Urine marking is not an elimination problem. Cats that are perfectly housetrained would not dream of urinating elsewhere in the house, yet they will gladly spray your furniture and other objects instead. This is because marking and urinating are two entirely different things. These cats do not have litter box problems. They are communicating with each other. Felines converse indirectly through their urine. This is why marking is such a common issue and is particularly problematic in homes with multiple cats. While this is a very normal behaviour for them to indulge in, we do not want it happening inside. It smells really bad, being loaded with hormonal chemicals that make it especially pungent.
Is my cat urinating or marking?
It is important to distinguish the difference from the outset. Knowing exactly what our cats are doing will help us solve the problem effectively. A urinating cat will empty their bladder on a horizontal surface, such as the floor, couch, bed or something similar. They may miss or avoid using their litter box for another reason entirely. A marking cat will spray much smaller amounts on vertical surfaces such as table legs, doorways, cupboards or furniture. In addition to this, the urine produced when marking smells ten times worse. It is also oilier and more difficult to clean. If your cat is spotted with an erect tail while shaking their rear at an object, then you have caught them in the act of marking.
Why is my cat urine marking?
Cats will mark their urine for a variety of different reasons. You will need to do a bit of investigative work to find out what is causing them to spray inside. Identifying the correct reason for the behaviour plays a pivotal role in solving the problem. Animals that depend on each other for survival, yet have the ability to inflict serious harm to each other, use a sophisticated language to avoid conflict. They must be able to prevent injury to themselves. This is achieved by interpreting body language and reacting as necessary. The difference with cats is that they are not particularly social animals, preferring independence from others. While they may enjoy the company of certain individuals, they do not need a group to hunt, eat or sleep successfully.
Without the interference of people, cats will grow up and leave their environment. They will find their own area and avoid other cats. While certain territories may be shared, they rotate schedules in order to prevent encounters. If they do meet up, it usually does not go well. Cats do not have a social hierarchy and they consider themselves equal. The only time a feline will back down from an argument is if there is a high chance of getting injured. Of course, this is always a risk. Cats would much rather avoid this scenario altogether by leaving messages behind, without having to deal with each other face-to-face.
Urine marking is only one form of communication that cats use, but it relays very important information. Cats know exactly who has been in their area, what section of property belongs to another cat, how long ago they passed by and when they are expected to return. It is also responsible for attracting potential mates and setting firm boundaries to other cats with the same intentions. All this information ensures that cats seldom encounter each other, which is fortunate for all concerned.
Domestic cats, on the other hand, have no need to attract mates or hunt down prey. Their environment is predictable enough for them not to have to mark their territory, unless they are still intact. However, their communication and social skills are exactly the same as wild cats and spraying will occur when a message needs to be clarified. If they are intact, they will advertise for a mate. If something is distressing them, they will deal with it the way cats do – by leaving messages behind. Urine marking is the best tool a cat has to create a familiar, secure environment that keeps unwanted animals at bay. In essence, our cats will not mark their urine if they have nothing to say. If we want to prevent marking in the house, we need to provide our cats with security, safety and as little stress as possible.
Solving urine marking problems…
There are numerous situations that will cause cats to start urine marking. Most of them are stress or anxiety related, but some are due to reproductive urges. If we remove whatever is causing the distress in our cats, they will stop the behaviour. It is our responsibility to make sure our cats do not feel threatened or insecure, and marking is a sure sign that this is what they are experiencing and we need to do something about it.
Household Changes and Multi-Cat Environments
The more animals, cats and people that live in one house, the higher the chance that marking will occur. Having everyone share a small space is very stressful for our pets. This also applies to changes in their environment, such as people moving in or out, high activity, changes in working hours, remodelling, building, newborn babies and such. As cats typically prefer to avoid each other, being unable to do so will inevitably cause them to leave smelly messages. Usually the goal is to prevent surprising and unwanted encounters. Since this is unlikely to be achieved in a confined area, arguments are common. This exacerbates the problem further and causes urine marking everywhere. In addition to communicating, our cats will mark their familiar scent and create a secure environment that will protect them from the threat of conflict.
