Territorial and Spraying Behavior in Cats


Spraying behavior in male cat

Question: I wrote to you several weeks ago asking about using the dye to determine which cat was urinating improperly. Well, I caught my male in the act about 2 weeks ago and called my vet immediately!! He suggested Feliway and said to give it 2 weeks. We are now at the end of week 1, and it is still going on!! It is just happening in places where the Feliway hasn't been used. He even went in my washer (thank goodness it was empty)!! I am at my wits end here. It is mostly spraying but we did find a puddle today. There is a stray female who adopted us that lives outside but I've even covered my French doors with construction paper up to where he can't see her! He is neutered and has been since 6 months old. He is now 5, and never had any problems until the last year or so. We did bring a kitten into the household exactly a year ago, but there was a time that the improper urination had stopped. I would say it has resurfaced within the last 3 months. What was very ironic and kind of funny was the stuff I've been using to treat the carpet, got sprayed while sitting on top of the washer! I know there are oral meds that can help in this problem. Which one is the best and has the highest success rate? I don't want to turn him into a zombie but something has got to give here and if putting him on medication takes care of the problem, that's what I have to do. I've spent hundreds of $$ on stuff for the carpet and used the Feliway but nothing works!!! HELP!!!! Monica

Answer: Monica-

You did the right thing by blocking your male cat's view of the outside cat. That sometimes helps. If you can figure out a way to keep the cat away, that would be even better.

It isn't unusual for a cat to develop spraying behavior when a new cat is added to the household, even a new kitten. Decreasing the number of cats is sometimes, but not always, helpful. Usually cat owners aren't too enthusiastic about this option, though.

There are a number of medications that are used to treat urine marking behavior in cats.

The most effective of these medications is probably buspirone (Buspar Rx). It may take as long as three to four weeks for this medication to work. If it does work it should be tapered off after two or three months to see if the problem will stay away. If it doesn't, it may be necessary to continue the medication long term.

Diazepam (Valium Rx) is fairly effective for this condition, too. However, it has more side effects, including sedation for several weeks and it will occasionally cause severe liver damage, so it is important to monitor for this problem when using diazepam.

Amitriptyline ( Elavil Rx) is effective in some cats for stopping urine marking behavior but our experience with it hasn't been spectacular. It will sometimes work when other medications don't though. We use it at least a month prior to giving up on it.

Clomipramine (Clomicalm Rx) has been advocated for urine marking behavior, too. It is a relatively new medication and we have not tried it, yet. I do not know if this medication will eventually prove to be very good for urine marking, or not. If other medications don't help, this is an option, though.

Fluoxetine (Prozac Rx) is also sometimes used for urine marking. We have not tried this medication, either.

Lastly, megestrol acetate (Ovaban Rx) is sometimes very effective for urine marking behavior but it has a lot of side effects that are undesirable, including a tendency to induce diabetes and the potential to cause mammary cancer, even in male cats.

We have pretty good luck with buspirone and with diazepam, when buspirone won't work. However, I agree with your vet --- I'd give the Feliway (Rx) at least one more week prior to using medications to try to control the urine spraying.

Mike Richards, DVM 6/19/2000

Territory issues

Q: Can an unneutered tom tell the difference between a spayed female and one that happens not to be in heat?

Our cat, Patches, is a 9-year-old spayed female. In our neighborhood, there are a couple of feral toms, who, in the nature of things, are intact.

One of these toms has been prowling around our house, and has had a couple of encounters (that we know of) with our cat. He has shown behaviors that my wife interprets as attempts on his part to keep Patches under his control and in his territory until Patches comes into heat, not realizing that she will not do so.

Additionally, if he *is* providing her with his attentions, is it possible that they will provoke a "false" heat or some other reaction (other than the reaction to drive another cat out of her yard?).

Patches' most recent encounter with the tom was Wednesday; although we didn't see the whole thing, we heard yowling and ran to the door, where we found Patches crouched on the top step (which one of them had sprayed), and the tom on the top terrace, perhaps 25 feet away; at the sight of us, he slunk back into the woods. We called Patches in, gave her a cat treat, and got her to rest for an hour or so before letting her back out. The rest of the day she seemed normal; last night (Thursday), however, instead of going to bed and to sleep with me about 21 as is her habit, she kept me awake past midnight with her insistent cries to go out and her banging at the pet gate. We told her, "No!" sternly, pushed her away from the gate, and even, on two occasions, picked her up and carried her back to bed, but she repeatedly returned to the gate and cried (we do not let her out at night, as the area abounds in wild animals, many of which would be all too happy to make a meal of a cat). After my wife came into bed, Patches settled down, apparently content to have both of "her" people in the room with her.

Did interacting with the tom cause this reaction, or did she just pick last night to make a nuisance of herself?


