When I was a kid I had a great book called “My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes” I loved this book and all the fabulous cats within it’s pages. Then I got a cat. Her name was Maisy… At least I think that was her original name, because for many years, and this sounds awful I know, she was known simply as ”piss-cat”. Did she like to hide in boxes? Sure, why not. What she really excelled at though was peeing on things. I loved this little tabby cat with all my heart, but if only I’d known then what I know now! In subsequent years as a vet I’ve learned many things about cats, their toilet habits, and how their curious, furry little minds tick. In the interest of keeping all of the carpets, rugs, beds, electricals and clean washing out there in it’s current unsoiled state, I’ve put together a few pointers regarding ”feline inappropriate elimination”. So read on, dear friend, if you have a cat that pees in the house, outside the litterbox, on your bed, on your clothes, or anywhere.
Actually no, MY cat likes to pee into the back of the t.v.
So your cat pees outside of the litterbox – is it marking?
Kitty may not be spraying at all. Medical conditions like urinary tract infections can make cats urinate in odd places due to urgency, and arthritic pain can make it hard to get in and out of the box. Or maybe the cat just doesn’t like something about the litter box. This is really really common, and something well worth considering. It might be the location, litter type, or state of cleanliness. If your feline friend is actually marking (as opposed to just not wanting to use the available litterbox), it is because Snowball feels a need to leave his or her scent in certain locations.
If your cat’s litter box looks like this cupcake BAD OWNER, BAD BAD OWNER!
Why Do Cats Urine Mark?
As discussed for dogs in we’re having a baby – better tell the dog! cats also love predictability and routine. For a cat, the ”odour profile” of the home is very important. It is made of up the scents of all other animals and humans in the household, as well as the scents of inanimate objects around them. For sensitive individuals, any disruption of this ”odor profile” can be pretty stressful or challenging, which helps explain why the introduction of new family members such as babies or new boyfriends, redecorating, or even that new lamp you brought home, can lead to outbursts of spraying behavior. They’re not just being furry little jerks though – cats use urine marking as a way of distributing their own scent, with the purpose of increasing a sense of security.
Undesexed male and female cats have a tendency to spray urine in association with sexual activity – these cats should be desexed. This accounts for a small subset of urine marking. Other cases are are known as reactional marking.
Reactional marking can happen with any cat, male or female, neutered or entire. It is a reaction to something unpleasant that has occurred or which the cat anticipates may occur within it’s territory.
This cat may be feeling a little insecure right now…
So how do we prevent indoor urine marking?
It’s important to be aware that cats have a ”core territory” – the area in which they eat, sleep and play. This area represents the safe zone of their territory.
Cats do not need to mark where they feel safe.
Our challenge then, is to establish the entire home as core territory and to minimize any factors that may jeopardize this. If you’re going to pay attention to only one thing in this article, let it be the following 6 points.
Making the home cat-friendly
Each cat within the household needs its own feeding area. Eating is not a social behavior for cats.
Sleeping opportunities can be enhanced by providing elevated resting places that allow cats to rest in seclusion.
Opportunities for play that involve scratching posts, observation platforms, resting hammocks and tunnels are great.
Playing with your cat is important, and can provide a suitable outlet for predatory skills.
Ensure that the core territory is not threatened by social intrusion by other cats. If you have a cat door it’s best to use one that is operated by a microchip on the cat’s collar so unwanted strangers can’t make themselves at home.
As well as actual physical invasion, cats are very susceptible to ”visual invasion” of the core territory. Place important resources such as food and water areas and litter boxes away from windows or glass doors and arrange feline resting places within the home so that they are not vulnerable to visual invasion from cats outside.
Come out here and fight you pussy!
So Your Cat is Already Spraying Urine Around – What Can You Do About It?
First thing’s first – clean appropriately! The odor of a scent mark changes over time, as parts of it evaporate and break down. These changes induce the cat to go back and spray over the mark again to keep the signal fresh, so often cats have regular places where they spray repeatedly.
Mufasa freshens up the scent, lion-style
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to effectively clean any soiled areas!
There are a lot of products marketed for this purpose, but beware those containing ammonia or chlorine – to the cat these smell like urine and can actually worsen the problem!
The most effective cleaning regime is to scrub the area with a 10% warm solution of a biological washing powder (removing the protein component of the urine), rinsing it, allowing it to dry, then spraying with a surgical spirit (removing the fat component). The area then needs to be completely dry before allowing the cat to return. Sounds like a pain in the ass I know, but it will save you LOTS of work down the track.
Make the litter box attractive to your cat
Not attractive in a creepy romantic way, but the litter box itself does need to be very very clean. Waste material should be scooped out once to twice daily, and the tray should be totally emptied, washed out, and filled with clean litter weekly. The type of litter used depends on personal preference (the cat’s, not yours). As far as the depth of litter in the tray, most cats prefer 3-4 inches. Remember that the litter box needs to be easily accessible to the cat in a quiet location. Every cat in the household needs it’s own litter tray. Behavioral specialists usually recommend one tray per cat plus one.
No good can come of this…
There are various clever and devious deterrents people may recommend with the idea of making it uncomfortable or unpleasant for the cat to engage in marking behavior. These generally rely on scaring the cat.
ANY method that induces a negative emotional state will DECREASE the cat’s perception of safety and security.
These methods may well work pretty fast in the location where they are applied, but they will generally make the cat move it’s urine spraying to somewhere less obvious or accessible. So Felix was peeing on the laundry wall, you squirted him with a water bottle, and now guess what, he goes behind the bar and pisses on your prized wine collection (true story, ask my dad).
How do we increase security?
Feed more frequent but smaller meals
Provide predatory play opportunities using puzzle feeders and fishing rod style toys
Increase availability of elevated resting areas
Move key resources away from windows and glass doors
Now THAT’S a feline-friendly house!
Identify triggers and remove them
Great if you can but commonly it is difficult to find the the trigger, or if it is something obvious like a new baby, impossible to remove!
Use pheromone therapy
I am hugely reluctant to push products on people and that’s not what this blog is about, but this topic can’t be discussed without mentioning Feliway. It’s an analogue of a feline pheromone that has given really good results by helping cats to perceive the home as a safe and secure environment. Feliway is particularly effective in situations where the spraying is a response to changes in the environment (e.g. moving house, new pets, etc). Ask your vet for more information about this product or leave me a comment at the end of this post.
Consider drug therapy
This is sometimes required as an adjunct to behavioral therapy and NOT a substitute for it.
Anti-anxiety medications can be used to give a more rapid cessation of the behavior than can be achieved with behavioral therapy alone. They act by reducing anxiety and thus increasing the likelihood of the cat feeling secure and confident.
These medications usually take 2-4 weeks to show any effect on behavior, and usually need to be continued daily for at least three months.
As he finished his third beer for the morning, Monty wondered idly if there might be a better way to deal with his anxiety.
PLEASE! Don’t punish Kitty!
Upsetting a cat that is already so stressed out it’s spraying urine around the house is only going to make things worse. It will DECREASE the perception of safety and INCREASE the risk of marking behavior.
Punishing a cat in any way for spraying, even if you catch it in the act, is more likely to result in a cat that sprays more frequently than less. On top of this, in an anxious cat it can really damage the cat-owner relationship and remove any trust, so it is not recommended.
If all else fails…