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Feline Indoor Urine Marking

Before we delve into the causes and management of feline indoor urine spraying or marking, we must first address the difference between behavioural-based urine marking and Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease.
If your cat is well, urinating normally in the litter tray, but also occasionally spraying or marking on walls, curtains and furniture (i.e. vertical urine marking), then this is the section for you.
If your cat is urinating on bedding and flooring, straining to urinate, appears constipated but you have not noticed any recent large volumes of urine from your cat, if your cat is going to the litter tray more frequently or if there is blood in your cat’s urine, then please go to our section on Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Note that FLUTD can be an emergency and it can cause great distress to your cat, so please do not wait to seek veterinary attention.

Why do some cats mark with urine?
Urine marking is actually a normal feline behaviour, however it is just out of context in our indoor environments and so we consider it to be inappropriate.
Feral cats who live outdoors have social groups with a communal odour. Therefore, it is im
portant for cats to distribute their scent to communicate with other feline social groups, particularly pertaining to the allocation of territory.
When our domestic cats live indoors with us, they still have a communal odour, which is the home and the inhabitants of the home. When there are changes to the communal odour, whether that is by changes to furniture and other humans and animals in the house, a cat may feel that they need to spray their urine to ensure the re-establishment of their scent. This makes them feel safe and comfortable again. When you clean that urine away, the cat then feels the need to “top up” the scent again. 
Another reason your cat can spray indoors is when there are aspects of their indoor environment that make them feel uncomfortable or unsettled, like aversion to a particular litter, other cats and interactions at home or what can be seen and heard outside the house. Likewise, the cat feels the need for comfort and safety, and hence must distribute its scent.

What are the specific issues that can cause urine marking and what can you do about it?
1.    Seeking a mate
This is only an issue with non-desexed cats. They need to mark their urine to distribute their scent in pursuit of a mate.
Desexing your cat will resolve this issue.

2.    Litter tray issues
Cats are very specific about where and on what they like to urinate. A lot of anxiety can develop around inappropriate provision of litter trays and litter.
(1)    Always have at least one more tray than the number of cats you have.
So one cat, have two trays. Two cats, have three trays.
You can always have more trays, but this is considered the minimum.
(2)    Ensure the litter trays are in a quiet area of the house or apartment, with little foot traffic.
You would not like to go to the toilet in the middle of a busy room with lots of people around, so neither would your cat.
(3)    Ensure you use a litter that is pleasing to your cat.
Most cats do not like crystal litter. The texture is unpleasant, and it is usually scented with a fragrance designed to please humans, which is off-putting for a cat.
Most cats will be happy with the recycled paper pellet litter or clumping/clay litter.
If you are unsure, set up a litter “buffet” for your cat and allow your cat to let you know what they prefer.
(4)    Ensure the litter trays are cleaned daily, if not more frequently.
Cats do not like urinating over urine, defecating on faeces, urinating on faeces or defecating on urine. Did you follow that? As such, you must ensure that your cat always has fresh clean litter.
Note that you do not have to fill the whole base of each litter tray with litter. Often a scoop or two of litter will do. Cats just want something to dig around to deposit their urine or faeces.

Here is a summary of what I do with my litter trays in my apartment:
I have two cats, so I have three trays.
The trays sit in a quiet storage nook in the corner of my apartment. There is no foot traffic there and no noise.
I place one scoop of paper pellet litter in each tray. 
In the morning, I tip out all the litter, wash the trays off in the laundry sink, dry them with a paper towel, and place them back down each with a fresh scoop of litter.
This process takes just under five minutes.
When I get home from work in the evening, I do the same thing.
I ended up with one of my cats because he was surrendered to my clinic because he urine sprayed in the house of his previous human parents. He has been living with me and my other cat in our apartment for four years now, and he has not urine sprayed once. That fact that he no longer has any behavioural issues since living with me is likely multifactorial, but I truly believe that having an excellent litter tray protocol has helped.

3.    Social Issues Between Cats
Cats can spray in multi-cat households to communicate their territory to the other cats. This can often be due to lack of space and perceived lack of resources.
If you have a multi-cat household where all cats are neutered, and you are following an appropriate litter tray protocol, then these are some factors to consider:
(1)    Ensure separate feeding areas
Cats should never be fed together. Always feed them in separate locations. Even though there would be no actual food insecurity with your cats, they will have a perception that their food source is under threat if the other cat(s) can see them eating. 
(2)    Ensure separate resting areas
Make sure each cat has somewhere they can go where they have “quiet time” away from the other cat(s). If you have one cat that bullies another cat, ensure that the cat being bullied can have their own separate space. One of the best ways of doing this is to purchase a microchip-operated cat flap which you can install in a door or kennel. These flaps that will only open when it reads the designated microchip. 
(3)    Ensure all cats get their own time with the humans in the house
(4)    If you have multiple cats and cannot control the bullying and spraying behaviour, you may need to consider finding friends or family members to take one of the cats. Although this can be hard, as we all love our cats, sometimes you need to consider the happiness of your cat. If they are permanently stressed in your house, then maybe it is not the best house for them.

