Spraying is usually done by cats to mark their territory. But if your cat is spraying inside your home, or excessively, it could be anxious. Here's what to do about it... From the current issue of PetPeople magazine.
Spraying is normal behaviour for cats, but is a problem when it occurs in the home. Scent is incredibly important to cats. The depositing of scent is called marking and there are four types of marking behaviour:
Bunting: the cat will rub its head or flank against people and items.
Stropping: creating a scent and visual signal as the cat scratches.
Spraying: the cat will squirt a small amount of urine against a vertical surface. Typically, the cat's tail will quiver and it may tread up and down on its back legs.
Middening: a cat will deposit faeces in an extremely prominent place.
Although spraying involves urine, it is entirely different to normal urination, which is an elimination function - the bladder has to be emptied. Spraying is a deliberate action to deposit urine in a particular place as a mark. Both male and female cats spray and do so at any age once the cat is mature.
Why does it occur?
Marking helps the cat to define its territorial boundaries and to make it feel secure in its core territory - the home. If a cat feels threatened or anxious, then its normal indoor bunting or stropping marking behaviour may escalate to spray marking. Typically, spraying occurs when local cats enter the resident cat's territory, entering through the cat flap, or peering in through windows or patio doors. The resident cat will then spray near doors and windows in an attempt to keep the other cat away. Disruptions such as decorating, building or new furniture may result in the scent being removed, and the cat may spray to re-establish its territory. The arrival of another pet or a baby can also upset cats and may result in spraying. A spraying cat is usually an anxious cat.
What to do
If your cat is spraying, it's vital that it is not told off. It's already anxious and punishment may make it even more so, which may make it spray more. Find out why the cat is anxious. Has another cat been coming in the house? If so, then closing off the cat flap can help your cat feel more secure. If children, a dog or another cat in the house is the problem, make sure that your cat has lots of high up, safe hiding places. Feliway, which reproduces the facial bunting pheromones, can be sprayed on new furniture or on newly decorated doorways at cat height.
Clean the soiled area with your cat out of the room. Sprayed areas should be cleaned with one part biological washing powder and nine parts warm water, which will remove the proteins in the urine. Once dry, spray with alcohol, such as surgical spirit (test a small area first), to remove fatty acids in the urine.
Inga MacKellar, behaviourist