Scrubbing the floor

Q. My cat has been urine marking the side of my couch, near the window. What can I do to stop this behavior?

A. First, it’s important to determine if your cat is truly spraying, or whether he is urinating. With urine spraying, cats tend to stand upright and eliminate a small amount on vertical surfaces. Cats that are urinating usually squat and eliminate larger amounts on horizontal surfaces. If you’re not sure, it’s best to have your cat examined by a veterinarian to determine the cause of the problem before you try to treat it on your own.

There are a number of medical conditions that can cause cats to urinate outside their litter boxes, including kidney failure, urinary tract stones or crystals, diabetes and arthritis. Cats may also avoid the litter box because they have issues with the type of litter, as well as the cleanliness or placement of the litterbox.

If you are sure that your cat isn’t urinating but is in fact spraying, there are some things you can do to curb the behavior.

What Causes Spraying

Cats spray, or urine mark, as a normal way to communicate with others. While most cats mark by releasing small amounts of urine on vertical surfaces, occasionally they may also spray on horizontal surfaces, or even defecate.The majority of cats that spray are males that have not been neutered; hormones can play a significant role in urine marking.

Cats may spray for territorial reasons or when they feel anxious or threatened. The presence of stray cats in your yard may cause your cat to mark near windows and doors as a way to identify that this is his territory. New pets in the household, or a conflict between existing pets in the same household, may also make pets feel a need to mark their territories. Changes in your cat’s environment, such as rearranging his living space or moving to a new home, can add stress and induce marking. Occasionally, the spraying cat may target the clothing or bedding of a person or visitor in the house.

7 Strategies to Stop the Spraying

There are several ways to change the marking behavior, but it is important to remember that punishment should be avoided; it will only add to your cat’s stress and increase the spraying.

Spay or neuter. The first step to eliminating spraying is to neuter or spay your cat. When sex hormones are decreased, the amount of spraying will most likely decrease as well. Determine the conflict. Next, assess if a conflict with other cats is causing your cat’s stress. If your cat is being chased, bullied or otherwise tormented by a cat or dog in your home, this issue should be addressed with a qualified professional who may recommend techniques like temporary separation, desensitization, counter-conditioning and training to improve the relationship between your pets. If stray cats in your yard are causing your feline stress, limiting his outside view by installing temporary window blockers on the lower half of windows or by pulling down the blinds can help your cat relax. If your cat is allowed both indoors and outdoors, limit him to indoors only, which eliminates whatever stress your pet may be encountering outside.

Clean and soothe. Enzymatic cleaners should be used to eliminate any odors on the bedding and floor that can prompt a cat to respray an area where he had previously sprayed. Once all odors have been eliminated, spray this area with a feline pheromone spray, such as Feliway; this helps your cat feel more secure in the area and may encourage marking with his cheeks rather than urine marking. Increase the number of litterboxes. Place multiple litterboxes in several locations around your home, so that your cat can have free access to a box without being interrupted by other cats. This can cut down on his stress, especially in a multiple-pet home. Encourage productivity. Give your cat productive toys to focus on during the day, such as cat food puzzles or interactive toys he can manage even in your absence. This will keep him busy and give him less time to be stressed-out — or to spray in your house. Provide stability and structure. Schedule a couple of play sessions or trick training sessions with your cat every day to give him structure in his day and stability in his interactions with the humans of the household. Use positive reinforcement. You can also change your cat’s association with his favorite marking area by doing other activities that your cat finds enjoyable in this space, such as petting and cuddling, to cut down on his stress. Or try feeding him in the location where he has previously sprayed.

If your cat continues to mark, contact your veterinarian; she can employ both medical and behavioral training to help, or she can refer you to a qualified professional to further aid in your training.