Today's blog is about addressing aspects of feline marking or spraying. In the previous blog I mentioned that the subject of urination and cats is one of the most tenuous and emotionally charged subjects veterinarians face. Urination problems are the most common behavioral issues in cats. I have more sad endings to this one single problem than every other behavioral issue combined.
A few weeks ago I met a client for her cat’s exam. Her very gentle, affectionate declawed cat was loving all of the attention he was getting with me during his exam. As I examined him she started talking about how loving he was to the family. I inquired why he was so dirty? She replied that he was an outside cat because he was peeing in the house. He had been peeing in the house for many months, and she said that she had tried everything (sadly, she never came to see any of us vets), and she told me that it was he either go outside or she was going to put him to sleep. I have heard this many times from many people. Every time I apologize to that pet, knowing that there is some reason, and some plea that is being ignored. I asked her if I could microchip him now that he was an outside cat. She replied, “No, I don’t want him back if he is ever found.”
"Inappropriate elimination" is defined as lack of consistent use of the litter box, versus "marking" which is associated with a behavioral component where the cat claims property, or challenges others for territory. It can also be a sign of stress, anxiety, or fear.
A behavioral assessment of "marking" should only be done after a medical etiology has been ruled out. A veterinary behaviorist can assist in diagnosing and treating marking, and should always be utilized when treating this problem.
This article was compiled from a lecture by Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB, UC Davis. Given at CVC East, Baltimore, MD. 2009, and Hart, Hart and Bain, Canine and Feline Behavior Therapy, 2nd Ed, 2006, Blackwell Press.
It is important for the pet guardian to understand that cats are attracted to previously soiled areas. This is important because cats with their very astute sense of smell use a community waste area. They are attracted to an area that smells as if it contained fecal matter. This scent is undetectable by us. However, just the opposite is true also. If the area you are requesting them to use as a bathroom is too concentrated for their liking they will repel it. Remember the intention is to make the toilet area for your cat attractive to them, although it might not be as attractive to us.
It is very important to clearly distinguish between “inappropriate urination” and “marking.”
Inappropriate urination/defecation is characterized by;
· Cats posture to urinate. They squat, lower the back end and empty their bladder. The litter box is used sometimes, infrequently, or not at all.
· Cats will soil areas such as carpet, clothing, planters, or other items on a horizontal surface.
· Cats with early signs of litter box aversion may straddle the box, shake their paws, or not covering their waste.
· Often the inappropriate behavior starts as urination but may progress to defecation.
Cats that “mark” are most often characterized by;
· Standing to place small amounts of urine most often on a vertical surface.
· They continue to use the litter box to urinate and defecate.
· The marking is usually done because of some difficult to identify inciting cause. It may be stress of other cats or pets in the house, or an outside cat.
Basic household guidelines are to keep a very clean litter box. It should be checked daily and all waste should be removed. Provide enough litter boxes so that the cats have a choice and do not have to challenge each other for a place.
We as parents make the common mistake of picking a litter that pleases us, based on its ability to clump, or its scent, or even its low price, but there are many, many, options out there. Try an at-home litter and litter box preference test by offering many sizes and shapes of boxes. Try covered, uncovered, tall, shallow, large and small. Also try many types of litter. Try sand, potting soil, clumping, non-clumping, crystals, wheat, pine, paper, etc. Let your pet have a vote and provide them with the options they feel most comfortable with.
Clean the litter boxes daily by scooping or removing the waste. Weekly the boxes should be dumped and the litter changed. The litter boxes should be cleaned with a mild detergent. Avoid all harsh smelling cleaners like ammonia, bleach, pine, or citrus. Cats have very sensitive noses and they will not want to be in a box that is too strong smelling.
If your cat has soiled in the house the area must be cleaned so that no trace of previous soiling can be detected. The product the author recommended is KOE (kennel odor eliminator) available at Amazon. Areas that have been soiled should be cleaned and removed from access. A common trick to keep the cat off of a previously soiled area is to purchase carpet covering and place it upside down. Cats will not try to walk on the plastic and the small plastic tacks that grip the carpet are uncomfortable to step on.
When all else fails try to confine the cat to a small space. The small space acts as a sort of re-training tool. It can re-enforce litter box etiquette and for a cat that has stress as a factor in the aversion the confinement might help ease their worries. A small space might be a large dog crate, a bathroom, or a small private area. Once the cat is using the litter box regularly again you can gradually allow the cat to have access to the rest of the house. Confinement for some cats might actually be stressful, and more stress might compound the aversion. So confinement should only be used as a last resort.