- The first thing that you should do is identify which cats are the culprits. There are two ways to do this. Using a process of elimination, confine your cats one by one and determine those that are responsible. The best method is to use fluorescein, which you are only able to obtain through your veterinarian. This is a completely harmless dye, but may cause staining on light coloured fabrics. Urine will glow bright yellow or vibrant green under ultraviolet light and last for approximately twenty four hours. If no new marks are found, move on to the next suspect. Once identified, take your cat to the vet to check for possible medical causes.
- Ensure that there are enough litter boxes for each cat, plus an additional two. Put the extra ones in places where the guilty culprit spends most of their time. Providing elimination areas will not stop the marking, as it is completely unrelated. What it will do, however, is prevent conflict about who gets to use the box if there are not enough of them. This is a major trigger of urine marking.
- Be thoughtful and strategic about where you place the litter boxes. Just the location may cause an anxious cat to mark. No cat will want to be interrupted during elimination. They will also prefer not to be cornered if they feel threatened by somebody else. Make sure that their boxes are situated in areas where there is little foot traffic. There must also be at least two quick escape routes. It is advisable to keep them well away from a dog’s food and water area, as this may also cause stress and therefore marking.
- Hygienic litter box management is crucial. If ‘other’ cat smells are mildly offensive, the marker will promptly baptize the area again. Scoop all faeces out every day. Change the litter at least once a week, more depending on the number of cats. Thoroughly clean the entire box weekly as well. Avoid using ammonia or bleach products and focus on enzymatic, odourless cleaning agents instead.
- It is pivotal that cats have their own space. There must be enough perching areas in the house to accommodate each cat, and several more. They should be able to rest calmly away from the others. If there are not enough places cats will argue for them. They will mark the area, fight and chase others away (who will promptly mark somewhere else as well). The simple act of creating more resting areas will resolve this problem immediately. Window sills, scratching posts with resting space, shelves, cat trees and designated cupboards are excellent examples of how to go about this.
- Make sure that all resources are equally distributed around the house. This will give cats alternative options for food, water, toys, beds, litter boxes, scratching posts and whatever else they have available. It will enable cats to avoid each other successfully and reduce incidences of conflict over resources.
- Exercise is a fantastic inhibitor of conflict among any animals. When cats are tired, they are more tolerant of each other. They are not bored and looking for stimulation continuously. This is also true of mental activities that allow them to focus on something else, instead of worrying about the whereabouts of other cats in the house. Use dangling toys such as strings. There are wonderful cat toys available that encourage jumping, chasing and hunting. While it is important for you to play with your cats individually as frequently as possible, it is helpful to have many dangling toys fixed to various objects around the house. Attempting to get cats to play together will work well if they are comfortable with it. In many cases, just a glimpse of the other cat will have the opposite effect entirely.
- Synthetic cat pheromones are known to reduce at least some degree of stress in cats. Their effect is often debated hotly. Plugged in diffusers should be placed where the cat is experiencing the most anxiety.
- Medications are not generally recommended. They are an absolute last resort and should only be used for short periods of time, until the cat is calmer. Treating stress and anxiety with medication will not help the cat deal with the issue themselves, preventing them from learning how to cope with whatever is causing them distress. In addition to this, they may have undesirable side effects. They will also cause the cat to ‘zone’ out, withdrawing from activity and everything else. Some are milder than others, but they should never be used without caution – and then only in severe cases that are resulting in medical problems.
Conflict with Outside Cats
Any unwanted contact that your cat has with another individual will result in conflict, whether physical, emotional or mental. It will stress your cat out by making them feel threatened and insecure inside their environment. An outside cat that is coming into this space is not necessarily a problem on its own. The issue lies with our cat’s ability to protect itself from harm. If there is no way to avoid the other cat, and therefore the conflict, there will be a drastic increase in anxiety and regular ‘messaging’ behaviour will become apparent.
