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    Urine Marking in Cats

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    How Can I Tell If My Cat Has a Litter Box Problem or a Communication Problem?

    It takes a bit of detective work to determine whether your cat has a litter box problem or is urine marking. Cats who urine mark also use their litter boxes for voiding, so urine in the litter box does not rule out marking outside the box. But urine marking deposits are usually qualitatively different than inappropriate eliminations outside the box. The following is a list of characteristics that indicate urine marking:

    • Urine marks are usually deposited on vertical surfaces Marking on a vertical surface is known as spraying. When spraying, a cat usually backs up to a vertical object like the side of a chair, a wall or a stereo speaker, stands with his body erect and his tail extended straight up in the air, and sprays urine onto the surface. Often his tail and sometimes his entire body twitch while he’s spraying.
    • Urine mark deposits often have less volume than voided deposits The amount of urine a cat sprays when he’s urine marking is usually less than the amount he would void during regular elimination in his box.
    • The urine smells pungent The reason cats can learn so much from the urine mark of another cat is that a urine mark isn’t just urine. It also contains extra communication chemicals. Those chemicals smell pungent to people.

    There are also certain characteristics of a cat or a household that can contribute to urine marking:

    • The cat is an unneutered male Although female cats as well as neutered and spayed cats can urine mark, unneutered males have more reason to do so. One function of urine marking is to advertise reproductive availability, so unneutered males may urine mark to let females know they are available.
    • There are multiple cats in the household The more cats who live in a home, the more likely it is that at least one of them will urine mark. Houses that have more than 10 cats invariably have urine marking problems.
    • There has been a change in the household in some way Cats don’t like change. When things change, cats can become stressed. Urine marking behavior can be triggered by someone moving in, moving out, getting a dog, cat or other animal, building a room, remodeling the kitchen, changing work hours, going to stay in the hospital, having a baby, even buying a new coat or bringing home groceries in an unusually large paper bag. One of the ways cats deal with this stress is by marking their territory. They might do it to preempt a problem by leaving a message that this place is theirs, or they might do it to comfort themselves with their own familiar scent.

    There is conflict between cats The conflict can be between cats in the house or between the housecat and other cats he sees outside. Cats mark in response to conflict with other cats for the same reasons they mark in response to household changes. Cat-to-cat conflict is one of the most common reasons for urine marking, and it’s usually anxiety based rather than intolerance based. A cat doesn’t necessarily get angry because another cat has the audacity to come into his territory. Rather, he gets upset because he doesn’t have the social skills to deal with the intrusion. If a cat is prevented from avoiding the other cat, he’ll become increasingly stressed and mark often.

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