Author Topic: Urine Spraying & Scratching behavior problems  (Read 5015 times)

Offline Tan

  • Administrator/Shop Staff
  • Purrrrrfect Cat
  • *****
  • Posts: 15464
    • Purrs Forum & Shop
  • Slave to: Marl, Garf, mr Blue, Gizzymo, Rio,Ochi,Ben, Bow & Arnie
Urine Spraying & Scratching behavior problems
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2007, 11:29:42 AM »
Urine Spraying & Scratching behavior problems

One of the most common behaviour problems.

It's important to remember that your cat is not doing this just to be naughty.
Once you understand why your cat is Urinating and scratching in your home, you are half way there to solving the problem. A long read but well worth it!!

Reference CAT DETECTIVE by Vicky Halls 
Vicky’s books have a great insight into cat behavior.  Her books are highly recommended and available from all good books stores or online here
Her lastest book Cat Counsellor: How Your Cat Really Relates to You is now out.  ;D ;D
Vicky is currently tutoring the Intermediate and Advanced Feline Psychology courses for the Animal Care College and continues to lecture throughout the UK and Europe on various aspects of Feline behaviour.
Please visit her website here .

URINE SPRAYING IS A PERFECTLY NORMAL FELINE behaviour and it represents an important means of com¬munication within a cat's territory. The behaviour, when observed, is quite unmistakable. The cat will approach an object or vertical surface and often sniff intently. He may even turn away slightly from the point of interest with an open-mouthed grimace and a faraway look. This shows us how interesting the smell must be as the cat draws the exciting aroma into the second organ of scent that a cat possesses in the roof of its mouth (called the Jacobsen's organ). Once all the necessary information has been gleaned from the `tasted' smell the cat will turn round, raise its tail vertically and tread with its back paws. As the tail quivers a small jet of pungent urine hits the surface. Hey presto a unique scent and visual mark is deposited for all to see.

As cats appear to be able to differentiate between sprayed and squatted urine it is believed that the anal glands may secrete when urine is sprayed to produce the oily, viscous liquid found on the skirting boards of less fortunate cat owners. There should be, in theory, no need to spray urine indoors if it is perceived as the cat's core area or den. Safety and security in this context should be paramount. If the individual develops a sense of insecurity and becomes stressed then he has limited ways of expressing this vulnerability. So he uses a natural behaviour (urine spraying) usually employed in situations of conflict.
The jury is still out regarding the definitive reasons why the behaviour is so necessary but it appears to be most relevant to the sprayer itself. Any cat is capable of spraying urine, male, female, neutered or entire, although it is most common in the intact male. Sexually active cats will spray urine that is laden with pheromones to indicate their readiness for mating. Neutered cats will spray on fences and bushes, for example, in- areas of high cat density as part of their daily routine. Despite the fact that urine spraying can be utilized to relieve all sorts of weird and wonderful emotions in certain rather complex individuals it can safely be said that it is usually `a cat thing' and another feline is at the root of the problem.

One interesting statistic gleaned from the `Feline Felons' survey reinforced my feelings about cats' being acutely aware of social overcrowding. The results showed that the incidence of urine spraying indoors increased in proportion to the number of cats in the home, from 17 per cent of single cat households to 86 per cent of those with seven or more cats. Every house has that `one too many' cats threshold. Two may be a crowd in homes containing particularly intolerant individuals whereas six or seven may be the magic number in others. A great deal of luck is required, together with the right environment, to prevent all hell's breaking loose.

Indoor urine spraying is often just one symptom of a generally turbulent and disrupted existence. Most cases are combined with other complications including excessive scratching within the house, anxious individuals in the group and, worse still, inappropriate urination or defecation indoors.

Urine spraying is not the only marking behaviour that cats indulge in; their sense of smell is the most powerful of all their senses and scent is deposited daily by various means.

Cats have sebaceous glands around lips, chin, head and base of the tail. These secrete scent that can be used either to rub against other cats within a social group to identify members of the same gang or to deposit on objects around the home and outer territory to ensure that things smell familiar. You will probably notice that your cat will raise his bottom if you tickle him on top of the base of his tail or push against your hand if you stroke him on his cheek. He's probably just grateful that you're going to help him spread his scent around.

