“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” -Peter Drucker
Verbal communication actually accounts for only 7% of all human communication. Most of our communication is nonverbal such as our body language or the tone and emotion conveyed with speaking.
Cats communicate verbally and non-verbally, too. Even though we don’t speak “meow” we can interpret its meaning through nonverbal clues. However, a normal form of feline nonverbal communication we have yet to genuinely appreciate involves urine spraying or marking, especially when it’s taking place in our house!
Cats do not live in social groups like dogs, so the sprayed urine leaves an advertising billboard for other cats to read when passing by. What is exactly conveyed is still challenging to decipher, but seems to announce “I was here” to establish their presence and is used to mark territory, attract a mate, or cope with stress and anxiety.
Urine marking has unique characteristics when compared to inappropriate urination. The table below compares the two:
You are more likely to see this behavior with intact males, multi-cat households and environmental stress. Some examples of stressors that can trigger urine marking are new family members, moving, going on vacation, guests, new smells or sounds, inter-cat aggression, or changes in routine such as a new work schedule. Cats will commonly target walls, electrical equipment, curtains, and items found on the floor like clothes and plastic bags.
10 Tips for Managing Urine Marking
Ideally, identify the cause and remove the stimuli, but this is not always possible. There may be clues with the location and timing of the behavior. Read our recommendations below for addressing feline urine marking.
This is a must with any unusual behavior. Even though it may clearly be urine marking, one study found that 30% of these cats also had urinary tract disease.
Statistics show that 90% of males and 95% of females respond to this surgical procedure. If your pet is already spayed or neutered, then read on for the other 5-10% of cases.
Clean any soiled areas with an enzymatic cleaner formulated to neutralize pet odors. Any leftover scents, can remind a cat to naturally freshen up that spot. Avoid ammonia and chlorine based cleansers.
The ideal setup is a hot topic. Cats inappropriately eliminating outside the box is a common complaint among owners affecting up to 24% of cats in their lifetime. See what 5 elements should be taken into account when setting up your cat’s litter box in Part 2 of this series: The Purr-fect Litter Box!
A stress-free household will decrease the need for urine marking. Provide plenty of resources: own space, perches, food, water, beds, litter boxes, scratching posts, toys, attention and play-time. Keeping a routine is comforting, too.
Visualizing outdoor cats may be a threat leading to urine marking near windows and doors. You can use non-toxic cat repellents in your yard or block your cat’s view of the outside.
Conflict between cats (or other household members) can create anxiety. Separate those that do not get along and try gradual reintroductions. Be sure you provide plenty of resources as mentioned above!
Products, such as Feliway, can provide a sense of calmness. The facial pheromone in the product can naturally create a feeling of being safe and secure in the environment.
A veterinarian or specialized veterinary behaviorist will decide if medication would benefit your cat’s specific situation. It is important to understand that medication is not successful alone, but needs to be used in conjunction with recommended environmental and behavioral strategies.
Any negative response from you can create more anxiety. Punishment is found to be ineffective and can lead your cat to spray in more inconspicuous locations.
The best way to prevent urine marking is to have your cat spayed or neutered before they reach sexual maturity between 5-12 months of age. From there, provide your feline companions with a stress-free, enriched, and healthy life and home environment. Then, they will hopefully have nothing to spray about.