Cat Spray: The Mark of Distinction
By Gary Wilkes
Rick and Sally own six , spayed female cats. When you enter their home you are assaulted with an unforgettable smell. It is the smell of very strong cat urine. The thing that has confuses Rick and Sally is that all of the cats consistently use their litter boxes. They assume that female cats don't spray so they do not understand where the urine smell is coming from. Their youngest cat, Tigger, knows better - she is trying to establish her territory in the house by spraying every prominant piece of furniture she can find.
Urine spraying is a common complaint of cat owners. This behav-ior is a natural way that a cat marks his territory. The cat will first select and sniff a prominent vertical object in his terri-tory. The cat then turns around and sprays urine on the target. Rather than trying to mark a large boundary, as dogs do, cats appear to spray at the spots where they have contact with other cats. Often the spraying is confined to one or two objects, like a couch or curtains.
While the primary cause of spraying behavior is territorial, other influences can determine its intensity. During the breeding season the behavior is used to attract a mate. Both males and females increase the behavior when mating.
Anxiety also contributes to increased spraying activity. Moving to a new home or adding a new cat to the family may trigger the behavior, even in an adult cat that has never previously sprayed. Keeping six or seven cats in the same household almost insures that at least one cat will start spraying. Some cats spray during an adjustment period in a new home and then eventually stop. Some cats begin spraying while under some sort of stress and then never stop.
Treatment of the problem starts with correct diagnosis. Spraying behavior can sometimes be confused with improper litter box habits. Some cats, both spayed females and neutered males, spray from a squatting position, rather than standing. The owner may assume that the animal is refusing to use the box when actually the problem is scent marking. Urinary problems can also intensify spraying behavior. A urinalysis can determine if the spraying is connected with an infection. Treating the medical condition may also decrease the spraying.
After correct diagnosis, treatment of the problem may take sever-al forms. Your veterinarian can guide you through the process.
* A good first step is spaying or neutering the cat. Though not all cats are effected by surgical sterilization as many as 90 % reduce the behavior or stop entirely. The age at which the cat is altered does not effect the likelihood that the animal will spray, or the success of the surgery.
* Another treatment for spraying is the use of hormonal therapy. This treatment is usually most effective when the causes of the spraying are temporary, like a new house or new cat in the neigh-borhood. The combination of injections and pills can arrest the behavior for as much as a month, while the behavior lessens in strength. Hormonal therapy works best on male cats in a single cat household.
* Punishing the cat for spraying is an ineffective solution to the problem. Usually the cat simply picks another spot to spray -- when you aren't around. Spraying is very resistant to strictly behavioral solutions.
* Confining the cat to the house during breeding season, or limiting access to other cats may decrease the behavior. Proper socialization with a new cat in the family can reduce the stress and anxiety that contribute to spraying behavior.
Scent marking of this type is often difficult to control. It should be remembered that the behavior is not one of conscious choice. Your cat is not spraying out of spite. It is simply a physical reaction to the environment. If you successfully change the environment you may be able to stop the behavior.
Copyright 1997 by Gary Wilkes -- No portion of this web page may be reproduced without permission.