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How Can I Stop Cat Urine Marking?

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Question: “How can I stop urine marking?”

Ednamay writes, “My son has an Abyssinian and I have a Siamese. Both are five years old, both female, and we had them within three weeks of each other. They each allow the other space, but they do occasionally curl up together, but not tight close. They are both neutered. They seldom play together, they prefer to play alone or with one of us. Our problem is that the Aby marks everything with urine.

We have tried Feliway diffusers, a Feliway collar, and Rescue Remedy. Everything seems to work for a while, then she starts again, and when we are encouraged because she stops urinating in a particular place, she finds another place. Her breeder had dogs as well as cats, and Rosie and her brother were playing chase with him when we collected her. She is a reputable breeder and would have told us of any problem, I am sure. Rosie sleeps on my son's bed. Unfortunately his work hours are difficult, but she 'tells' him when it is time for bed. We are at a loss what to do next and would welcome some advice."

Amy’s Answer

A cat urinating outside the box can be marking behavior, as you say, or it can also be caused by environmental or health issues. I like to use the H.I.S.S. Test to help figure out what’s going on and find solutions. Your cat may in fact be using urine to mark territory, but I’ll use this response to cover other possibilities as well, to help as many readers as possible.

H=Health

A number of health issues can prompt urinating outside the box. Kidney disease and diabetes can increase the volumn of urine so kitty can’t reach the potty in time. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) can be caused by bladder stones, crystals, bacterial infection, or cancer that creates bladder inflammation (cystitis). Cystitis hurts, and makes cats feel like they need to “go” more often, and sometimes they’ll blame the litter box for discomfort so they look for other places to urinate. On top of that, 60 percent of these cases are idiopathic—no known cause—making the medical condition hard to treat. Idiopathic cystitis signs tend to go away on its own within about five to seven days, but can recur especially during stressful situations.

I=Instinct

Cats will snub the litter box if it’s in the wrong spot (too near food or sleeping spots); it’s dirty; or sometimes if they must share with another cat. They may not want to “go” after another kitty, or want a different box for solids and another for liquids. Kitties also have very specific preferences for kinds of box fillers or surfaces, and sometimes the box may be too small to accommodate a big-tailed feline.

Finally, cats use urine to mark territory that’s important to them. Cats often get along quite well until they reach social maturity between two to four years of age. House-soiling usually involves squatting and depositing urine or feces on a horizontal surface, while urine marking tends to target vertical surfaces. However, cats can urine-mark on either horizontal or vertical surfaces. Intact male cats are the more typical culprit for urine-spraying, but neutered cats of either sex can decide to baptize the house.

S=Stress

Spreading the scent of urine around actually helps lower the stress level of cats. Cats like routine, and anything that disrupts their normal day-to-day could put their tails in a twist. That could be anything from new drapes, a stray cat that patrols outside the window, or even your son’s work schedule being unpredictable. In the spring when stray cats go into heat, the scent and sound can prompt indoor cats to become more stressed and increase territorial marking.

S=Symptoms, Signs & Solutions

Based on the information provided by Ednamay, Rosie the Aby has been urine marking in the house. It’s difficult to know exactly why she’s doing this without a veterinary exam to rule out medical possibilities. The waxing/waning and recurrence of the marking behavior concerns me as that can be associated with FLUTD signs of house-soiling rather than marking, so I would urge that the cat be seen by the vet. Cats with painful bladders often squat-and-pee in the bathtub or right in front of the owner (sort of a way to cry for help).

That said, stress can make either medical or behavioral problems worse. So whether Rosie’s issue has to do with health issues, or strictly territorial marking, a stress-reduction program should help.

Feliway & Rescue Remedy

Rosie and her feline friend are at the age when they’ve reached social maturity and may be jostling for position within the household. The Feliway synthetic pheromone can be helpful because it signals the cat that her environment is safe. Rescue Remedy also works for a percentage of cats for reducing stress. I’d recommend you continue with both of these indefinitely.

Eliminate Odor & Create New Associations

Pay attention to where Rosie urine marks. A black light should make urine glow, so you know where she’s marked. Clean thoroughly with an odor neutralizer product. I’m a big fan of Anti-Icky-Poo (love the name, too!), which eliminates the odor that draws cats back to the scene (and scent) of the crime.

Next, change the association of the place by placing toys, a cat bed, and/or food bowls right on top of the spot. Cats won’t want to spray where they play, sleep or eat. Spraying the Feliway on the illegal spot also can deter a repeat.

House of Plenty

Next, add more cat “stuff” so that Rosie won’t have to argue with the Siamese over ownership. Offer at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra (the 1+1 rule), and space these in different parts of the house. Make sure they are extra big, because some cats just like the added space to maneuver.

Similarly, provide 1+1 scratching objects and resting places in a variety of places throughout the home. Extra vertical space can allow cats to climb and get away from each other, while each “owns” her own resting spot. Single-cat shelves (only space for one cat) can keep cats from having to share.

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