When cats feel threatened within their home territory they may occasionally deposit faeces in prominent locations and on strategic pathways as a very strong signal to all and sundry. It is sometimes easy to confuse this marking gesture with a case of inappropriate defecation when the problem is not invading cats but merely a dirty litter tray.

Scratching performs two important functions. It is a common misconception that cats sharpen their claws by scratching. What actually happens is that the worn outer husk o£ the claw is detached, against a resistant material, revealing a sharp new surface underneath. Scratching also exercises the muscles of the forelimbs. In addition, it is used as a form of marking. Scent and sweat glands in between the pads of the paws mix their secretions to produce a unique smell. When claws are scraped down a surface the scent is deposited and the combination of the scratch mark, the discarded claw husks and the smell provides a strong visual and scent message to other cats.

Scratching outdoors - Trees, fence posts, sheds and wooden gates in strategically important locations will all show signs of marking behaviour in a cat-populated area. Similar surfaces will also be utilized for claw maintenance. Unvarnished woods and tree bark are the most natural surfaces to scratch as they provide a perfect level of resistance to the action and show a strong visual sign when used regularly.

Scratching indoor  - Your cat may have limited or no access to outdoors. Alternatively he may choose to spend more time in the comfort and safety of the home and just feel more relaxed about maintaining his claws in a secure environment! Scratching can also be used as a precursor for play or even as an attention-seeking tool by the more manipulative and social individuals. Popular substrates indoors include soft woods (e.g. pine), fabrics, textured wallpaper and carpet. Popular locations include door frames, furniture and stairs. Cats will often scratch vigorously in the presence of their owners or other cats as a sign of territorial confidence. However, if the scratched locations are widespread throughout the home, particularly around doorways and windows, then it is likely that the cat is signalling a general sense of insecurity.

If the motivation is claw maintenance then you are merely punishing a natural behaviour (very confusing for the -cat).
See this link to train your cat not to!

If your cat is scratching excessively due to anxiety and insecurity then punishment will add to his distress and probably make the situation worse.

Scratching as marking behaviour and anxiety-related
If your cat has chosen a variety of locations to scratch and these are regularly targeted it's important to rule out territorial marking as a motivation.
Scratching may be anxiety-related if the following is the case.
-It is widespread.
-It is present in a multi-cat household.
-It is present within a home in a densely cat populated territory. The indoor security for the cat has been breached. (ie another cat entering the secure home)
-There have been changes within the home.

There are often tensions within multi-cat households or territory issues that are not easily identified by the owners. The solution to territorial marking lies in identifying the problem and the cause of the individual cat's stress. Once a potential cause has been established it may be possible to decrease the cat's anxiety by providing additional resources to prevent competition between members of the group.
Making environmental changes within the home will also increase the cat's feelings of security and safety; the following suggestions may be useful.
-Provide a number of high resting places and secure hiding places in different rooms (one per cat plus one is always a good formula to follow).
-Provide sufficient indoor litter facilities in different locations if the cats have limited access to outdoors (one per cat plus one).
-Cover the cat flap with a solid panel, on both sides of the door, and give the cat access outdoors on demand. Or provide an electronically controlled exclusive-access cat flap. This gives the cat security that the cat flap is not a door way for any cat into his home.
-Increase interactive play sessions.   
-Provide additional food bowls elsewhere in the house.   
-Provide additional water bowls elsewhere in the house
-Ensure there are plentiful sleeping areas and beds, even if they are cardboard boxes containing old jumpers.

Prevention certainly is better than cure, but if you are in need of a cure here are some suggestions.
If a particular surface or object is being damaged it is important to provide an acceptable alternative that offers a  similar experience when used.  For example, if your cat is scratching textured wallpaper at a certain height it is essential that the alternative scratching area is vertical with similar texture and striations that allows him to stretch to the same level.

