Sunday, 23 August 2015

Need to rehome? Rethink...

Our Colwyn and District branch of Cats Protection runs a waiting list for cats to come in to our care.  We receive a number of phone calls every day from people needing to rehome their cats for a wide variety of reasons.  Many are unavoidable but sometimes action can be taken to improve the situation and even avoid the need for rehoming.  This is the first of a few posts offering advice on a few of the issues that are reported to us.

Spraying and inappropriate toileting
Scent is a very important method of communication in cats.  They use scent glands on their body and the spraying of urine to apply different markers/messages around their territory to communicate with both themselves and other cats – for example, the facial scent glands produce a pheromone to indicate a happy and safe place.  

First we need to be able to recognise the difference between spraying and urinating: 

Spraying:  the cat usually stands and backs up to a vertical surface, the tail is held straight up and may twitch, back feet may paddle whilst “spraying” short bursts of urine

Both male and female, unneutered or neutered cats have the ability to spray.  This is usually performed outside to mark areas of their territory where they feel threatened in an attempt to remind themselves to be wary, re-spraying once the scent wears off.  When performed inside the house spraying is often an indication that something isn’t right.     

Tom cat urine spraying (photo: International Cat Care)

Urinating: both male and female cats will adopt a squatting position with their back end low to the ground to produce a puddle of urine usually in a private or secluded area
Cat in urinating position (photo: International Cat Care)

Spraying often results from a combination of many factors such as a change in the household, the presence of multiple cats or an underlying health issue.  If your cat is spraying it is important to consult your vet first and foremost to rule out any underlying health problems.  If the vet does not find any medical reason for the spraying then it is important to identify the cause.  Your vet may be able to refer you to a qualified behaviourist who can tailor a specific behaviour management plan.  It is important not to punish the cat for spraying in the house as the cat will then become more anxious and continue to spray.

Have a think about any recent changes in the household that may coincide with the onset of the spraying behaviour such as the arrival or departure of family members (e.g. new baby), DIY, decorating or furniture rearrangement (meaning your cat’s scent markers are lost or moved) or the addition of a new cat to the household or neighbourhood causing a threat to resources.

Also, the location of the spraying can give an indication as to the problem.  Spraying in doorways or narrow hallways could be due to encountering other cats in the household and feeling threatened by them.  Ensure all cats have good access to their own resources (food, water, litter trays etc.) reducing the need for competition.  Spraying by windows, doors or the cat flap could indicate a threat from outside such as a neighbouring cat.  Aids could include the use of semi-transparent material to restrict the view of other cats, using a microchip activated or magnetic cat flap to avoid other cats coming into the house or deterring cats from the garden (see the link to “Managing your cat’s behaviour” below for information on humane deterrents). 

Once the cause of the cat’s anxiety has been dealt with (if it has been possible to) Feliway can provide some cats with reassurance as it mimics the facial pheromone indicating a safe or happy area within the territory.  Feliway can be used in a spray or diffuser form and is available from the Cats Protection online shop

Image of diffuser: 

To reduce the risk of territorial spraying it is useful to have your cat neutered – according to International Cat Care, approximately 90% of intact males and 95% of intact females show a significant decrease in spraying after being neutered.   If you are in receipt of any form of benefits (including tax credits), receive a low income, are a pensioner or student you will be eligible for one of our neutering vouchers – find out more by calling our neutering officer Dot on 01492 596555 between 10:30 and 16:30 or our main helpline 0345 647 2185 anytime.  This will also help us to reduce the number of unwanted litters, which also add to our waiting list!

Inappropriate toileting (away from the litter tray) is often caused by different reasons than spraying behaviour.  As before, we would recommend the cat is seen by a vet initially as it is important to have a health check before going ahead with behavioural alterations.  If your cat is said to be in good health then the following points may help.  If there is still a problem then the advice of a qualified behaviourist should be sought.
  • ·         Position of litter trays – cats are very vulnerable when toileting so will naturally want to use a private quiet place.  Trays are not ideal in an open area, next to a washing machine, near a cat flap (threat of approaching cats) or near to their food and/or water resources.
  • ·         Type of litter tray – shallow trays for kittens, larger for adults to provide room to manoeuvre, low sides for elderly cats and nervous cats may prefer hooded trays.  Cats have individual tastes so it may be a case of trial and error until you achieve success.
  • ·        Number of trays – try to provide one tray per cat plus one extra in a variety of places upstairs and downstairs.
  • ·         Type of litter – fine sand/grit litter is often preferred as it feels soft under the paws and is good for digging or wood pellets are also available.  Avoid using scented litter due to the cat’s strong sense of smell and 3cm is reported to be the optimum depth for digging.
  • ·        Hygiene – tray deposits should be removed once or twice a day (or as regularly as possible) as cats are notoriously clean creatures and may not use a tray more than once

Cleaning up urine can be a tricky job as many household cleaning products contain ammonia, which is also found in urine so may add to the problem.   One idea is to use a warm 10% solution of biological washing powder and then rinse with clean water (recommended by Cats Protection and International Cat Care).  If the surface is suitable surgical spirit can also be applied to remove the last traces of urine (a patch test is advised first!).

The Cats Protection essential guide entitled “Managing your cat’s behaviour” includes a lot of this information and more about signs of stress, shy cats, aggressive cats and scratching. You can download it here