- Restrict visual contact with other cats of the neighbourhood. Close all doors, windows, curtains and blinds; keep your cat inside if it is usually allowed out. This is temporary while we deal with the intruder. Provide plenty of stimulation, play and petting to keep your cat from boredom and additional stress.
- There are fantastic cat deterrents available on the market. Some are awful and should not be used. Never under any circumstances shock, shoot or maim any cat. Electric fencing to solve an outside cat problem is a very bad idea, as are pellet guns and other harsh solutions. Good products usually involve water. Cats do not like getting wet and will avoid it at all costs, but it will not injure them in any way. Lawn sprinklers with motion detectors attached do an excellent job of deterring cats. If your cat lives inside, set the sprinkler near windows and cat flaps. The sprinkler will activate the moment it detects a cat trying to get in. If you have a garden, set the sprinklers to soak anyone that comes into the yard over the wall. When the intruder gets caught, they are not likely to return any time soon. They may attempt a new effort in a few days and it is pivotal they are soaked again, and again, until they give up. It will not take long for this to happen. Once for timid cats, twice for normal cats, three times for brave cats and four or five times for those with steely determination.
- Neuter or spay your cat if they are still intact. Outside cats will quickly trigger reproductive behaviours in your pet. Your cat’s smell will attract all others in the area, who will be very insistent about including themselves in your household.
- Synthetic cat pheromones may be used with some degree of success. They are designed to relieve stress and should be placed in the area where your cat sees the other cats.
- While medications often reduce stress and anxiety, they should be used with care. Only dispense with your veterinarian’s consent, if there are absolutely no other options available and the distress is causing medical issues.
It is a myth that only unneutered male cats will urine mark for a mate, but it is true that they have more reason than most to do it. Females also advertise their availability, but usually just before or during a heat cycle. Even those that have been spayed or neutered will mark, but this is typical of another issue besides attracting a mate. In intact cats though, their reproductive urges are mostly to blame.
- Female cats will let others know they are on heat. This smells particularly inviting to males who will climb your walls, enter your house and leave urine marks everywhere. In turn, this will stress your cat out immeasurably and there will be fights among prospective mates. In order to stop your female marking and prevent such chaos, spay your cat. It is the primary solution.
- Males will urine mark to let females know they are looking for a mate, are ready for them and are willing. It also tells other males that any females in the house do not belong to them. If there are no females at home, they will roam until one is found. Since males mark more readily in the presence of females, albeit not exclusively, other cats will come to investigate. Catastrophe is inevitable and conflict will occur. They will also mark around your house and your other pets will mark from sheer anxiety. A vicious cycle will begin. Neuter your male. There is no other way to stop this problem.
- Use cat-friendly deterrents to keep outside cats away. If your intact pet sees another cat, it will trigger immediate urine marking. Avoid using electric fences, shock mats, pellet guns and similar products that will injure or maim another cat. Rather use motion detectors. They can be attached to your sprinklers and trigger them to spray water when another cat is detected. Place them near garden walls, or windows and cat flaps if you do not have a yard. A cat only needs a few good soakings to teach them to stay away. Note that in the case of intact cats, they will be very determined indeed and may require a few extra sessions.
- If you do not want to spay or neuter your cat, for breeding purposes, then use the sprinklers indefinitely. Note that this will not solve the problem inside very well, but it will stop other cats from provoking the behaviour in your pet. Intact cats should be kept indoors as they will otherwise roam, fight or get into other forms of trouble.
- While using sprinklers, keep your cat indoors. It is not a good idea to soak them when returning home. It will also teach them to stay away, which is decidedly not what we want to do.
- Limit all visual contact with neighbourhood cats by closing windows, blinds, curtains, doors and cat flaps. If your cat sees another cat, they will start marking their availability.
Urine marking required a dedicated effort to resolve effectively. It is of paramount importance that you clean all areas where this occurs. Cats will return if they smell they have been there before, making it crucial to remove all traces of urine. Use an enzymatic cleaning solution to break down the uric acids and salts. This is the only way to remove the smell entirely.