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Spray Marking

One of the most common behaviour complaints about cats is urine marking, or cat spraying. Urine spraying or marking by cats is a normal behaviour. Cats who urine mark will urinate mostly on vertical surfaces, though they sometimes mark horizontal surfaces, too. They deposit small amounts of urine and display a typical posture while marking, which includes backing up to the object, lifting and often quivering the tail and treading with the back feet.

Urine marking is used as a means of communication between cats and also serves to make their own territory smell familiar to them. In a multiple cat household competition over resources may be a source of conflict and could trigger urine-marking behaviour.

Health check

The first step in tackling the problem is to take your cat to the vet for a thorough physical exam to rule out any medical issues. Urinary tract infections, metabolic diseases and neurological disorders may play a role in a cat starting or continuing the behaviour.

Spay or neuter

Cats that aren't neutered may be more likely to urinate inappropriately. Spraying is a far more common behaviour in animals that are not altered both male and female. Neutering is the best way to stop a male cat from spraying, and in females, only a small percentage will continue to spray after being spayed.

Litter tray management

Proper litter tray management and cleaning have a significant effect on decreasing urine marking in cats.

  • Make the litter tray as attractive as possible.

  • Keep the litter tray immaculate by scooping daily and cleaning the entire box every week or two with mild soap and water.  

  • Make sure you have enough litter trays. The ideal number of litter trays is one per cat, plus one. Spread the boxes around the house.

  • Cats don't like to be disturbed while in the litter tray, so put the boxes in quiet, less trafficked areas. Don't put a litter box near the cat's food and water dishes.

Work on discouraging your cat from urine marking.

  • Place a litter tray in the area where the cat is spraying and gradually (inch by inch) move the tray to a more appropriate area after the cat is using it consistently.

  • Place the cat's food or toys over that area.

  • Make the inappropriate area inaccessible for a while. If it is not feasible to block off the area there are ways to make the area aversive to the cat. Try using one of the following on the spot: plastic carpet runners placed upside down, heavy plastic, strong-smelling potpourri, solid type room deodorisers or cologne.

  • If your cat "misses" the litter tray and sprays nearby areas there are a few strategies that can help. Use a large deep plastic bin as a litter tray. Cut a hole in the front of the bin so the cat can enter and exit and the high sides will keep the cat from spraying on your wall or curtains. You could also purchase a commercial litter tray designed for cats who spray.

  • The odour left behind in the soiled area should be removed by using an enzyme based cleaner as they are designed to eradicate the odour causing bacteria. Avoid using anything containing ammonia or any other household cleaner.

Multiple cat households

Incidences of spraying increase in multiple cat households.

  • If you have a multiple cat household and you think competition over resources may be a source of conflict create "atmosphere of plenty." Place food, water and litter trays in multiple areas throughout the house to give your cat’s access to these resources without having to enter another cat's "territory."

  • Adding more cat trees or towers is a great way to expand the vertical space available to your cats and provides more places to hang out to reduce some of the tension that comes from sharing living space.

  • Install an outdoor catio to enlarge your cats' living area.

  • When you bring a new cat into your multiple cats home spraying can occur as a method of establishing territorial boundaries. To reduce this possibility confine the new cat for a while to a room with food and a litter tray away from the other cats in the household. A new cat needs time to adjust to the new house and smells of the other cats, without confrontation by them. This separation period also gives the other cat’s time to adjust to the smell and sound of the new cat.  

Other causes of stress

Other factors can cause stress in your cat and consequently influence urine marking include new cats or people in the neighbourhood or household, a change in the daily routine or anything else that causes stress or anxiety in your cat.

  • Cats that spray near a door or window usually are doing so in response to seeing outdoor cats roaming near the house.

  •  Indoor/outdoor cats can get so over-stimulated while they are outside that they spray when they come in the house.

  • To deter this behaviour block visual access by closing curtains, pulling down shades or even physically barring the cat's access to the door or window.

  • Use some "creative sabotage" techniques to keep strays and outdoor cats away from the house. Get motion detectors with alarms, set out balloons that pop if a cat brushes on them, remove bird feeders and garbage which attracts cats or use a commercial pet repellent.

If a new person enters the household or if you have moved recently your cat may start marking the area or objects associated with the new element in his/her life. Use these methods for cats that are spraying in response to something new in the environment.

  • Temporarily confine the cat to a room by himself with food, water and a litter tray. Let him get adjusted to that smaller space then after a few days open the door and allow the cat to explore at his own pace.

  • Let the cat come to the new person and don't force the cat to be sociable. Have the new person feed the cat or play with the cat using a favorite toy.

For any of the situations described above try using Feliway, a synthetic pheromone that mimics the "feel good" pheromones cats produce and is often successful at defusing stress in cats who are marking their territory.

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