a veterinarian specializing in cats, I am often asked to evaluate cats for
problems that may have a behavioral basis.
Despite the fact that cats are known for their fastidiousness,
problem urination is, by far, the most common behavioral problem for which
I am consulted. Problem urination can be divided into two main categories:
inappropriate urination (a change in litter box behavior, such that
cats eliminate in inappropriate areas of the house), and urine spraying,
in which cats use urine as a way to mark or delineate their territory.
Urine spraying is a normal behavior (at least for sexually intact
males) that may be related to repelling other males, or gaining access to
breeding females. Cats diagnosed with inappropriate elimination typically do
not use their litter box for urination, while cats displaying urine
spraying or marking behavior still use their litter box for urination.
Urine spraying is a particularly frustrating problem for cat
owners, as these cats often spray urine on walls, windows, furniture,
appliances, beds, and clothing.
environmental and pharmacologic approaches to the treatment of urine
spraying have been employed in an effort to resolve this problem and
restore harmony to the household. Recently,
advances have been made on both fronts (environmental and pharmacologic),
allowing for greater success in treating this problem.
information on the causes of urine marking in cats was revealed in a study
published in the December 15th, 2001 issue of the American
Veterinary Medical Association journal.
Researchers from the Behavior Service at the University of
California’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital studied 47 cats with
urine spraying behavior. Not
surprisingly, male cats outnumbered females significantly; 40 cats in the
study were male (85%); only 7 were female.
Because urine marking is under hormonal control, only spayed
females and neutered males were considered for the study, to eliminate
hormonal influences as a causative factor for the problem behavior. Owners of the cats were asked what they believed was the
cause of their cats’ urine marking.
The 3 most common causes listed were: interactions with other cats
outside the home (49%); interactions with other cats inside the home
(28%); and restricted access to the outdoors (26%).
Other factors that were cited were relocation to a new home (9%),
introduction of a new inanimate object to the home (6%), change in the
owner’s daily schedule (6%), and a change in pattern of interaction
between the owner and the cat (6%). Approximately
21% of owners had no idea why their cat had started spraying.
Of the 47 cats in the study, 42 of them were from multi-cat
main part of the study was an evaluation of behavioral/environmental
management methods in the treatment of the condition.
Environmental management procedures used in the study consisted of
providing enough litter boxes, scooping urine and feces from the litter
box every single day, changing the entire litter weekly, and cleaning all
urine marks with an enzymatic cleaner.
Environmental management was partially effective in resolving the
problem of urine spraying. For
cats who marked their territory greater than 6 times a week, the number of
urine marks that occurred during the environmental management phase was
reduced from about 12.9 marks/wk to 10.7 marks/wk.
Female cats, however, responded much better than males to
environmental management. If
you define a response as that being a 50% or more reduction in the number
of spraying incidents per week, 71% of the females that marked more than 6
times a week responded, compared to only 36% of the heavily spraying
males. Although this study
does suggest that attention to environmental and litter box hygiene can
reduce marking frequency in cats, the results are far from satisfactory
for most cat owners. Clear,
better environmental management techniques are needed.
cats rub their chin and face on doorways, corners of furniture, and on
your leg, they aren’t just being friendly.
This endearing behavior is an instinctive behavior that leaves
behind a pheromone produced by glands located in the chin and lips.
Pheromones are substances that act as a form of chemical
mostly serve to attract a mate and give information about reproductive
status, but they also are used to mark boundaries and territories.
Animal behaviorists have noted that when cats spray urine to mark
their territory, they rarely mark the areas where they have been rubbing
their chins. Cats apply this
facial pheromone to things they consider their own, and they have no urge
to spray the areas that they’ve already marked with their chin and face.
few years ago, a chemical copy of the feline facial pheromone became
available as a synthetic spray. The
spray, Feliway, has been shown to be effective in reducing behavioral
urine marking. A recent study (reported in the journal Veterinary Medicine,
February 2000) involving 57 households with urine-spraying cats showed
that Feliway spray, used twice a day on the urine-marked areas for a
one-month period was effective in reducing urine spraying in 57% of the
households. Only 9.3% of the
households reported no beneficial effect.
In one-third of the households, urine spraying was completely
resolved. The number of urine marks per household was significantly
decreased for each week of Feliway use, beginning with week 1, and
continued throughout the four-week study.
The decrease in spraying occurred irrespective of age, number of
cats in the household, duration of the problem, and gender of the cat.
The development of this facial pheromone, and its use in
conjunction with established environmental control procedures, gives
veterinarians and cat owners a powerful new tool to help control this
management is our first choice in treating urine spraying.
If this methodology fails, however, all hope is not lost.
Pharmacologic approaches to treatment are commonly employed when
dealing with particularly tough behavior problems.
The drugs explored so far have not been very good at resolving the
problem in all cats. Drugs
such as diazepam (Valium) and buspirone (Buspar) are effective in markedly
reducing urine spraying in 55 to 75% of cats treated.
When the drugs are withdrawn, however, almost all cats receiving
diazepam, and 50% of those receiving buspirone, resume urine marking. A
recent report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical
Association has shown that fluoxetine (Prozac) is very effective at
reducing urine spraying in cats, and cats are less likely to relapse once
the drug is discontinued.
The study involved
20 neutered male cats with objectionable urine spraying behavior.
Owners recorded the number of urine spraying events before the start of
the study. Half of the cats received fluoxetine, and half received a
fish-flavored placebo liquid. Seventeen cats finished the 8-week long
study, of which 9 received fluoxetine and 8 received placebo. Cats
receiving fluoxetine were monitored for the return of urine spraying
behavior for four weeks after the drug was discontinued. The average
weekly spraying rate of cats receiving the fluoxetine (8.6 sprays/week)
decreased significantly by week 2 (1.7 sprays/week) and continued to
decrease over the 8-week period (0.4 sprays/week). There was a great
deal of variability with regard to the return of urine marking after
drug withdrawal. Some cats never sprayed again. Others resumed
spraying once the drug was removed. A pattern was detected, however:
the cats that sprayed the most at the start of the study were the most
likely to relapse four weeks after drug withdrawal. Cats with a milder
urine-spraying problem were less likely to relapse after the 8-week
study. More recent reports (2005) have shown that the tricyclic
antidepressant clomipramine to be equally as effective as fluoxetine in
controlling urine marking in cats.
It is a sad fact that
some cats are euthanized or surrendered to animal shelters because of
intractable urine spraying behavior. The development of the synthetic
feline facial pheromone and the recent discovery that fluoxetine
(Prozac) and clomipramine (Clomicalm) are safe and effective in curbing
urine spraying behavior allows veterinarians to devise better protocols
for resolving this frustrating problem.