Spraying around the house is very unpleasant and can be distressing for owners – finding the cause for the unsocial behavior is crucial in order to stop it.
Cats are clean. It’s one of their main attributes and one of the many reasons they’re one of Britain’s most popular pets. When your cat appears to be rather lax in the house training department, it can be distressing for both cat and owner.
If a trip to the vet rules out cystitis or similar urinary problems, then chances are your cat is suffering from some kind of stress. Cats are
Whether a male or female, cats feel the need to mark their territory, not only as a way of warding off potential invaders but also as a method of building a ‘security fence’ around their land. Cats are equipped with their own unique scent dispensers for effective marking, and they use them all the time, probably without you knowing anything about it. Odorless to humans but potently powerful to other cats, feline pheromones are a cat’s unique smell.
Using scent glands at the corner of the mouth, base of the tail and between their toes, cats can deposit their personal brand of pheromone as they slink past the furniture, wall or your cheek. It is a mark of ownership and establishes an invisible security zone. Outdoor marking is important too. Strategic points such as fence posts, trees, plants and virtually anything vertical is marked. It is a core method of communication, as prowling cats pick up clues about who has gone where, when and why. It is also a way of expressing machismo or girl-power to feline passers-by.
Surrounded by their own familiar scent, a cat feels calm and confident in the home environment. If it smells familiar, then it’s ok. But take away the marked piece of furniture, or add a little redecoration, and the scent pattern is disturbed. In a cat’s world, there is only one way to deal with an invader, electrical or otherwise, and that is to attack. Your cat may produce claws, go on a pheromone-spree of marking or drown out any other smells with urine spray – but this is really just a way of overcoming anxiety and claiming what is theirs.
A cry for help
Just about anything can set the cat off; a new baby, a new pet, an uninvited guest through the cat flap. Cats don’t always attack the cause of the problem but take it out on what’s around them.
Think of it as when you go to a hotel and you immediately try to make it feel like home by placing your wash bag, hanging up clothes and throwing your shoes on the floor. Cats are doing the same but often do so by marking items that carry their owner’s strongest smell, such as the bed, underwear or shoes.
They’re not misbehaving; just consolidating ownership and, in many ways, issuing a cry for help. Punishing the cat will be completely counter-productive.
So how can you avoid upsetting your cat? The best way is to remember to prepare the cat for change and then include them in a period of adjustment. Here are a few tips on how to avoid some common problems:
show your cat there will be changes to routine in advance by denying him access to the room
where the baby will be sleeping. Play a recording of a baby crying so he can familiarise himself with the noise. Then, when the baby arrives, make a point of including the cat when the baby is around. Lots of strokes and fuss will reassure your cat that he’s loved. Supervised meetings over a period of time will raise and secure the cat’s confidence.
Give your cat a supervised introduction to the new wallpaper, chair, sofa or television and all the time, give him attention and time to adjust to the smell and change.
From the first supervised meeting, keep the introductions short and build up the amount of time the pets spend together gradually, so that the established cat can get used to the idea of the new arrival. Never be tempted to rush the relationship. In any situation, all a cat wants to know is that nothing has changed for him and he is still loved as much as ever.
What to do?
Stale urine is a very unpleasant smell but don’t reach for the bleach as it contains ammonia and chlorine.
These are both contained in urine so while the area may smell clean to you, your cat will just be very confused and will feel inclined to mark the area all over again.
And don’t be tempted to spray an air freshener as this will introduce yet another invasive smell that will only add to your cat’s stress, again making the problem worse.
Instead, use a solution of warm water and a mild biological or pet-friendly detergent. When the area has dried, a quick scrub with a little surgical spirit should help. Do check the item first to make sure it is colorfast.
If you notice your cat has suddenly started scratching or spraying, first take him to the vet for a checkup – there may be a very good medical reason which will reveal the cause of the problem.
Once your vet has established that there is no physical health problem, then the matter is behavioral. This will need time and patience to resolve but if you feel you need additional support, you can enlist the help of a behavioral counsellor. You should ask your vet to refer your cat to a counsellor as you will need his recommendation before you can be seen at a consultation.