Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Tinkle tinkle

We are often asked to take in cats because they are urinating or defecating away from their litter tray. Ginger is a typical example. She has been messing where she shouldn't and her owner can cope with it no longer.

Cats usually do this for one of three reasons;

1. They are unwell.
2. There has been a change in the household/environment which is causing them ongoing stress.
3. There was a circumstance in the (recent) past which caused them stress, and although the circumstance may have gone or changed, the cat has got into the habit of marking or messing.

To resolve this, we suggest:

1. First of all, have the cat checked over by a vet. Some cats display anti-social behaviour, including inappropriate marking, when they are feeling unwell, even though the cause of the illness may have nothing to do with the behaviour. Your vet should be able to give the cat a full health check, and if s/he rules out any illness, we suggest you follow the suggestions below.

2 & 3. The first thing to do is to establish (if possible) the reason that the cat has felt the need to mark. Have there been any changes in the house? It could be something as significant as the arrival of a new baby or new pet, or something as apparently insignificant as a new suite. If you cannot establish any changes, it could be an external change - such as a new or stray cat in the area, a new dog nearby, building works on a neighbouring property.

Most spraying habits can be broken. We suggest the following course of action, together with the list of other ideas below:

If the behaviour is due to another cat or even a dog,
1. we suggest you completely separate them, one in one room and the other in another room. Give them specific bedding and swap the bedding every day so that they get the sense of each other's odour.
2. after a few days allow them to meet on neutral territory. If it is two cats, allow them to hiss at each other and even to engage in gentle fight - only separate them if they are really tearing into each other. It is normal for them to yowl and hiss and to fluff up and display aggressive behaviour. Try not to intervene as they are beginning to establish a hierarchy. Once they separate, put them back in their separate rooms. If it is a cat/dog situation, allow the cat to jump away from the dog, and if the cat hisses or swipes at the dog try not to intervene - the cat is just establishing boundaries.
3. Continue this pattern and gradually increase the amount of time and the places they spend together. Allow them back to their safe rooms and their own litter trays.
4. Once the animals are less stressed with each other, start to feed them in the neutral room, on separate plates at some distance from each other but on the same level if cats. You might consider feeding a cat high up if the other animal is a dog. Don't give them full meals, just give them treats or small snacks.
Gradually the animals may tolerate each other and the marking should stop. Do not let the animals into each other's safe place. Don't rush it!

If the behaviour is a habit, the best way to break the habit is to crate the cat.
1. Put the cat in a large cage with room for a bed and litter tray, and food if possible.
2. Regularly take the cat out, and cuddle or play with him, but don't let him free-roam. Put him back in after playtime/cuddle time.
3. If/when he uses the litter tray, give him a small treat, if possible as soon as he has used it.
5. After a few days, extend his territory, but don't remove the crate if possible, and certainly don't move the litter tray. Extend the territory by only one room at a time.
6. If he regresses and spray, start again. Don't rush it.

The following may also be helpful:

1. try using Feliway - a plug-in which you can get online or from vets and some petshops. This releases pheromones into the atmosphere which in many cases calm the cat(s) and reduce the stress they are feeling.
2. Try using Bach Flower remedies - available from a health store - they too may reduce the amount of stress the cat is feeling (Bach Flower Practitioners at the Health shop will advise which is the best to buy).
3. Make sure you clean up any messes with mild products which DO NOT CONTAIN AMMONIA. If you use an ammonia based product, the cat will believe that another cat has been there and will mark the place to reassert his/her own scent. If the mess is cleaned up quite soon after the cat has left it, you are unlikely to catch anything and you don't need strong disinfectant for reassurance. Bleach and Dettol are commonly used, but not only are they likely to cause the cat to re-spray, they are also poisonous.
4. Any odour can be masked by burning oil such as rose flavoured oil. Try not to use anything "chemical" as the cat may respond to the chemical odours by spraying again.
5. If the cat is regularly using a particular place to mess, try putting fresh citrus there - orange or lemon peel. Cats do not like this odour. Another suggestion is to put the litter tray in the place where the cat is messing. It may remove the habit in a different way.
6. Water spray - keep a water spray to hand (the sort you use to mist plants). As soon as you see the cat messing/spraying, squirt it full face once with the water and walk away, no eye contact, no verbal. It is imperative that this is done whilst the cat is misbehaving. S/he will soon associate the behaviour with the water and it may well break the habit.

As for Ginger, not a drop out of place since she came to our shelter. Her previous owners thought it was due to the stress of another cat, and we have to agree!