If scratching has damaged furniture, it is possible to deter your cat from future visits to the same location.
-Low-tack double-sided adhesive tape can be stuck over the area and this will provide an unpleasant (but not dangerous) experience when your cat next scratches there. It is essential to ensure that the tape is not too sticky since it could damage paws and fabric. This method can be employed once there are acceptable scratching posts nearby to use as an alternative. Commercially available double-sided adhesive sheets can be purchased  from household cleaning suppliers specifically for this purpose. The adhesive on the tape will attract atmospheric dust and fibres so it may be necessary to place a fresh strip over the original on a daily basis if the cat is persistent with his attempts to scratch.

-If wooden furniture, door frames or banisters have been damaged by scratching it is important to remove all traces of the scratch marks by rubbing down with a fine sandpaper and treating the area with a thick layer of furniture polish once the surface is smooth again. Suitable posts or scratching panels should be located nearby.  If the area is not ideal for a free-standing scratching post on a permanent basis then it can be relocated slowly (an inch at a time!) to a more convenient position once it is being used regularly.

-Many cats target carpet on the lower step of staircases and scratch horizontally whilst lying down. If this is occurring in your house then place low-tack double-sided adhesive tape over the damaged areas (warn the family not to tread on it) and provide a scratching area nearby. If your cat grips the stair on each side of the right angle, providing both vertical and horizontal scratching surfaces, it is important that the alternative offers the same opportunity.  For example a breeze block covered in carpet will be heavy enough to resist the pull of the scratching action, can be used for both vertical and horizontal scratching and is easily located nearby.

-If your wallpaper is being damaged then thin sheets of Perspex can be cut to size and fitted over the
damaged area, using screws and rawlplugs if appro¬priate. This surface will be unattractive to scratch since it is smooth and it is also easily cleaned to remove any scent deposits. Double-sided adhesive tape can also be used over the affected area if the wallpaper is sufficiently damaged to require replac¬ing. Whichever deterrent is used it is essential to provide a vertical scratching panel of a similar height nearby.

Deterrent to further Scratching
There are various commercial deterrents on the market that can be sprayed on the damaged area to prevent further approaches from your cat and his claws. These products emit an odour that is also highly offensive to humans and the spray needs to be regularly reapplied to be effective. You may end up with a pristine sofa that you are unable to enjoy because it smells so bad.

Other deterrents that may prove more useful include
-Tinfoil that can be used as double-sided tape
-Small vinyl pads called Soft Paws that glued over the cat's claws by a veterinary surgeon and will remain in place for 6-10 weeks; scratching will still take place but damage will no longer occur and the cat can be retrained to more acceptable areas.
-Synthetic or natural feline facial pheromones that can be sprayed over the area that is being damaged by scratching. Ie Feliway.

Let's focus once more on the most distressing of all the marking behaviour, urine spraying.
If you haven't lived with this problem you cannot imagine how disruptive it can be. Urine spraying can often be an intermittent problem and many households tolerate it for years because, in between episodes, they keep hoping that it has gone away. Sadly it comes back in most cases so don't leave it any longer.

Jake’s Story - The battle fatigued cat
Jake was a slight (and somewhat feminine) ginger moggy , about five years old when I met him, and his owners, Laura and Chris. In their previous house Jake had been a gentle and placid character; he had spent a lot of time outdoors and returned home for a fuss and a cuddle when it suited him. He seemed to be the perfect cat for a working couple - independent yet loving when his owners returned after a hard day.

When Laura and Chris moved they were keen to do the right thing with Jake and they tried to keep him indoors for three weeks to acclimatize him to his new surroundings. This proved extremely difficult as he was desperate to explore and they soon relented and allowed him to investigate his territory.  Little did Jake know that he was entering a battle zone teeming with warring factions drawn from the meanest feline feral fraternities. Huge beasts with broad chests and squinty eyes patrolled the territory and the arrival of Jake represented nothing more than a minor inconvenience. He was severely beaten up on his first excursion and continued to be bitten, scratched and squashed on a regular basis. Laura would often lie awake at night and hear the screams of vicious cat fights and wonder what was being inflicted on poor Jake. Chris was far more confident about Jake's ability to defend himself and felt this was merely a period of adjustment as Jake found his paws in his new home ground. They had been allowing Jake access to out¬doors via a bathroom window but Chris thought the time was right to fit a cat flap to accommodate unlimited comings and goings.

