Pamela J. Reid, Ph.D.
This Land is My Land
Lynn ushered me into the living room and offered me a seat on her sofa. An elegant cat named Perry peered at me from a nearby armchair and then ambled over to the front door to sniff my shoes where I’d removed them upon entering the house. In the midst of chatting with me, Lynn suddenly shrieked and bolted toward the door, just in time to save my shoes from backsplash; Perry was positioning himself to spray urine on the wall by the front door. And that, explained Lynn, was why I was here: Perry had recently begun spraying in the house.
Lynn had adopted Perry from the ASPCA two years earlier. Prior to his new habit, he was an ideal companion and housemate. But that changed when Lynn began finding sticky yellow stains on the walls and furniture. Since Lynn had no other pets, she knew Perry was the culprit. And sure enough, she eventually caught him in the act. One day, she noticed him sniffing around the front door. He turned away as if to leave, but then struck an odd pose and did the deed. The offending liquid dripped down the wall while Perry strolled off as if he owned the world.
Tomcats are notorious for urine spraying. They spray when courting a female, during conflicts with other cats and to mark and claim territory. Although neutered males like Perry are much less likely to spray, approximately ten percent of neutered males (and five percent of spayed females) will spray at some time.
Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud!
I bombarded Lynn with questions about what had changed when Perry started this behavior: Had she moved? Did her work schedule change? Did she buy new furniture? She assured me that nothing was different. Was it possible that Perry was upset with his litter box? Urination and spraying usually aren’t linked, but a problem with his box may have stressed Perry out to the point of spraying. But it seemed Lynn was an excellent caretaker: she had two boxes (the rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus one), used unscented clumping litter (most cats’ favorite) and scooped once a day.
Had Perry changed in other ways? Lynn reported that Perry had stopped watching his kitty video. Instead, he was spending a significant part of his day perched on the back of the sofa and looking out the window. He sometimes glimpsed cats outside and would fly into a rage – hissing, spitting and swatting at the window. And then, bingo! Lynn realized that Perry’s problems began when she moved the sofa from one side of the living room to another with a large window that overlooks the front lawn. The sofa became the perfect lookout point, and what Perry saw didn’t please him. Cats walking on his front lawn incensed him to the point of claiming his territory. Behaviorists believe cats use urine spray to avoid running into each other, and Perry wanted to proclaim to the cat world that this was his domain.
The Way We Were
We introduced a few simple changes to see if Perry would revert to his former clean behavior. The idea was to minimize his exposure to outside cats, discourage him from hanging out in the areas where he sprayed and give him plenty of stimulation. First, we closed the drapes on the living room window and moved the couch back to its previous spot. We put plastic carpet runner upside-down by Perry’s favorite spray areas (cats dislike walking on the pointy feet on the underside of a carpet runner) and cleaned the sprayed areas with an enzymatic cleanser to remove odors that might encourage repeat behavior. Lynn also bought new kitty videos and placed a bird feeder outside of an upstairs window. Lynn and I also discussed drug therapy, in the form of anti-anxiety medication, in case the initial changes were not effective. Additionally, a product called Feliway®, which is synthetic feline facial pheromones, can be helpful for diminishing spraying behavior. The substance is applied to areas where the cat is spraying to offer a “friendly” smell that reduces the cat’s motivation to spray.
The good news is that Perry reverted back to his relaxed, nonspraying self within a few days of my visit. He was thrilled with the new bird feeder and spent most of his days resting on a bed near the window, occasionally lifting an eyelid to view the birds. After a couple of months, Lynn removed the carpet runner, opened the drapes and vowed never to move her furniture again!
Dr. Reid is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the director of the ASPCA’s Center for Behavioral Therapy.
© 2002 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Winter 2002
424 East 92nd St.
New York, NY 10128-6804