A: John-

I am not sure, but I don't think that a male cat could tell the difference between a spayed female cat and an intact female cat that just wasn't in heat at the present time. I think that it is more likely that the male cat is simply trying to establish a territory that includes your yard and that Patches is reacting to the territorial threat. This is highly stressful for cats involved in this sort of dispute and it would not surprise me at all if the behaviors that you are seeing are due to this situation. The two cats may come to some compromise in which they accept each others presence or this may turn out to be a chronic long term problem, if the male insists on staying and Patches insists on resisting him. Hopefully, that won't happen.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/11/99

Territorial stress behavior

Q: Dear Dr. Mike: Even though you are away this month, I figured I would still write to you and wait patiently for your return in hopes of a reply. We made a big move from one state to another and are currently renting a house. We went to a shelter and adopted two cats who were left there because their owner had died. Bob, a Russian blue and Doug, some kind of a white longhair with tabby markings, are both seven years old. Bob adjusted to his new home within minutes, no kidding. Doug, on the other hand, has been a handful. My primary concern was his regular scooting on the only carpet that we have in the house. He did this several times a day and I was convinced he had worms. I decided to take him to the vet because of this and his strange behavior. He was literally climbing the walls. I would watch him get half way up the wall and be in shock because I couldn't believe my own eyes. That and his aggressive behavior towards Bob. He would constantly sneak up on Bob and start biting him in his abdomen area. Bob is very mellow and would not defend himself. I would have to intervene which I did not like to do, because what if I am not around. He would chase Bob constantly during the middle of the night and fight with him so much that we weren't getting any sleep because we would have to break the fights up. We now put them to sleep in the basement with the door closed and that has helped except Doug does let us he is upset (is that what "caterwauling" is?) Anyway, the vet said that Bob was scooting not due to worms, but because he needed his anal glands expressed. She did this, much to Doug's displeasure and he was fine for about 2 days. The scooting has returned and so has the strange behavior. I should also mention that he has been urinating and defecating even though his litter box is clean and I haven't changed his diet. He found my wedding dress (which was in a bag, thank God) and peed on it. I'm stumped. I bought the cats a scratching post with a catnip ball on it, I groom them and cuddle them constantly and yet, Doug's behavior is inexplicable. The vet even tested him for hyperthyroidism and that's normal (1.2). I could understand if this behavior occurred right after we brought them home, but Doug has been here two months now. I should mention that they are indoor cats and they are both neutered. There are several outdoor cats in the neighborhood who run freely and Bob and Doug do see them. I've seen the comments about trying to not let them be in an area where they can see the outdoor cats, but that is impossible. We do not want to get rid of him. He is a great cat otherwise, really. I just devote so much time out of my day trying to correct him bad behavior. Any comments, recommendations or well, anything, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Marian

A: Marian- Doug seems to have several behavioral problems but they may related to one problem -- territorial stress. Some cats do not accept the presence of another cat in the household well. This leads to urine marking behavior and to aggressive acts directed towards the other cat. It is difficult to handle this situation as you have discovered. It is also difficult to change the situation. Keeping the cats entirely separate has worked for several of my clients but it does not sound like Doug is amenable to this situation, either. Medications help in a limited number of cases. It is best when medicating to have the help of a veterinary behaviorist if that is possible. It may not be, since there aren't too many veterinary behaviorists yet. It is sometimes necessary to medicate both cats, especially if the one being attacked develops nervous habits that further encourage attacks. In that case, one cat is medicated with an anti-anxiety medication and the other (aggressive cat) medicated with the same medication or perhaps with a seritonin enhancing medication such as fluoxetine (Prozac Rx) or amitriptyline (Elavil Rx). It is often necessary to medicate for several months and then to gradually taper the medications to gain the desired effect. This does not work in a lot of cats, which is disheartening after a serious effort to resolve the problems.

I wish I could be more helpful.

Mike Richards, DVM

Male cat spraying

Q: My male cat is 10 years old and has re-developed a spraying problem. When it happened in the past, he was put on an anti-depressant (I think it was prozac) I thought that it was mainly a hormonal problem. Well that had seemed to work but he does it now I think now to show me his displeasure. He likes to go outside, but if the cat door is closed, he will spray on the wall. Either on the cat door or come over to where I can see him and do it right in front of me. My vet has said that it is not only his hormones and that I have to basically "show him who is boss" and to re-train him that this is not acceptable behavior. She suggests I lock him in the bathroom the next time I catch him doing this, and to put his food and water in there and keep him in there for half the day. The problem isn't his litter pan as it is kept tidy. He lives with 3 other cats 1 female who he grew up with, and 2 new male kittens. Now if the problem is the new kittens, as they have yet to be nuetered, could this be territorrial. I would like to solve this problem before the new kittens "learn" this from him. Are there any short-term medical solutions? Thanks in advance for any suggestions

A: It would seem very very likely to me that this is territorial behavior and that it may be related to the acquisition of the kittens. Most veterinary behaviorists who write on this subject say that once you have 5 to 6 cats, it is almost certain that one will exhibit territorial behavior, including marking. I am not a behavior expert, but I don't think it is usually possible to alter this behavior using any sort of behavioral modification technique. The most straightforward solution is to decrease the number of cats in the household which reduces the stress level. Most cat owners are unwilling to do this, though. That leaves anti-anxiety medications as the treatment most likely to work. Diazepam (Valium) and buspirone (BuSpar) are the medications most commonly used for treatment of marking behavior but I have seen recommendations to try Prozac and anti-depressants if the anti-anxiety medications don't work. In some cases, it is only necessary to use medications for two to three months and then they can be tapered off. While I tend to agree with you that this doesn't sound like a litterpan training problem, you might ask your vet what she is thinking in this regard. She might have noticed something to suggest that in the history or clinical exam, that I missed or am unaware of.

Your vet may be able to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist if medications won't work again or if she is not comfortable treating behavioral problems.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 01/30/05


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...