If your daily routine includes doing a room-to-room “sniff search” to discover where Kitty struck last, you know how frustrating and upsetting cat urine problems can be. But don’t give up – there are solutions.
Toilet training or territory?
There are many reasons why cats may have “litter training lapses”. If your cat is routinely using one or more places as alternatives to the box, you’re probably dealing with a toilet situation.
Start by making an honest assessment of the facilities you’re providing. Look over your litter box to make sure it’s clean, in the right place, and otherwise up to “cat standards”.
Make sure there are no health problems.If your box is “up to snuff” but the problem persists, maybe it’s time for a trip to the vet. Cats with health problems often exhibit toilet problems. Very old cats (like very old people) also may experience incontinence, etc.
However, if the cat seems to be using the box but is also “spraying” throughout the house, you might have a territorial situation on your hands … not to mention on every vertical surface Kitty can back up to.
The territory trip
Spraying, or urine marking, is a standard feline way of territory marking, and can convey a number of messages ranging from “This is MY territory!” to “I feel threatened” to “I’m horny”. Spraying is a natural behavior for all cats, but some tend to do it more than others. Male cats tend to spray more than females, and unneutered males are the Spray Kings. They’re interested in both proclaiming their ownership of their territory and letting any female cats in the vicinity know they’re available and ready to rock’n’roll. Unneutered females may also spray to let the boys know they’re in the mood. If you need any incentive to have your cats neutered, even a brief period with a sprayer will certainly provide it.
Cats may also spray when they feel threatened or vulnerable, like when a new animal or human joins the household. A new environment can also trigger spraying (which is why it often seems to happen when you move to a new house). Cats like a predictable routine, and anything that upsets it (like their favorite human getting a boyfriend or taking a full-time job) can inspire a spraying spree.
So what can be done about it?!
Most importantly, realize that punishment is absolutely futile – Cats simply don’t understand or respond to punishment. It won’t stop the behavior, but it will spoil your relationship with your cat and the chances are enormous that it will make the spraying situation much, MUCH worse.
- If your cat is not neutered, have him or her neutered as soon as possible. There are a world of excellent reasons to have cats spayed or neutered, and lessening the likelihood of spraying problems is just one of them. 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. And if that’s not incentive, I don’t know what is.
- Try to understand what’s behind the behavior. Have there been changes in your household or daily routine? If so, try to see them from the cat’s perspective. Your new job might be absolutely thrilling to you, but all your cat knows is that he hardly ever gets to be with the person he loves … and that makes him feel threatened, abandoned, and vulnerable. You might see your new boyfriend’s frequent long visits as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but your cat might just see it as some big, untrustworthy stranger monopolizing both you and the couch. A new four-footed addition to the household may seem like the new favorite, getting all the attention and replacing him in your heart.
- Try to pay more attention to the sprayer – be as loving and reassuring as possible. Territorialism is the most common cause for spraying and if you can reassure the cat that all is well, chances are he will stop feeling the need to annouce his presence.
- Behavior modification (squirt-gun style). There are also steps you can take to discourage spraying, but it’s tricky: you have to remember that it’s not about punishing the cat for spraying, it’s about trying to get the cat to associate spraying with something he doesn’t like. If you catch the cat spraying or doing that back-up-and-lift-the-tail pre-spray thing, shoot him with a water pistol or make a loud noise (banging a tin pan is good). But remember, this kind of behavior modification ONLY works if it’s on-the-spot. Shouting at a cat for something hours after the fact will only confuse and upset the cat … and make the spraying situation worse.