Territory marking in cats & how to resolve it

Cats, like dogs, tell each other things by leaving their scents behind in strategic locations. Cats mark their territories with urine or feces, both of which set apart that specific location as their own. Many cats also urinate on furniture and walls and near windows and doors. This marking behaviour is also commonly known as spraying. This can be frustrating for pet owners who do not appreciate having to clean up urine deposits left outside the litter box.

Male cats begin marking at puberty and females when they go into heat. Cats also roam from home at these times, although a spayed or neutered animal has less interest in doing so.

Veterinarians say that cats do learn these habits, but mostly, the need to stake out a territory and communicate with feline friends or foes comes from hormones. Also, unwelcome neighbourhood cats and the presence of many cats in the household can prompt a pet to mark his territory.

Additionally, cats have other physical and psychological needs to mark. They include bladder infections, diarrhea, constipation, problems of the anal sacs or scent glands, disgust with a smelly, dirty litter box or desire to be with other cats for mating or simple socialisation. Some cats may mark when they are anxious or missing their owners.

Seek medical advice

During a visit to the veterinarian, the doctor will want to know the animal's medical history and marking behaviors. He will examine the cat and take blood and urine samples to determine if there is a bladder infection. X-rays or other imaging will show kidney stones or other obstructions which could cause an infection.

For female cats who have not been spayed, the doctor can perform vaginal cytology which looks at the cells which line the vagina to see if she is in heat or estrus. When these tests are normal, the veterinarian may conclude the cat has a behavior issue.

Any medical issue which the doctor finds will be resolved before any behavioural problems are addressed. In addition, it may be wise to spay or neuter the animal unless the owner intends to breed the animal. Often, the neutering procedure takes care of marking and roaming.

If it is a behavourial issue

If the cat truly has a behaviour problem, the veterinarian can recommend behaviour modification therapies. These strategies usually change how a cat and his owner routinely go through their days.

To eliminate roaming, the owner must confine the cat to the indoors and provide recreation and exercise with toys and scratching posts. These things may help with a pet's separation anxiety, too. Veterinarians may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs to calm the animal and help him respond to behaviour modification.

When a cat has issues with marking, it helps to keep the neighbourhood felines out of the yard and off the porch. Changing cat litters and the location of the litter box may be of benefit as well. Clean the litter daily with a bio-enzymatic urine cleaning product as cats hate dirty litter and will abandon a soiled box.

Be sure to clean floors, walls and furniture which have been marked. Use products that contain enzymes to remove the urine stain and urine odours or the animal will just mark the area again and again. Some people purchase synthetic feline pheromones to stop a cat from marking indoors.

Regular check ups

Report your progress to the veterinarian regularly. Follow-up on anti-anxiety meds and any blood tests the doctor orders. While it may take a while to correct marking, stay the course. Keep the cat indoors where it is safe from cars or other animals. Use positive reinforcement, and be patient and consistent. This will keep the cat from returning to the behaviour and from continuing to need anti-anxiety medication.

Urinating outside the Litter Box and wandering away from home in cats is a hard, but common problem. Work diligently to help your pet live successfully and peacefully indoors.

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