One of the best parts of spring in Minnesota is finally being able to open the windows and doors to air out the house after the endless winter. But with those fresh breezes come smells and sounds that may be very distressing to your cats, especially if they are indoor dwellers. With warmer weather comes an increase in the activity of neighborhood indoor/outdoor cats, strays, and feral cats. Your indoor cat, who may or may not be used to other cats, might begin to show some very undesirable behaviors.
A very common reason for cat visits to the veterinary hospital is for problems related to changes in urination and urinary habits. If you notice any changes to your cat’s litter box habits, the first thing you should do is have your cat examined by a family veterinarian. Once a medical problem has been ruled out, you should discuss possible behavior related issues that could be causing the change in urinary habits.
This includes cats marking their territory with scent and visual cues. Urine spraying is one of the most common ways cats leave “messages” for other cats. Urine spraying can often be differentiated from inappropriate urination by the fact that it occurs on a vertical surface rather than a horizontal surface. You might witness your cat backing up to a wall or door frame, lifting its tail straight up in the air, and twitching as he or she deposits urine. Cats will also mark areas by scratching (leaving pheromone and visual cues) as well as rubbing their faces on surfaces to leave their facial pheromones.
When these behaviors are occurring around doors, windows, door frames, or other areas with access physically or visually to the outdoors, it is most often due to a stress response from your indoor cat. They are actually marking their territory. As natural as this behavior is for them, it is generally unacceptable to their humans.
If you discover urine spray, the first step is to clean the area thoroughly to remove any trace of the urine’s scent. The most effective products are enzymatic cleaners that break down the urine protein molecules that cause the odor. These cleaners can be found at any pet store or pet supply website. Once the cleaning is done, steps need to be taken to reduce your cat’s stress. There are several ways to do this:
- Spray the area with Feliway or place a Feliway diffuser nearby. Feliway is a synthetic copy of the calming pheromone mother cats release for their kittens and that adult cats use when rubbing their faces on objects (or humans)!
- Block visual cues from outside by using shutters, curtains, or outdoor plants. These can keep other animals out of your cat’s line of sight. If these options are not possible, you can also provide a place above the ground site line (such as a cat tree or shelves) that enables your kitty to feel safer even if they can still see other animals outside.
- Provide your cat with plenty of distractions inside your home such as toys, hiding places, scratching posts, cat trees, shelves, etc. It’s important to help release your pet’s energy to reduce their stress.
- Some cats will benefit from the use of a Thundershirt. These are marketed for dogs with anxiety problems, but they can also be very helpful in reducing your cat’s anxiety and stress. The smaller sizes fit most cats, but if you have questions about how to fit a Thundershirt or introduce a Thundershirt to your cat, talk to your family veterinarian.
- If you try these other options and notice little improvement, discuss anti-anxiety medications with your family veterinarian.
We understand urine spraying can be stressful for the humans. However, it is very important to remember that you should NEVER punish your cat for this behavior! Punishment during or after the fact may increase your cat’s stress level, make your cat afraid of you, or just change where your cat is choosing to spray urine. So, instead, address the root cause of the problem by helping your cat reduce his or her stress, and speak with your family veterinarian on how you can best help your cat this spring!
For helpful hints on enriching your indoor cat’s environment, please visit indoorpet.osu.edu.
By Elizabeth Bruns, DVM