Are you at your wit’s end? Help is here!
By Mieshelle Nagelschneider, aka The Cat Whisperer, cat behaviourist at the Cat Behavior Clinic | Illustration by Taryn Gee
“Spraying is a major reason that cats get sent to the shelters or put out on the street. My job is to end the spraying and change the storyline. Like a director in a movie, I insist on my own ending, the happily ever-after ending with the cat and the owner staying together. And I always get my ending, because spraying is surprisingly easy to remedy.”—Mieshelle Nagelschneider in The Cat Whisperer: Why Cat’s Do What They Do and How to Get Them to Do What You Want
At The Cat Behavior Clinic I’ve performed thousands of urine spray-marking behaviour consultations by phone or video Skype. Spray-marking is one of my favourite consultations because so many cat owners have been told urine marking is an unsolvable issue. On the contrary, it’s one of the easiest behaviour issues to solve. Once the reason for the behaviour is identified and then eliminated, the urine marking can stop completely—sometimes even literally overnight. It may sound too good to be true, but as long as there is no longer a reason for spray-marking to be performed, then it shouldn’t happen, ever. In the majority of cases I’ve dealt with, it’s as simple as that.
What is urine spray-marking anyway? And why does your cat stand there with tail held high and vibrating and insist on shooting urine vertically on your curtains and what might seem like any vertical surface he or she—that’s right, females can perform the behaviour too—can find? Even once neutered or spayed, cats can still urine spray-mark for territorial reasons, though fixed or unfixed, cats generally don’t urine spray mark before they are two years of age when they move into social maturity (social maturity happens between the ages of two and four years; sexual maturity at about 6 months). In my cat behaviour book, The Cat Whisperer, I’ve devoted an entire chapter to urine spray-marking, giving answers on why cats spray urine, how to stop the behaviour, and why you need to calm down already. There are several reasons cats urine-spray mark, but for this article, I’m going to discuss the number one reason.
The #1 Reason: You have outside cats.
No, really, you have outside cats!
Your cat has become aware of an outside cat’s presence and feels his territory may be under threat. This is, by far, the number one reasons my client’s cats will urine spray-mark inside the home. There can be other reasons at play, but this is the main reason in the majority of the cases I work with. Your cat seeing (or smelling) outside cats can cause him to bolster up the perimeter of his home’s territory with urine. Doors leading outside, windows, walls—any location that is perimeter-based in your home—can become a prime urine marking location. In your cat’s mind, urine marking the perimeter will help deter outside cats from crossing the territorial line— “thou shall not pass”, so to speak. Yet many cat owners will tell me they have “never, ever seen an outside cat.” I tell these clients that their cat marking in the home indicates they most likely do have an outside cat (or cats, which is usually the case) visiting their property where their cat can see them. Feral cats are actively hunting between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. and often not seen by the cat owner—but are seen by their cats. Or your cat may simply see a cat all the way across the street in the neighbour’s driveway once a week and that is enough for daily urine marking.
Think you’ve tried everything? I’m pretty sure you haven’t.
Deter Outside Cats: Make your inside cat think he is the only cat in the universe. In other words, no outside cat of any sort (stray, feral, or neighbourhood cats) should be seen or smelled by your cat. This can mean a combination of two strategies—using humane outside motion sensor cat deterrents (Cat Stop and The Scarecrow by Contech are very effective) and blocking certain windows in your home so your cat cannot see outside cats where motion sensor deterrents may not reach. Many of my clients use wax paper on certain windows to block the view in cases where their cat could still see outside cats all the way across the street.
Remove Urine Odour: Use an enzymatic or neutralizing urine cleaner and discontinue using any products that contain ammonia in your home (ammonia is a constituent of urine). My favourite urine removal products are Zero Odor and Anti-Icky-Poo.
Promote Claw Marking: Give your cat an alternative way to mark territory that doesn’t involve urine. Place cat scratching posts or corrugated cardboard scratchers right in the areas where the urine marking is occurring. This will help promote claw marking which can help take the place of urine marking behaviour. Sprinkle cat nip on cat scratch areas to entice clawing behaviour.
Promote Body Rolling: Sprinkle dried catnip in the urine marked areas to create body-rolling behaviour in your cat. Cats also mark territory by body rolling in the location they wish to “mark” and this behaviour can help take the place of urine marking behaviour.
Trigger the Prey Drive: Encourage your cat to play in the area where the urine marking is occurring by maneuvering a wand toy daily in this area. This will help change the association of what your cat does in that area. Instead of having anxiety and urine marking, he is hunting and feeling confident.
Place Food Strategically: You can also feed your cat in the urine marked areas to help change the urine marking association to an eating association. Cats tend to keep eating and urine marking areas very separate.
Encourage Facial Marking: Replace the territorial behaviour of urine marking with friendly facial marking by utilizing friendly feline pheromones found at pet stores and online. The Feliway pheromone can be very effective, especially once you eliminate the outside cat threat.
Above all, please remember that urine spray-marking is a natural behaviour. Your cat isn’t bad or trying to spite you. He is responding with his natural instincts to the environmental circumstances in which he has been placed.
Need more help? To schedule a behaviour consultation with Mieshelle Nagelschneider by phone or Skype video, please visit thecatbehaviorclinic.com.
*Medical Alert: Due to painful urination, some cats will actually urinate standing up which can look like urine spray-marking. Please be sure to work with your vet to rule out urinary health or kidney issues that can cause stand-up urination due to pain or discomfort.