4.    Issues with Outdoor Cats
Limit your cat’s ability to visualise outdoor cats. If your indoor cat can see outdoor cats, your cat will want to communicate the boundary of his or her territory to the outdoor cats. This is done by urine marking, and it will likely be done in socially significant areas like doors and windows, or curtains and blinds associated with the doors and windows.
(1) Limit your cat’s access to the doors and windows where they can visualise these other cats.
(2) Use motion sensors to keep other cats away from your doors or windows. You can purchase solar powered infrared sensors that detect motion, and then trigger a noise or light that will deter cats that come close to the house. These sensors are not harmful.
(3) Ensure food, litter trays and resting places are away from windows and doors.

5.    Changes to the environment
If you have made any changes to the indoor environment, your cat will perceive a change in the odour profile of the home and may feel the need to leave his or her scent. Remember at the start we looked at cats requiring a communal odour to feel comfortable and secure in their social group? 
Things that can change the odour profile include new furniture or plants, new humans or a new pet. 
If there is going to be change in the indoor environment, ensure you place a Feliway Diffuser (see further below) in the appropriate rooms prior to the change.

6.    Interactions with humans
(1)    Ensure daily positive interactions with your cats, whether this is play, grooming or cuddles. Even snuggling with your cat on the sofa in front of the TV at the end of the day is a great way to have positive interaction with your cat.
(2)    Ensure some level of play time throughout your cat’s life, even when they are old. Cats have a strong predatory instinct, so even one minute each day where they try to catch “prey” will help them demonstrate this normal cat behaviour. The “prey” can be a catnip toy or a feather toy on the end of a string etc. Just ensure that you allow your cat to sometimes “catch the prey,” as that will be very satisfying for them. For this reason, laser pointers should never be used for cat play. As there is no opportunity to “catch the prey,” this form of play can be very frustrating for cats and results in worsening of behavioural problems.

What can you do if you have implemented all the relevant recommendations, but your cat is still urine marking?
1.    Pheromones
You can place Feliway Diffusers in the main areas where your cat likes to be.
Feliway is a synthetic pheromone that mimics the skin secretions in the queen (feline mother cat) after she gives birth. The pheromone is supposed to make the kittens stay with the queen by giving the perception of safety.
When an adult cat “smells” the pheromones, it affects certain sensory neurons which produce changes in the parts of the brain that affect the emotional state of the cat. As the cat was already exposed to such a pheromone as a young kitten with its mother, its perception of the safe environment in response to the pheromone does not require any learning, but rather the cat has an innate sense of safety.
Note that while placing Feliway Diffusers in the house can have good calming effects on your cat, it cannot be used as the only treatment modality for urine marking. You must still implement the recommendations on the previous paragraphs in addition to providing Feliway.

Feliway has no effect on humans or dogs.

2.    Drug Therapy
Certain medications may help your cat if the underlying cause for their urine marking is anxiety-related. Most of the medications are prescription drugs, and hence will require an appointment with your veterinarian.
Again, any medications are considered to be adjunctive therapy. They will be of little help if the thing causing your cat anxiety is still there (e.g. outdoor cats antagonising your cat, or one household cat bullying another etc).
Medication will also not be of any use if the reason your cat is urine marking is not anxiety-related. For example, you may have a very happy cat, but if you are providing one single litter tray that is usually filthy and filled with old litter, then your cat will just be pissed off (literally). 😉

What you should NOT do if your cat is urine marking in the house:

1.    Do not punish your cat for urine marking indoors. Remember that part of the problem is that your cat may be struggling to feel safe and secure in their environment, over which they have no control. If you then go and yell at your cat, their perception of safety will be even further decreased and you will worsen the urine marking problem.
2.    Do not try to make it unpleasant for your cat to mark with their urine (e.g. noise or water spraying when they urine mark). This does not remove the underlying threat or anxiety that triggers the behaviour in the first place. Your cat will still perceive the threat, but they feel that they need to struggle even harder to ensure they have deposited their scent, and thus secured the territory. They will either move to another location to mark their urine, or become even more anxious and display other forms of stress-related behaviour (read our section on Feline Idiopathic Cystitis).

Tips for cleaning urine-marked surfaces
1.    Do not use products containing ammonia and chlorine. For a human, these products smell clean. To a cat, these products smell like urine, and hence they will feel the need to urinate over them. 
2.    Clean the surfaces with a solution of 10% enzymatic washing powder, rinse thoroughly, allow to dry, and then wipe with a rubbing alcohol mixed with water.
Examples of enzymatic washing powder are Biozet, Persil and Dynamo Oxi Plus.
Examples of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) are Isocol (available from Coles and Woolworths) and Diggers Isopropyl Alcohol (available from Bunnings).

Written by Dr Kirsty Fridemanis BVSc


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