Time passed and Laura and Chris noticed that Jake was finding a thousand excuses not to go outside. He was sitting by the window in the living room and `asking' to go out from the front of the house. Since the property was one of a long terrace it was clear to both Laura and Chris that a different group of cats populated this area. Maybe Jake just didn't like the rough lot out the back? So they allowed him to go out through the living-room window, but even this was a short-lived activity. Jake once again retreated indoors or sat disconsolately on the front doorstep.

After a couple of months Laura returned home to the sinister aroma of cat pee in the living room. This confused both Laura and Chris for a number of days until Jake sauntered into the room, backed up to a chest of drawers and sprayed a fine jet of urine all over the
front. After the initial shock they shouted at Jake for this appalling act of vandalism and chased him out of the room. He was subsequently barred from the living room but he continued his `dirty protest' against the walls in the hallway and the front door. Laura and Chris would always shout if they saw him do it but this didn't seem to be a sufficient deterrent. Poor Jake became agitated and restless and he would often be found pacing around the ground floor and crying constantly.

During the course of the consultation Jake didn't settle. He took little interest in the toys in my magic bag and spent long periods looking out of the windows. We were in the living room so both Laura and Chris were tightly coiled springs waiting to leap up if Jake showed even the remotest interest in a wall or a piece of furniture. I had a deep sense that Jake was guarding his property against an enemy far greater than himself. That must be pretty scary and comparable with a child's being relentlessly bullied at school or an elderly lady's being terrorized by vandals.  Hideous.

The facts of the case
My job relies on information gathering and history taking and this, together with an almost intuitive under¬standing of the patient's emotional state, helps me to get to the bottom of the mystery in each case. I had been told a number of significant facts during my visit:
• Jake had always been provided with an indoor litter tray but he never used it in their old house. Now he was using the tray often.
• Jake was spraying urine in relatively large quantities.
• Jake started spraying when the cat flap was fitted. • Jake paced and vocalized prior to spraying.
• He spent a lot of time upstairs and never sprayed urine there.
• He started to demand entry and exit through the front door.

This was my conclusion.
Laura and Chris had moved into an area with a high population of feral cats. The physical appearance of the males (broad chests and thick jowls) indicated that they were entire and this would mean that the colony was probably actively breeding and expanding. Whenever a new cat moves into an established territory there is a need to fight (or at the very least agree by mutual consent) for rights of passage.  Poor Jake with his rather camp demeanour just didn't stand a chance. Suddenly he was a prisoner in his own home. Well, that is until Chris fitted the cat flap! It merely represented a breach in the defenses and an opportunity far the enemy to invade Jake's home.
Jake had done the sensible thing and tried to establish territory elsewhere. However, he had obviously met resistance there also and his confidence would not have been at an all time high by then. He was utterly defeated so he with¬drew to the comparative safety of the upstairs (cats often go up when in danger).

The use of the indoor litter tray was also significant. Here was a cat who preferred to eliminate outdoors. In his new environment this would have been a dangerous habit so he turned to the relative safety of the indoor tray. Two problems here: the tray was located in the downstairs bathroom (which was perilously near the cat flap) and it contained wood pellets. Whilst wood is a great substrate in many ways it can be quite unpleasant for some cats. Jake was probably retaining urine, which may have resulted in the passing of larger quantities than normal when he sprayed.

So why was Jake spraying indoors? As you now know, the act of urine spraying is a perfectly normal feline behaviour used in areas of shared territory where the sprayer feels a sense of threat or conflict. It provides an important source of the cat's own smell and is probably extremely reassuring. There should in theory be no reason to spray urine indoors - after all, a cat's home is his den, a haven of security.
Sadly, in Jake's case, this safe zone fell apart when Chris fitted the cat flap and any Tom, Dick or Sooty could enter at will and beat poor Jake into a pulp. Can you imagine Jake in a terrible state of angst try¬ing desperately to make sense of this? Like all cats, he has a limited number of coping strategies so spraying urine in these new-found areas of conflict seems a good course of action. So he sprays and then gets walloped by his owners. His world is rapidly falling apart as everything he thought he could rely on for comfort and security is turning against him. No wonder he is pacing and crying - I think I would have been by then.

