Marking cats: Are drugs the answer? (Proceedings)


Marking cats: Are drugs the answer? (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2009

Inappropriate elimination, both housesoiling and urine spraying (vertical marking) are the most common feline behavior problems seen at behavior referral practices. In a study of feline behavior cases referred to three different behavioral practices, 58% of 225 cats had a primary complaint of inappropriate elimination, with 70% housesoiling, 30% marking, and 13% exhibiting both behaviors. Marking is when a cat backs up to a vertical surface and directs a stream of urine toward an object or surface. Marking may be caused by territorial competition, anxiety-evoking situations, or arousing events, and it may be stimulated by novel sights, sounds, or odors, especially from other cats. Although sexually intact cats are most likely to spray, the problem is reported in 12% of neutered males and 4% of spayed females. Castration will reduce or eliminate spraying in up to 90% of intact males. Commonly sprayed sites include prominent objects such as plants and furniture, boundaries and exits and new objects in the home. Cats that spray generally use their litter for elimination of urine and feces, although some cats use the spraying posture even in their litter boxes. On rare occasions, cats that urinate or defecate on horizontal surfaces may also be marking. In order to effectively treat inappropriate elimination in cats, it is essential that the practitioner determine whether the problem is soiling or marking. If the cat indeed is marking then drugs may be the answer!

Diagnosis / cause

Housesoiling is often precipitated by medical problems. In a retrospective study of cats with problem elimination, 60% of the cats had a history of FUS/FLUTD. Inappropriate elimination can also be a sign of any medical problem that causes increased volume of urine or stool, increased discomfort during elimination, decreased control or problems that affect mentation, temperament or cortical control. Urinary tract disease is unlikely to be a factor in urine marking. On the other hand, systemic illnesses which might lead to alterations in behavior could contribute to marking by altering hormonal states or increasing anxiety. Assessment should therefore begin with a physical examination, blood and urine tests to rule out any abnormalities in health. Evidence of masculinization such as penile barbs or odorous urine might be indicative of a hormonal disorder.


Once medical problems have been ruled out, the behavioral history is the most critical diagnostic tool for determining the cause of the inappropriate elimination as well as to formulate an appropriate treatment plan. If the behavioral assessment does not include a housecall then details about the home should be evaluated by videotape or by having the owners make a diagram of the home. The history should include: Is the inappropriate elimination, urine, stool or both? Is the deposition vertical, horizontal or both? What percentage of the urine and stool is outside the box (i.e. does the cat also use its litter box)? Litter box information: size, covered vs. uncovered, litter type, number of boxes, frequency of cleaning. Diagram of home with locations of inappropriate elimination and litter box placement. Is there a substrate preference for soiling? Are there substrates or areas in which the cat does not eliminate? Frequency of elimination. When does soiling occur? What is the cat and owners daily routine (diarize) and does this correlate in any way to soiling. Any changes in routine at the time of onset. How many other cats and how do they get along: agonistic interactions between cats. Duration and progression of the problem. Previous treatment and outcomes.

For housesoiling, the substrate and location of elimination, the number and location of the boxes, litter type, location, cleanliness and how often the litter is used should all be evaluated to determine why the housesoiling may have started and how it might be resolved. Cats that entirely avoid using the box or its location may have a preference for other surfaces or areas in the home, or may have an aversion to returning to the box. On the other hand cats that intermittently use their litter box might give important clues by keeping a daily diary of litter use, changing and cleaning, feeding, soiling etc. and by placing a video camera in the area of the litter box or the area of the soiling or both. Litter cleanliness and situations that might induce the cat to intermittently avoid the box should be considered.

For marking behavior, territorial competition, conflict and anxiety evoking stimuli are most likely to be inciting factors. Therefore the history should focus on possible causes of conflict and anxiety that may have arisen at the time that marking began. Based on the cat's relationships with people and other pets and the location and timing of urine marking, it might be possible to determine the cause of the marking. For example, some cats will target new or novel objects, surfaces or odors. Cats that mark external walls, windows and doorways may be responding to outdoor stimuli. When there are multiple cats in the home and the marking is on internal doors, walls, or furniture, then the relationships between the cats in the home may be a problem. Cats that mark owner possessions or those of the family dog, may be anxious about these relationships, particularly if there are no other cats in the home. Changes in the environment can also lead to marking. In evaluating the history it might also be possible to determine if there are specific events that precede the marking (e.g. punishment, agonistic encounters with dogs or other cats).