Cat urine marking
Urine-marking can be a troubling behaviour for cat owners and may indicate some hard-to-handle stresses in the cat's life. It is probably the most common form of inappropriate elimination and is the number one cause of surrender of cats to shelters.
There are several reasons why cats may urinate outside their litter boxes, most of them simple in etiology. But when urination is employed as a signaling device, there is often intriguing motivation underlying the behaviour. This motivation must be understood before the problem can be properly addressed.
All cats are capable of urine-marking – both males and females, intact and neutered. The likelihood of urine-marking is greatest in the intact male cat; neutered males are next most likely to urine-mark, then intact females, and finally spayed females. Urine-marking can be performed with the cat in a standing position or in a squatting pose. The volume of urine passed ranges from small and almost insignificant to a regular flood, and vertical surfaces are often the target. There is also a type of "virtual" marking behaviour in which no urine is passed at all, so called phantom spraying, though owners do not usually regard this as a pressing behaviour problem.
Spraying is the most common form of urine-marking behaviour. In spraying, cats back up to a vertical surface, tread with their hind legs, quiver the tip of their tail, and deliver a fine stream of urine onto the surface. The purpose of this behaviour is to inscribe a urine-born pheromonal message for subsequent passers-by to detect. The message probably reads something like: "Kilroy was here," or "This is Kilroy's place: Keep out." Intact males have the greatest motivation to mark because of the behaviour is testosterone-enhanced, but neutered males will also spray if suitably aroused. Though females can spray, especially intact females in heat, they urine-mark more commonly from the squatting position.
It typically involves interesting and varied locations, such as countertops, heating registers, stereo speakers, electric toasters, oven tops, refrigerators, windowsills, drapes, desks, screened porches, shopping bags, clothes or beds.
It usually involves multiple sites and often has a discernible pattern, such as on a person's belongings or near sites of access to the outside world.
It often involves a small amount of urine deposited on a vertical surface.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Urine-marking used to be the most difficult behaviour problem to treat. However, we now know much more about the reasons why cats mark with urine and have numerous treatment options at our fingertips. Here are some things you can do.
Patterns. Recognize the typical pattern of urine-marking and consider possible initiating factors. It is important to consider events that occurred at the same time as the onset of urine-marking, such as the arrival of a new person in the household, the departure of a key household figure, the arrival of a new cat, or the opening of porches in the springtime.
Neutering or spaying. Intact males almost always mark. Neutering eliminates urine-marking in 90 percent of male cats. Intact females may spray when they are in heat, but spaying intact females is 95 percent effective in eliminating female estrus-linked marking behaviour.
Medical examination. Rule out all possible medical causes of inappropriate urination by means of a urine analysis plus any other relevant veterinary tests. Sometimes, feline urological problems can trigger spraying and, if present, must be addressed first.
Any medical condition which causes discomfort, pain, mobility or sensory problems may cause your cat to eliminate outside the litter tray.
Urinary tract and bladder problems include:
Stones and crystal formation in the bladder
All of which can cause pain, discomfort and a need to urinate more often.
Kidney and liver problems
These require the cat to drink more and thus eliminate more regularly
Passing faeces – related problems include:
Problems of this nature may mean your cat has difficulty passing faeces. This may cause your cat discomfort whilst also a lack of control over the time and place of defecation.
Mobility and sensory problems include:
If a cat suffers from any discomfort, stiffness or weakness then it may choose to eliminate in the easiest possible way. Therefore reducing the need to locate, and clamber in and out of the litter tray.
Identifying a behavioural problem in a cat can be attributed to the following:
Litter type, tray style and location factors
Location and substrate preferences
Frustration and stress
In order to diagnose a behavioural problem a detailed behavioural history must be recorded.
Litter tray factors include:
Litter type used
Litter tray type
Placement of tray
Cleaning schedule of tray
Household factors include:
Any changes identified at the onset of soiling problems e.g. building work
Addition of new pets
Family relationships with your cat
Make sure there are enough litter boxes, at least one more than the number of cats in your household. Make sure the litter boxes are cleaned regularly and litter boxes are strategically placed at all levels of the house.
Clean up all urine marks as soon as possible with an enzymatic odour neutralizer. A black light can help detect urine marks.
Address any stresses in the cat's life, such as conflict with other cats or separation anxiety.
Shield the cat from unwelcome outside visitors by adding translucent plastic shields positioned in the lower half of windows to make window sills inaccessible, using blinds or curtains to cover windows, moving chairs to deny access to certain windows, shutting doors to certain "high risk" rooms, and closing off screened-in porches.
Once you have monitored your cat’s behaviour it is time to change certain factors in your cat’s toilet routine which may guide them back to using the litter tray. Remember – Every cat is an individual and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the others.
Litter tray maintenance
Some cats require their trays to be scrupulously clean. That requires you to clean the litter daily or at least remove all soiling daily. The choice of litter type is also important. Odourless varieties suit some cats best while a fine textured sand or shredded newspaper is a preference for others. The key is to trial differing litters and see which one your cat responds most positively towards.
Recently cleaned and deodourised trays can be overpowering for a cats sensitive, sense of smell. By rinsing the tray thoroughly after cleaning this may minimise the odour.
Remember – Smells we find favourable may be overpowering for pets. The type of litter tray which best suits your cat will also vary over its lifetime. Your cat may be used to covered trays yet as time goes by access into the tray may become painful or awkward due to problems such as arthritis. Overweight cats may not fit comfortably into the tray, so assess your cat’s age and needs to find the most suitable tray.
Locating the litter tray is also very important. Just like us cats prefer privacy and so take this into consideration when placing the tray.
Is the location busy with people for example a hall way?
Do household appliances disrupt the quiet e.g. washing machines?
Is it away from feeding areas?
Older cats may find litter trays upstairs an obstacle so again consider the age and needs of your cat when locating the tray.
How can I make the litter tray more appealing?
The first step is to make the area that your cat eliminates in undesirable and inaccessible.
A combination of changes may have to be experimented with until you find one that best suits your cat. Think about litter type, tray style and location factors when making these changes.
Think about the soiling process and your cats needs: quiet, secluded, private areas. A place where the cat is at ease and can easily return.
• If your cat eliminates on plant soil then mix soil with sand into the litter tray.
• If soiling occurs on hard surfaces then place minimal litter into the tray or even no litter at all.
• If your cat prefers carpet then place old carpet into the tray, or around the edge.
Food treats can be an effective way of establishing good toilet practice. There are two kinds to use.
Firstly let your cat follow the food treat towards the litter tray and then when they jump into the tray give the treat.
Secondly a treat should be given if your cat has shown initiative and used the tray of its own accord.
The use of a Feliway pheromonal spray, containing facial pheromones in an alcohol, base can help deter some cats from urinating in particular locations. The active ingredient in Feliway is oleic acid. It is thought that this delivers a message of "peace and love" rather than the angry "keep away" message of territorial urine-marking.
This pet health article is for reference only.
If your pet is showing any symptoms or distress, and you suspect your pet is ill CONTACT YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY.