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Spraying

Spraying behaviors are not difficult to solve once the reason for the behavior has been identified, the stressful stimulus addressed or, if possible, removed and the soiled areas treated. Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, Director of Animal Behavior Consultations, offers some helpful advice in his article entitled, "Feline Housesoiling: A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment."

The Causes of Urine Spraying

Too many cats in the home, tension among the resident animals or visiting cats can all trigger spraying behavior. Environmental stress, such as moving into a new home, may also lead to a spraying problem. Anxiety caused by changes in work schedules, absences from home, spending less time with the cat or inappropriate punishment may also cause a cat to spray in the home. When gathering information about the problem, close attention should be given to anything that might elicit a territorial response or make the cat anxious. Sometimes the stimuli for spraying are obvious. Other times, the provocation might not be as apparent, such as when the scent of another cat is brought into the home on a visitor's clothing.

Conditions that might cause a cat to spray urine include:

  • cats visiting in the yard; 
  • new animal added to the household or new family member; 
  • problems with a member of the household;
  • problems with another animal; 
  • moving or remodeling or
  • visitors. 

Treatment

Treatment for controlling marking problems involves reducing the cat's exposure to the stimuli that trigger marking and altering the cat's response. The cat's opportunity to see outdoor cats should be curtailed by closing drapes, modifying window sills and moving furniture near windows where the cat perches. All evidence of urine odor should be cleaned from around doors and windows, indoors and outdoors. If tension between cats in the household is contributing to the problem, that issue should be addressed or the cats should be confined to separate areas in the home. In households with a large number of cats, the problem may not stop unless the number of cats is reduced.

To prevent spraying problems from starting in the first place, all cats in the household should be spayed or neutered before the age of six months. After spraying has begun, having the cat spayed or neutered is still effective in stopping this behavior in 90% of male cats and 95% of female cats, regardless of age or experience.

A new approach to the treatment of spraying problems is the use of Feliway, an environmental spray that contains a synthetic chemical that mimics the scent found in the gland near the lips of cats (the facial pheromones). It is available through veterinary clinics and in WHS' Animal Antics store. Feliway is sprayed directly on spots that have been previously sprayed by the cat and washed with water. (If the spot is on upholstery, it will have to be cleaned with a strong enzymatic cleaner and a piece of fabric sprayed with Feliway can be placed on top of it). When the cat returns to the area to freshen up his mark, he sniffs the Feliway and gets the message that this spot has already been marked facially. When the directions for the use of this product have been carefully followed, it has proven to be very effective in reducing and eliminating the motivation for spraying.

If all else fails...a drug that has also been recently introduced for use in cats, Buspirone, has been used with success in spraying cases involving territorial stress due to competition between cats in the home. Discuss this option with your veterinarian.

Note:

• Spraying behaviors can be an indication of various health problems. This possibility should be ruled out with a thorough examination by your veterinarian before a behavior modification is initiated.

• Although spraying is generally thought to be motivated by territorial anxiety, it can be also be caused by other types of stress, such as stress created by a poor litterbox situation (e.g., dirty box, scented litter, bad location). The issue of proper litterbox maintenance should always be addressed when dealing with a spraying problem. (See our articles…"What Is The Best Way to Prevent Litterbox Problems?" and "My Cat Stopped Using Her Litter Box. What Can I do?")

If you would like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please call 414-431-6173 to schedule a consultation.

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