Spraying or urine marking is a normal behaviour whereby cats mark territorial boundaries and provide themselves with security with in their own area. Urine is often deposited regularly at specific sites to convey information about sex, sexual state, hierarchy and possibly emotional state. Cats will naturally spray to top up their own scent or to cover up that of a rival.
A healthy solitary cat in a stable and secure environment will not usually feel any need to spray or urinate in the house. Any breakdown in the cats normally secure environment or threats perceived within its core territory can lead to an in door urinating problem.
Spray marking must first be distinguished from normal urination before any further analysis is undertaken. A true urine mark is performed with the tail held straight up and sometimes quivering. Alternate stepping movements of the hind feet may be observed and the urine is deposited in short squirts of about 1ml in volume, usually against a vertical surface. In contrast normal urination involves voiding of a stream of urine of 20ml or more from a squatting position, usually into a prepared toilet hole or litter box.
Whenever urine is deposited in small frequent quantities it is important to first rule out diseases of the urinary tract before interpreting this as a behaviour problem. FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease) can be a painful condition and cause partial or complete blockage of the urethra. This may cause the cat to attempt to urinate in an un-natural position. This is a stressful and potentially very serious problem.
Most in-door toileting problems occur due to anxiety caused by disruption of the cats social or territorial situation. Owners may unwittingly disturb the cats environment by introducing new furniture, redecorating, having regular visitors, having dogs come to visit or introducing a new cat. Alternatively other rival cats may invade the core territory through a cat flap to steal food or to challenge a resident cat. The cat will then try to reinforce its territory by marking prominent features such as corners of furniture and around entrances. They will often mark electrical items as the warmth and smell of these seems to attract attention.
Entire males commonly spray as a marking behaviour, castration reliably reduces this and the smell deposited is much less pungent. In females, spaying does not alter the behaviour unless it occurs only when they are in season.
Reinforcement of core territory
The house is usually regarded as the core territory i.e. the more central and secure part of the cats’ domain. It is important to prevent entry of outsiders by using a microchip operated cat flap or close it altogether and actively let the cat in or out via a window or door. Most cats will learn to ‘ask’ to go out when they want to. The ‘Sureflap’ can read your cats’ microchip and only open for those that are pre-programmed. This is a very effective way of preventing other cats invading while allowing your cat the freedom it requires. For more details contact the practice and ask about ‘Sure Flap’.
Reduce the number of rooms the cat has access to, as this will make security more easily maintained for the cat and make cleaning up after any relapse easier.
A Feliway diffuser should be installed in the cats’ main resting area to give a pheromone based back ground of reassurance.
Competition for resources
In multi-cat households, some individuals may be quite stressed by lack of availability of important resources such as food and water bowls, litter trays and secure/elevated resting places. Cats prefer to have toilet facilities, drinking and eating facilities all in different places. Litter trays especially must not be next to food or water bowls. No one wants to eat their dinner next to their toilet! It is important that these are supplied in various places with good separation and at least 1 item per cat. Ideally 1 per cat +1.
These should be large enough in dimensions for the cat to get in easily and not too tall for older possibly arthritic cats. Litter should be deep enough for the cat to dig a good deep hole. Some litters are abrasive, hard on the feet or scented and are aversive to some cats. A softer more absorbent substrate may be more attractive to the cat. Many cats feel vulnerable when toileting and will prefer to be in an enclosed space such as an upturned cardboard box with a door cut in one side which can be placed over the litter tray, or an ‘igloo‘ type tray. When cleaning out the tray remove all solids but don’t be too fussy removing all wet litter as this will contain pheromones which will encourage repeat use. Clean out the tray thoroughly once weekly.
Areas that have been sprayed with urine should be cleaned thoroughly with a warm biological washing powder solution. This removes the fatty acids and pheromones which are recognised by a cat and which stimulate it to over mark. Do not use bleach based cleaning products as these breakdown to ammonia which is also a constituent of decaying urine and will encourage the cat to repeat spray this area. A final wipe down with surgical spirit will remove or destroy any remaining odour.
Repellents and fresheners only mask the smell to humans and do not fool the cats more acute sensory perception. Reduce access to favourite targets, especially things which are often brought in from outside e.g. shoes.
Never punish your cat for inappropriate urinating. This includes shouting, squirting water and rubbing their nose in the urine. The cause of the problem is likely to be anxiety based in the first place, if the cat receives a punishment for performing something designed to relieve anxiety it will probably become yet more anxious and the problem may well escalate.
Various medications are available to help relieve anxiety and improve learning to cope with new situations. We are able to offer advice regarding the appropriate use of these. No medication can be expected to work without addressing all of the underlying causes of the problem.
Some cats do not get on well within multi-cat households and despite all efforts, continue to find their existence stressful. For some individuals it is kinder to re-home them to a single cat environment to give them the security they need.