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16. HOW CATS COULD DEVELOP TOILETING PROBLEMS

A cat's natural scenting/toileting behaviour, which is considered by people to be undesirable, goes either unnoticed or is acceptable outside or in our gardens.

Outdoors, urine scent marking is a common & regular occurrence by most, if not all cats. A little like notice boards in the streets, cats post their messages to other cats about who they are, what they are about & what area they inhabit. They may perform this act with subtlety by choosing a specific area to use for their litter. This behaviour is perfectly acceptable to us, & largely it passes unnoticed.

Spraying urine is a little more dramatic & is a higher profile statement. A cat will stand upright, arching its back a little with the tail pointing straight upwards to spray, usually on a vertical surface behind it. The end of the tail will twitch & sometimes spin. This leaves a far more noticeable self-promotion poster that other cats will take notice of. Still, if this occurs outside where the rain will wash it away, it can be little more than a strange curiosity to us.

All cats - Male or female - neutered or un-neutered - are able to spray. Un-neutered tomcats however, are by far the most common sprayers. They will sign post their territories, announcing their dominance to any intruders or challengers.

Indoors, the home is usually saturated with the scent of all the members of the social group already, & only light social scent marking in the form of rubbing against things is necessary.

A cat may, however, mark its territory with urine in either of the ways described above, usually because it feels insecure.
The action reinforces their scent, presence & allegiance to that area & can actively reassure a worried animal. This can happen if there is a change in circumstances such as a new arrival in the family, human or otherwise. The sudden introduction of a catflap could be perceived as a hole in the castle defences, & in a cat's eyes, it may require some strong-smelling "Keep Out!" notices posted all over it.
Urine marking can also happen when a human brings alien smells, perhaps of other animals, into the house. Scent undetectable to human noses may be carried in on shoes, clothing or by a cycle tyre, which may have been sprayed at some point outside. Clearly the sudden emergence of the pungent odour of fresh urine is undesirable to human members of the household. We may not understand the cause or reason for the activity, & may even see it as an offensive gesture, whereas a cat might see the same action as patching up a gap in the scented comfort blanket covering their social group's home territory. A parallel human behaviour, might be the locking our front doors at night time.

Urine marking on personal items, clothing or areas where humans regularly frequent such as a sofa, is thought to provide association for the cat to the dominant force of their territory. To a cat, this is only reinforcing strong alliances, whereas to a person the action is offensive & unpleasant. Providing an immediate alternative in the form of a litter tray in that spot can help, over time, gradually moving it away complete with a smelly item such as a sock for scent association may help.

Less non-bred domestic cats are recorded to develop toileting problems as they are more commonly allowed access to the great outdoors. There they will go about their natural behaviour where it is acceptable or goes unnoticed. Therefore, fewer will be referred to behaviourists even though they are present in higher numbers within human society than the breed cats. Their thoroughbred relations are very often, unfortunately confined to the indoors. When the animal is confined indoors, the same natural behaviour will require exercising but it becomes noticeable & undesirable. 

A higher percentage of pedigree cats are referred to pet behaviourists, as it is more common for these animals to be housed as indoor-only cats. Expensive breed cats are often confined because their keepers fear the animals being stolen or injured beyond their protection.

Some animals spray in protest or frustration to show that they are displeased. They may have learned that the action agitates their keeper & can get results. If they prefer to dominate proceedings, or if they receive attention - good or bad - for doing so, it can become a game - something like a coin-operated puppet, a human may bluster & provide a fun ride for the cat from the vicinity before cleaning up the mess (adding their own scent to that spot).
In human terms, urine marking can seem nonsensical. Scolding a human child for such behaviour would put them off doing it again, scolding a cat may make them less secure & only increase the behaviour.

For advice on toileting problems, please see chapter on cat Litter advice

Starvin Marvin

Starvin Marvin

Morris, Monty & Matilda

Morris, Monty & Matilda

Monty caught on camera, asleep by the window

Monty caught on camera, asleep by the window

Grateful for food, but keeping a wary watch

Grateful for food, but keeping a wary watch

Cat carriers split into two halves, straw scattered inside (available as rabbit bedding in pet shops) makes great bedding. Ensure nests are sheltered from rain

Cat carriers split into two halves, straw scattered inside (available as rabbit bedding in pet shops) makes great bedding. Ensure nests are sheltered from rain

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