keeping them far apart. Monitor them for anxiety and aggression. This whole process can proceed only as quickly as your cats allow, and can take weeks or even months. Signs of anxiety or aggression usually indicate that the introductions are proceeding too quickly.

If the territorial aggression still cannot be controlled, your veterinarian may prescribe medication for both the aggressor and the victim. Keep in mind that medication is only part of the solution; it must be used in conjunction with slow introductions and consistent rewards for peaceful behavior.


Our two male cats wake us up with fighting and hissing.

Male cats are often involved in inter-cat aggression, which usually erupts as one cat reaches social maturity at two to four years of age. Although this type of aggression is usually seen in males due to hormone-driven competition for mates, it can occur between cats of any sex when territorial conflicts occur. Such cats exhibit the typical signs of aggression: flattened ears, puffed-up hair, hissing, and howling.

Because there is a hormonal component, the first step toward alleviating this aggression is to neuter or spay all cats involved. If this has already been done, the cats should be separated, each with their own food, water, and litter box, whenever they are unsupervised. When you are monitoring them, they should be rewarded with treats for peaceful interactions. Put distinct sounding bells on breakaway collars on each cat so that you know their whereabouts. Immediately startle them with a loud noise (i.e. a compressed air canister, or shaken jar of pennies) or a squirt from a water gun whenever they behave aggressively.


  • Aggression in cats can be a complicated and upsetting problem for owners to solve. An aggressive cat can be very dangerous, especially toward children who may not be able to recognize the physical cues that are the warning signs of aggression.


  • It is important to determine what kind of aggression your cat is displaying in order to formulate a management strategy, and ultimately, a solution.
  • Early intervention is best, before your cat's aggressive behavior becomes a habit. Physical punishment, even a light tap on the nose, increases your cat's fear and anxiety. Some cats may even see it as a challenge, and become more aggressive. Certain medications can help, but only in conjunction with behavior modification and environmental changes.




If your cat is exhibiting signs of inappropriate urination or aggression please call the Merrick Veterinary Group at 516-379-6200 to schedule your pet for a physical examination, diagnostic tests and behavior consultation today.


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