Title: Spray it again, Sam! Urine Spraying Behaviour in Cats
Mrs. Humphries arrived home and knew immediately what Spikey had been up to. It was the smell that told the story - cat urine -somewhere in the house - but where?
Spikey was spraying urine around the house .The smell was atrocious and Mrs. Humphries was getting to the end of her tether. How could she invite visitors to her home when the whole house smelt like a freshly-endorsed cat litter tray?
She needed help and so did Spikey - he was not only agitated but quite unwell, too.
Why was Spikey spraying?
Spikey was spraying because he was offended and affronted by the neighbourhood cats that were roaming through his backyard. A big non-desexed Tom Cat was a regular visitor. This brazen Tom considered Spikey's backyard part of his territory. The Tom was spraying as he prowled through the backyard. So were the other visiting cats, and some had even come in through Spikey's cat door and had sprayed inside Spikey's home.
Spikey was not happy at this insult and, of course, Spikey's owner was not that content either.
But there was another matter. Spikey also had a lower urinary tract disease. He was forming crystals in his bladder and also had a few nasty bacteria that were causing a bladder infection. This was another engine that was driving him to spray more that he would do otherwise.
Spraying is one of the most common behavioural problems which cat owners will complain to their veterinarian about. I treat spraying cats regularly in my behaviour clinics and would see at least one a week.
I am surprised to find that the more I look at this problem, the more I see the link between marauding neighbourhood moggies causing a resident cat to spray, and a bladder infection in the same, spraying cat. I estimate that about 60% of the spraying cases I deal with have the bladder condition commonly called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).
Spraying is a normal marking behaviour of entire (non-desexed) male cats and also of female cats when they are in season.
It is a form of communication. Desexing a male or female cat is likely to improve the behaviour but spraying is often seen in desexed cats, males and females, too. This often occurs when the cat is anxious, upset or 'territorially stressed'. I have seen spraying behaviour in cats never let out of their house but where, through a window, they can see other cats prowling through the garden or around the house. Many house-confined cats will station themselves on an elevated platform where they can peer through a window to the ground below and observe roaming cats. I have several cases where the resident cat lived in a unit three to four stories above the ground. Although it never came in contact with local marauding cats, it still sprayed because of the perceived threat.
Sometimes these roaming cats are devilish. I have seen cases where they will spray through a fly screened door to upset the resident cat within. I know of a case where a roaming cat entered through a cat door, chased the resident cat of its sleeping owner's bed and then sprayed on the owner's face as she was waking up to the melee!
Other cats will spray on new items that have been brought into the house because of the new smell and some will spray because they are constantly bickering with cats that they live with.
What are the remedies?
Firstly, look for a medical cause. A urine test is essential to look for the disease known as FLUTD. If your feline felon has this disease, it can be treated.
Generally treatment involves a course of antibiotics and often a long course too. Diet change will be needed and your vet is likely to advise a specialised diet to control your cat's urinary pH levels and to ensure bladder health in other ways.
The Cleaning Up Routine
Next, ensure you are cleaning up the spray in the correct manner. Don't use any agent that contains a scent of any type and especially any cleaning agent containing ammonia. Vinegar is another product to avoid. The scent of the cleaning agent may be perceived by your cat as the scent of another cat and your cat may over-mark this area.
Clean the area with an enzymatic cleaning agent. The laundry detergent, Bio Zet contains enzymes that do the job well. Other products, such as Bac to Nature and Urine Free, are available from your veterinarian and are specifically designed for the job.
Having thus deodorized the area spray the product Feliway on the sprayed article. Feliway is a new product. It is a synthetic analogue of the substances called Feline Facial Pheromones. When your cat rubs its face against you or your furniture, it is marking you or the furniture with the scents from its facial glands. Unlike urine spray, these scents appear to be globally recognized by all cats as 'happy marking scents'. They are deposited by cats when they are content and calm. The concept of marking a sprayed object with Feliway is, to my way of looking at it, a means of preordaining it as being owned by your cat so that spraying is not necessary.
Manipulating the Marauding Moggies
If your cat is being pushed by marauding moggies, gently persuading them to go elsewhere will certainly help your cat to improve. There are a variety of strategies but you must be sure to never harm these visiting cats. In the meantime, block your cat's view of the unwelcome visitors by closing curtains and blinds.
Punishing your puss-cat
You may want to attempt to punish your cat if you catch it in the act of spraying. This may help, but one word of caution - if your cat is spraying because it is anxious or angry, the punishment may increase these behaviours. If you must use punishment, use is sparingly and cautiously.
Don't be tempted to hit your cat. This means nothing to it and is ineffective. Your cat will only learn to avoid you when it sees you coming.
If punishment must be used, remote punishment is the way to go. Many folk use a water pistol and will squirt the cat when it is about to spray. This is sometimes effective, but be sure your cat does not see that you are the source of the discipline. Place a scent in the bottle and the cat will learn that the scent means it is likely to get wet. The scent can then be dabbed on to previously sprayed areas to keep your cat away from them (spraying the scent will spread it too far).
Another easy method is to use a several loops of wide masking tape. Attach the loops of tape, sticky side out, around the areas that your cat is spraying. Your cat will not enjoy walking on them and, unlike the tape; it is unlikely to stick around.
Medication helps to control spraying There are a variety of medications that can be used to control spraying in cats. Although hormones are often used, these are being replaced by other medications that are safer and much more effective.
Spraying is nuisance behaviour. However, with attention to all of the above, nearly all cats improve greatly or are cured. Most spraying cats need specific and individually tailored programs to solve their problems. Contact your veterinarian for more details.
Dr Cam Day BVSc BSc MACVSc is a veterinary surgeon, an animal behaviour consultant and media presenter. In 1995 he qualified as a Member of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in the discipline of Animal Behaviour.