Cat Pee Problem?
Depositing scent and sniffing is the feline version of writing and reading. Pee communication allows cats to leave and receive signals in the absence of the sender/receiver. This cat pee prerogative has led to inappropriate urination and urine spraying being the predominant behavioural concerns for cat households. Whether its urination or urine spraying, both are the cat’s efforts to use urine to deliver a message.
In suburban homes, cats use urine as a means of communication carefully distributing their scent to build up communal odour (‘home smell’). Sensitive feline individuals find any disruption to the ‘home smell’ very unsettling. As a consequence bringing home a new family member, furniture or changing cleaning products (just to name a few) can precipitate a urine spraying outburst in your home. However, disturbances to the ‘home smell’ may not be the only contributing factor to inappropriate urination. Motivations to seek alternatives to the litter tray are numerous. This is why the first step in management is to obtain a comprehensive history and complete a thorough medical work up.
Where to start
At least 1 in 3 cases of urine-based behavioural problems have an underlying physical disease as a contributing factor. Therefore the initial workup for all cases should commence with a thorough clinical examination, urinalysis and blood work.
The treatment focus is on resolving underlying medical conditions, identifying and managing triggers and providing suitable, socially acceptable locations for urination to take place within the home. Treatments must be tailored to the individual.
Environmental interventions play a key role in managing a urine problem. The aim is to establish the indoor environment as a safe place through the provision of suitable eating, sleeping and play opportunities. Each cat in the household needs a toileting and eating station since neither are social behaviours for cats. Using the vertical space in a home can result in genius transformations that provide more opportunities for ‘goldilocks’ cats to find just the right place to feel safe and recuperate. Play opportunities offered throughout the lifetime of a cat provide necessary outlets for predatory behaviour.
Addressing social anxiety triggered by neighbourhood cats is important. While cat flaps are lovely for accessing the very enriching outdoors they also provide an inlet point for intruders. Microchip activated cat flaps eliminate this issue. Sometimes it is not a physical invasion but ‘peeping toms’ at windows and doors that can trigger an anxious response. This requires carefully addressing visual access to these areas as well as some strategical placed Sssscat outside the home.
Social-driven anxiety between cats within the same household requires some additional measures. Individuals that fall within different developmental periods need their own spaces for eating and toileting.
Cats have an acute sense of smell. Because of this, urine that has dried out will be topped up to maintain signal strength. Habitual topping up is a major perpetuating factor in urine-based problems.
Avoid products containing ammonia and chlorine. While they smell clean to us to cats they smell like urine which will lead to topping up. Products to use include biological washing powder (products containing enzymes). These products break down the protein in the urine. Use a 10% warm solution of the powder, rinse and dry. Once the area is completely dry follow up with a brisk spray of surgical spirit. This will remove the fat component of the urine mark. Once dry the cats can have access to the area again. Urine in the home will be missed. Use a LED u.v. light to identify all marked areas and clean them in the appropriate way.
What sort of toilet does the cat want? Effective use of the litter tray buffet
The litter tray must be the most desirable location to urinate in the home. Identify where the cat has wee’d. This is the cats preferred substrate. Likewise, the location of house-soiling can sometimes provide a clue as to preferred toileting locations. Asking the cat what their preferred toilet looks like can be as simple as offering a buffet of different types of litter trays, substrates and locations (For example: for arthritic and senior cats be sure to consider access to the tray as a little ramp may be in order and for long hair cats choose litters that don’t stick to their fur). Once the tray is chosen, offer one litter tray per cat plus an extra tray for good measure (some cats have a one use only policy when it comes to the litter tray!).
The role of punishment
First of all, any negative experience is going to cause the cat to feel less safe which in turn increases the risk of further marking/toileting. Furthermore, there is an increased risk that the cat will mark more frequently but in places that are less detectable.
When indicated some cats with house-soiling problems need medical support in the form of anxiety-alleviating medication. Furthermore, medication is always used in combination with a multimodal behavioural strategy.
Pheromones are useful to help ease mild anxieties and as a useful adjunct to multimodal therapy.
Early detection and intervention are as always the key.