Q: I have four male cats, three of whom have been neutered. They still try to mark their territory even after being fixed. Is there anything I can do to stop this behavior?
A: I am assuming that your cats are spraying. The first action you need to take in order to stop the unpleasant behavior is to have your veterinarian neuter the intact male. If you have whole female cats in the house, they will need to be spayed as well. After having all of the cats fixed, expect it to take a few weeks to a month until the boys stop spraying. Although fixing the cats will probably eliminate the spraying, spaying and neutering isn’t a guarantee that the behavior will stop. There may be other factors, such as neighborhood cats, inter-cat aggression, too many cats in too small of a space, as well as other circumstances that might be triggering your cats to spray.
The next step to stop the spraying is thoroughly cleaning the targeted areas and then providing the cats with other more appropriate ways to mark their territory and show their status. Clean the targeted areas with an enzyme cleaner. Some enzyme cleaners are more effective than others at removing the odor so that it is undetectable to cats. After applying the enzyme cleaner to the sprayed area, let it dry naturally. Enzyme cleaners eliminate the odors as they dry. Sometimes it takes a couple of applications to effectively eradicate the odor.
Scratching objects is another, less destructive way that cats mark their territory. They have scent glands on the bottom of their paws, so whenever cats scratch an object information is broadcast about the scratcher on to the scratched surface. Cats also mark with the visible scratch impressions they leave behind, and they are marking audibly by the sound of their scratching. In order for your cats to have an acceptable way to mark their territory, place tall scratching posts and horizontal scratchers throughout the house.
Vertical territory can also help, especially if there are inter-cat aggression issues. The high shelves and perching areas allow the cats to display their status to each other in a stress-free way. Cat hierarchy isn’t static, however. It depends on a number of factors, including the time of day, the room and who is around at the time.
Another activity that can help stop the spraying is changing the cats’ associations with the targeted areas. In addition to the scratchers, engage the cats in activities they enjoy on the target areas. If they like to play or be groomed, make sure to play with them and groom them on or near the previously sprayed areas.
The spraying can be stopped, but it will take a combination of spaying and neutering all of your cats, environmental management and thoroughly cleaning the areas with an excellent enzyme cleaner.