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Litterbox Problems: Marking and Spraying

Posted on May 12, 2012 at 7:40 AM

Feline Marking and Spraying

If you are finding urine outside the litter box and have ruled out medical problems, and litter or litterbox aversions, your cat could be displaying urine-marking behavior.

Cats do  this to inscribe a pheromonal message for later passers-by. It's like posting a sign ... “Tigger was here. Keep out.”

Urine-marking can be performed by a cat from a standing or squatting position, on either vertical or horizontal surfaces.

Spraying is the most common form of urine-marking behavior. When spraying, the cat backs up to a vertical surface, the tip of the tail quivers, and s/he delivers a fine stream of urine onto the surface.

Marking behavior is testosterone-enhanced, so non-neutered males have the greatest motivation to mark. However, both males and females can mark.  Females in heat will urine mark, generally from the squatting position. Males will marksexual availability in the upright position. Neutering and spaying will eliminate 90-95 percent of urine-markingbehaviors in cats.

When cats are stressed, they have a much higher tendency to mark. Stress can come from many sources, but some of the more common sources are:

  • Arrival of a new person in the home
  • Departure of a key caretaker
  • Arrival of a new cat
  • Inadequate number of litter boxes for the number of cats in the house (the general recommendation is to provideone for each cat, plus one extra box)
  • Conflicts with another household cat
  • Moving to a new house, or
  • Renovation of the house

Sometimes cats will urine-mark because they don’t like the location of the litter box, or the size of it. In fact, the place cats mark is often where they would prefer to go - but there is no box there! Of course, you can’t always accommodate such “suggestions,” so kitty will have to be encouraged to a more convenient location.

In cases of spraying/marking, the solution lies in determining what is stressing your kitty and addressing it. Begin by analyzing what might have changed in your cat's world around the time the marking began.

Ways to decrease marking:

  • Cats do return to mark areas they have previously marked. Thoroughly clean up all urine-sprayed areas with an odor neutralizer/enzyme product that naturally breaks down the urine molecules completely. You may need to repeat several times. Use a black light in the dark to check and be sure all urine has indeed been removed.
  • Try using a product called Feliway-  a synthetic pheromone designed to mimic feline cheek gland secretions. Using the feliway plug in diffuser emits a calming scent to your cat with the message "all is safe here."  You can also buy spray Feliway. Spraying it on areas where cats have urine marked encourages them to rub with their cheeks instead of marking with urine. 
  • Make sure your cat’s environment is not overcrowded. Cat trees are one way to increase kitty’s territory, since cats include vertical space as territory.
  • Make sure litter boxes are large enough for your cat. Kitties want some privacy, yet they don’t want to feel vulnerable when inside the litter box. Keep it very clean, since cats are meticulous creatures. Do not place any litter boxes next to their food and water since that is a turn-off for most cats.
  • Reassure kitty he is loved by offering extra affection, taking a nap together, grooming him, or playing with him, and you can greatly reduce his level of stress and sense of competitiveness with other members of the family.

Remember to always make changes gradually since cats are creatures of habit. You will only discover what works by changing one thing at a time.


Categories: Litter box, Problem Solving, Care Practices