The bebaviour programme
I explained my thoughts to Laura and Chris and I devised a plan that we hoped would restore some sense of safety for Jake. His confidence had been seriously shattered and we really wanted to try to restore it.
Here is the plan that we put in place and followed for a couple of months.
-Laura and Chris were asked to visit their veterinary surgeon to have Jake's urine analysed to rule out any potential urinary tract problem. Whilst this was not a likely cause for the behaviour, it was important to check.

-The feral colony was a major cause of the problem and many of the neighbours were experiencing similar difficulties. A breeding colony can harbour many diseases such as Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLU) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (potentially AIDS) and a bite from a carrier can mean your pet will become infected. Feral cats tend to be very territorial and correspondingly aggressive, so vet bills for bite wounds and abscesses are common. Many charities will humanely trap entire feral cats to neuter them and treat or put to sleep any that are sick. Laura put the wheels in motion to deal with the problem and had the help and support of many of her neighbours.

-Chris's handiwork had to go. The cat flap was immediately removed and the door panel replaced with a solid piece. It isn't enough to block up the cat flap since this does not remove the visual cue of the vulnerable opening. Jake started to come and go through the bathroom window again, and the front door or window. This meant he was restricted to excursions when his owners were home but, in the circumstances, this seemed sensible. It also represented an important message for Jake. If any cat was to come and go they had to ask his owners first. We had to make sure Jake started to trust them again since their relationship had suffered a little with all the shouting and smacking.

-Laura and Chris were asked to use the synthetic feline facial pheromone spray according to the manufacturer's instructions to treat the areas where Jake had sprayed urine. They also used the plug-in version in the hallway.

-Jake was given an additional litter tray upstairs in the spare bedroom and the original tray was relocated away from the back door in a discreet corner. Both trays contained a fine grain substrate that was easier underfoot.

-Laura used a cleaning regime for the soiled areas of carpet in the living room and hallway to remove any residual smell of urine that would have encouraged Jake to return.

We needed to get Jake more active and alert indoors. (Importance of play therapy) We gave him boxes to explore and both Laura and Chris played games with Jake to take his mind off all his problems and restore the relationship between owners and pet.

I asked Laura and Chris to review the house to make sure there were plenty of warm hiding and resting places for Jake. He particularly liked jumping up onto high surfaces so we made an area for him on top of the wardrobe and lined it with an old sheepskin coat. This proved very popular!

Jake was being fed a mixture of wet and dry food so we gradually removed the wet content and started to feed the dry food only. This was a good quality veterinary formulated diet (light formula as he wasn't getting out much) and I made sure that Laura measured it accurately to avoid Jake's becoming overweight. I recommended food-foraging techniques (see thread on Indoor cats under Food) to challenge Jake and provide him with positive messages around the home to rival his more negative urine marking.
Water bowls were placed around the house to encourage Jake to drink more. Water intake is essential on a dry diet and several choices of water away from the food will often be attractive options.

The outcome
Laura and Chris noticed a difference in Jake within twenty-four hours of my visit. He was spending more time downstairs and seemed less agitated. Clients often report this phenomenon of an instant change but I cannot take credit for that, unfortunately. My visit enables owners to understand the problem and they instantly become less stressed themselves and more likely to offer their cat love and reassurance instead of the punish¬ment and resentment that had become the norm. This can have a dramatic effect and Jake was obviously feeling the rush of love from his owners!

The programme worked extremely well and, after a few incidents, Jake became more active and responsive to his owners. His spraying soon stopped completely but he continued to remain indoors for prolonged periods. Maybe he felt the risks of exploring outdoors still outweighed the pleasures. The feral colony is continuing to prove a problem with numbers far greater than Laura's group initially anticipated.

Another useful link:

« Last Edit: January 14, 2009, 14:40:52 PM by Sam (Fussy_Furball) »


Link to CatChat