Urine Marking in a Multi-cat Household

Here are some solutions to cats peeing outside the litterbox.

Cat Expert Dr. PlotnickQ: I enjoy reading your various articles in Cat Fancy Magazine. I have seven Bengals and one Tonkinese. The oldest Bengal, Lavena, is now 10. Her two 1-year-old sister Bengals stalk and chase her. Lavena has resorted to urinating in different parts of the house, including right on the dining room table! She has also urinated in a large ceramic bowl that is on the table in the kitchen, on the baseboards and sprayed against the ceramic tile region in my bathroom. I am concerned that this problem will escalate and that she might urinate in my bed and all over the house.

As of today, before I left for work this morning, I brought her up to the third floor bathroom and kept her there. I provided her with fresh water, dry cat food and a litterbox. When I went upstairs to check on her after work, she had moved things around in the bathroom and had not urinated in the litterbox. I brought her back to the basement and she finally urinated in the litterbox around 3 p.m.

At around 6:30 p.m., she went down to the basement and the two younger Bengals were there. They began to chase her and she ran back upstairs. I suspected that she wanted to use the litterbox. She ran up to the dining room and began sniffing around and she jumped onto the sofa. I quickly picked her up and brought her to the litterbox again and she finally urinated in the box. What kind of recommendation can you give me?   I also have two other Bengals that enjoy chasing the other cats but their chasing and stalking is not as bad as it is with the two younger Bengals.

My friend has suggested that I find a home for the two younger Bengals but I am reluctant to find new homes for them. I thought of confining them to the third floor and letting them live there instead. In the meantime, I will continue to confine my older Bengal cat in the bathroom. I have purchased Buspar from my vet to give to Lavena but I haven’t given it to her yet. Any recommendations from you are much appreciated.

A: Problem urination can be divided into three main categories: a medical problem, a marking problem or a toileting problem. Although this doesn’t sound like a medical problem, you should have your cat examined and a urinalysis performed (at minimum) to rule out medical causes for this behavior. Once you rule out a medical problem, you’re left with marking behavior or inappropriate elimination behavior. That you’ve seen Lavena actually spraying urine against ceramic tile tells me that were dealing with marking behavior. This is not surprising given the number of cats in your household.

Assuming that you are unable or unwilling to reduce the number of cats in your household, there are several things that you can try. You’ll need to alter the environment a little, mainly by providing enough litterboxes (the magic formula being n + 1; in other words, if you have eight cats, you should have nine litterboxes; three cats equals four litterboxes, etc.), scooping urine and feces from the litterbox every day, changing the entire litter weekly and cleaning all urine marks with an enzymatic cleaner (I find that Natures Miracle works best). Environmental management like this is pretty effective, especially for female cats, with about 70 percent of female sprayers showing a 50 percent reduction in the number of spraying incidents per week.

You should also start using Feliway, a synthetic facial pheromone. When cats rub their chin and face on doorways, corners of furniture and on your leg, they aren’t just being friendly. This endearing behavior is an instinctive behavior that leaves behind a pheromone produced by glands located in the chin and lips. Pheromones are substances that act as a form of chemical communication. Pheromones mostly serve to attract a mate and give information about reproductive status, but they also are used to mark boundaries and territories. Animal behaviorists have noted that when cats spray urine to mark their territory, they rarely mark the areas where they have been rubbing their chins. Cats apply this facial pheromone to things they consider their own, and they have no urge to spray the areas that they’ve already marked with their chin and face. Feliway is shown to be effective in reducing behavioral urine marking.

A study reported in the journal Veterinary Medicine a few years ago involving 57 households with urine-spraying cats showed that Feliway spray, used twice a day on the urine-marked areas for a one-month period was effective in reducing urine spraying in 57 percent of the households. In one-third of the households, urine spraying was completely resolved. The number of urine marks per household was significantly decreased for each week of Feliway use, beginning with the first week and continued throughout the four-week study. The decrease in spraying occurred irrespective of age, number of cats in the household, duration of the problem and gender of the cat.

If all this fails to resolve the problem, there are medications that are very effective in controlling urine spraying. A report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association has shown that fluoxetine (Prozac) is very effective at reducing urine spraying in cats, and cats are less likely to relapse once the drug is discontinued. More recent reports (2005) have shown that the tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine is equally as effective as fluoxetine in controlling urine marking in cats.

Arnold Plotnick, DVM

Article Tags:
Article Categories:
Cats · Health and Care