Southern Cross Vets in Port Elizabeth

Cats have many ways to communicate. They can communicate vocally, visually, or by using scent, but in each case their primary aim is most often to avoid conflict.

Vocalisation is used by cats when they want to communicate over a distance, and they use body language to communicate visually with other animals.
Scent is used to communicate over both distance and time. Cats produce scent from their face, flanks, tail base and paws. They use different types of actions to deposit scent, such as rubbing, scratching, urine marking and depositing faeces.

When cats want to label a place as safe they rub their faces or flanks on an object, but when cats want to send a signal that an area is occupied they use their claws or spray urine. The pheromones they leave behind warn other cats to keep away. So, when cats want to say Ďkeep outí as clearly as possible, they spray urine since this deposits the scent over a large area at a height suited to sniffing and they do so in an area where the scent is likely to be noticed by the target of their communication. This is true of all cats, male and female, sterilised and unsterilised, though urine spraying is more common in unsterilised cats. Itís important to remember that your cat isnít out to get you or to trash your house; she is just trying to communicate a message as loudly and clearly as she can.

Is my cat marking?

Urine marking is not the same as inappropriate elimination. Inappropriate elimination is when a cat urinates or defaecates indoors in the wrong place, usually in a quiet area of the house. In such cases the cat will use the squatting posture it uses in the litter tray, and will usually scratch the ground before and after eliminating.

There are various reasons why fully trained house cats might begin to eliminate in the wrong place. The change can be motivated by an aversion to the litter tray. This might be because the tray is dirty, the type of litter being used, or be due to the location of the tray. In such cases the situation may be resolved by cleaning the litter tray, changing the type of litter, or moving the tray to a different location. However, medical causes, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and bladder problems can trigger inappropriate elimination, as can arthritis which makes it more difficult for the cat to climb into the litter tray. None of these causes of inappropriate elimination will motivate your cat to spray urine.

In contrast to a cat which inappropriately eliminates in the wrong place, a cat that is marking its territory, male or female, intact or sterilised, does not squat or scratch the ground when spraying urine, and will continue to use the litter tray for urination and defaecation.

Why is my cat marking?

Indoor spraying occurs for different reasons. Urine spraying is often territorial and it may be that your cat is anxious, unsettled, frightened or insecure. Discovering the reason why your cat is urine marking indoors is an important element to resolving the problem.

The first thing to note is where your cat is marking.
Is your cat marking close to windows and doors?
If so, it may be that your cat is responding to a threat from outside the house.
Is your cat marking in the centre of your rooms or on new pieces of furniture?
If so, the problem probably relates to some form of disruption arising within the household.

Once youíve noted the location and objects on which the cat initially begins to spray, you need to think about any changes in your environment or the routine of the household. The cat may be responding to a change in the family dynamics, the arrival of a new baby, a death, to the departure of a child to boarding school, to a family break up, or to the introduction of new odours - new clothes or furniture.

Other reasons for urine marking include the adding or removing of a pet, moving house, the arrival of new neighbours with pets or of a stray cat in the neighbourhood. In multi-cat households urine marking may be used to promote distance from other cats in the house, and so itís important to think about the way your cats are interacting.

Are they rubbing one anotherís faces and spending time grooming each other?
Do they carry their tails up?

These are all positive interactions. If your cats are chasing one another, hissing or spitting at one another, staring and taking up threatening postures, then you may have found your reason for the urine marking, as these are all aggressive interactions.

If you carefully review where and when your cat first began urine marking, and give careful consideration to your environment and routine, you will probably be able to work out what is motivating your catís change of behaviour. Whatever you do, donít punish your cat. Punishment will only make the problem worse.

What actions can I take?

There is no quick fix for urine marking. The problem can be resolved, but a holistic approach is needed, and sometimes all that can be achieved is a reduction in the number of sprays. It is important to begin addressing the urine spraying as soon as possible. This is not a problem you want to let slide.

Firstly, if your cat is not already sterilised make an appointment for sterilisation. This operation can decrease urine marking, though itís important to remember that this is normal communication behaviour for all cats.

Secondly, clean the soiled areas. You need to use non-ammonia and chlorine based detergents, as these chemicals intensify the odour and encourage more marking. Remember that even after a thorough cleaning, the soiled area may continue to smell for up to four weeks. Once the area is clean, you might try covering it with foil, or placing the catís food and water in the previously soiled areas.

Whilst odour deterrents can be useful, they are no quick fix and can sometimes lead to more marking. You can make use of cat pheromone sprays or diffusers and collars. These help to increase stability within the house as cats donít urine mark areas they think theyíve previously marked with their faces. We stock all of these products at Southern Cross.

Thirdly, whether you have one cat or several, prevent access to the sprayed area, and where you have more than one cat separate the spraying cat from the others. Gradually increase the size of the area this cat has access to and take it slow as you introduce her back into the household. A fourth step you can take is to encourage other forms of marking, for instance, by placing scratching posts around the house.

Depending on your assessment of the environment there are a number of further steps you might take. For example, if you identify the motivation for spraying as the odours introduced through the introduction of new clothes or furniture, you can restrict your cat to a room away from the new items for a time so your cat is not immediately exposed to their smell. Or, if your cat is reacting to cats outside your house, take steps to discourage stray cats and remove perches from near windows so your cat doesnít get stressed and anxious. In multi-cat households make sure your cats have access to a clean litter tray at all times, and place food, water, litter trays and resting areas in different areas of the house so that cats donít need to meet another cat unless they want to. Of course, it almost goes without saying, that new cats should be introduced to the home with care.

In addition to the above steps and as a last resort our vets may prescribe medication to help relieve your catís anxiety or stress. However, medicine is not a quick fix and should be seen as one element that may assist in resolving the problem, together with behavioural modification and management of the environment in which your cat lives.

back to Pet Info
back to Home
Anxious cat