What is Urine Marking?
Urine marking – sometimes called spraying – is when your cat deposits small amounts of urine (usually on vertical surfaces) as a kind of message tag to announce his presence.
Although this issue involves inappropriate urination inside the house, marking isn’t actually a house-training problem: it’s a deliberate expression of territoriality, which is a completely different thing.
Why do cats mark?
There are a number of reasons why cats mark:
– Territoriality: the cat is letting other cats know that the marked area is “his” territory
– To communicate sexual availability
– Out of stress or anxiety
– A change of location: some cats will begin to mark when their owners move house
– If a new animal or human is introduced to the house
– Because of overcrowding (too many other cats in the house)
– The cat is receiving less attention than normal
– A significant change in lifestyle or routine (for example, the owner gets a full-time job; someone moves out of home; the house is renovated)
Which cats are more likely to mark?
All cats mark – and unfortunately, there’s no way of predicting in advance which cats are going to become sprayers!
However, some cats are more likely to mark than others. From most likely to least likely, these are:
– Unneutered (intact) male cats
– Neutered male cats
– Intact females
– Spayed females
If you have an intact male cat, urine marking is practically to be expected. The urine of a tomcat has that characteristically strong, catty odor, and is very recognizable (and offensive) to humans: neutering your male cat will remove this odor and will also reduce the likelihood of recurrent marking.
Although neutering is strongly recommended in the treatment of feline marking, it’s not necessarily guaranteed to work: approximately 10% of neutered males and 5% of neutered females keep right on doing it.
How can I get my cat to stop marking?
Although there’s no hard-and-fast, guaranteed ‘cure’ for this undesirable behavior, there are a number of steps that you can take which are likely to either significantly reduce, or stop entirely, your cat’s marking.
Listed below are some of the most effective options:
– Take him for a checkup
There are a huge number of reasons why your cat is choosing to urinate outside the litterbox: he may be marking, or there may be a medical cause for the behavior. Before you can decide on appropriate treatment, you need to rule out health-related causes for the inappropriate elimination.
Take him to the vet for a urinalysis (a complete analysis of his urine) and an overall checkup, to make sure that there are no medical reasons for his behavior.
– Neuter your cat
Neuter your cat immediately. This is the single most effective thing you can do to stop your cat’s spraying, and if you hope to get any control at all over the issue, it’s pretty much mandatory.
Statistics show that a whopping 87% of all cats stop marking when they’re altered – of this number, 78% cease marking immediately, and 9% stop within three months.
– Behavioral modification
Behavior modification is a tried and true method of controlling your cat’s spraying, although it will require a considerable investment of time and effort on your behalf. You’ll need to supervise your cat closely, paying attention to where and when he marks. The use of behavioral-modification tools like water pistols and shake cans (a tin can with ten pennies or a handful of pebbles inside – when shaken, it makes a loud, scary noise) speeds the process up considerably: when you catch him marking, startle him out of continuing by either spraying him with the water pistol or shaking the can vigorously.
‘Redesignating’ the areas which he tends to mark in can also help: cats don’t like to spray in areas where they eat, sleep, and play. If he marks in particular places around the home (as opposed to indiscriminately), put his food bowls next to the spot, play with him there, and put his bed there.
– Make things easy for your cat
Treatment for marking is based around removing your cat’s motivation to mark in the first place. The most common reasons for marking is territoriality: he could be feeling threatened by the presence of strange cats around the house, or he could be experiencing some conflict with another cat(s) in the house. So, to control his marking behavior, you need to minimize his need to act in a defensive, territorial way.
You can do this by minimizing his exposure to the strange cats, and by resolving any conflict in the home.
For strange cats:
Keep him inside the house, and restrict his access to windows: shut the doors to high-risk rooms, block out his view by installing shields across the sills (these are made of translucent plastic, and can be bought from home-improvement and DIY stores), and if you have a cat-flap, make sure it’s permanently closed (both to prevent your cat from going outside, and to prevent other cats from coming in.)
For problems inside the home:
If the problem’s based around a situation in the home (perhaps he’s feeling overcrowded, perhaps there are conflict issues with one or more other cats), you’ll need to pay attention to how your cats are interacting, and then separate the cats that have issues with each other.
Keep them in separate rooms, with separate litter boxes and food bowls. This doesn’t have to be a permanent thing – once the spraying’s stopped, give them at least another week of separation (just to be on the safe side) and then you can gradually reintroduce them by way of mutually-enjoyable events like mealtimes and playtimes.)
– Use your common sense
Make it really easy for your cat to urinate appropriately. Make sure that there are enough litter boxes in the house: there should be at least one more than the total number of cats. If you have a multi-storey house, make sure there’s at least one box per storey (more, if you have more cats), and see that they’re all cleaned regularly.
For a really detailed look at how to deal with your cat’s behavior problems, take a look at Complete Cat Training. It’s a cutting-edge cat training manual that’s focused on training your cat and changing her behavior for the better.
For professional tips on transforming your cat’s behavior problems (as well as teaching her some pretty neat tricks, from sit and stay to roll over, play dead, and fetch!) Complete Cat Training comes very highly recommended.