Urine marking in cats
When it comes to problems with our feline friends one of the biggest issues owners come to me with is urine spraying. Why does it happen? And more importantly how can you help prevent it?
Cats are inherently territorial, and as such they have urges to mark their boundaries. If you’ve ever wondered why cats rub their heads against things, it’s because there are multiple scent glands located in their temples, cheeks and corners of their mouth. They are effective ‘marking’ objects around them, including their owners!
Unfortunately in cases where they are experiencing stress or insecurity, this can progress to much more aggressive and unsavoury scent marking via urine spraying. Both male and females are prone to this and will often favour the same places. This is normally near an exit or entrance, a thoroughfare, or on a favoured sleeping spot.
Urine marking is usually characterized by deposits on vertical surfaces such as the side of a chair or up a curtain. It is usually of a lesser volume than you would see in a litter tray and is of a pungent smell in order to make a distinct mark.
There are several ways to help eliminate this behaviour, but it is always advisable to firstly rule out any clinical reason, such as a urinary tract infection, with your veterinarian.
Unneutered males are certainly more prone to this behaviour as urine marking is a way of advertising their reproductive availability, therefore neutering is beneficial in helping to tackle this problem.
One common reason that cats start spraying is that there may be an intruder coming into the home or the garden and upsetting the feline dynamics. Try to implement cat flaps that work using your cat’s identichip or a special collar where possible, and try to discourage unwelcome visitors by removing edible temptation such as leftovers.
Most commonly though this issue occurs within multi cat households that do not have enough toileting facilities to meet the colonies needs. One litter tray per cat plus one extra, kept in quiet and secluded areas, are the rule of thumb. Never put a litter tray next to a door or busy corridor. Keep the litter the same and ensure it is cleaned out daily.
Do not use bleach-based products to clean away your cat’s urine markers, as the ammonia in these cleaning agents will attract your cat to spray there again. Bicarbonate of soda or other enzymatic cleaners are great as not only will they clean and neutralise the smell for humans it will also stop your cat from smelling it too.
The best advice I can offer though is to try not to overcrowd your home. Cats are comfortable in their own company and do not require several feline house mates. The more cats in the home the smaller their territory becomes, which therefore increases stress and the need to mark territory by urine spraying.
Paul Manktelow regularly appears in the media as one of the UKs leading veterinary surgeons. His accomplished career as a vet allows him to talk on a number of key animal subjects and he regularly provides valuable advice to pet owners across the UK. Appearing on TV shows such as Junior Vets, Animal Madhouse and This Morning, he also writes columns for the Times, Dogs Monthly and blogs on his popular website Vital Pet Health.