Cats are among the easiest animals to live with as pets, which in part accounts for their massive and ever-growing appeal. Cats are naturally quiet, clean, affectionate and largely self-sufficient, capable of adapting to any kind of dwelling and any type of family.
But when things go wrong, they go very wrong from the human point of view. Behaviors that are quite natural to a cat can cause us humans to react with dismay and anger.
One of these flash points in feline-human relations is urine spraying.
The application of urine to mark territory, which we call "spraying," is different from the release of urine to eliminate waste from the body. The cat who's marking territory backs up to the object he wants to mark and sprays urine backward, with his tail held high and quivering, alternating his weight on his back feet. Although both male and female cats spray, unneutered males are the biggest offenders, followed by unspayed females in season.
The first rule of dealing with this stinky problem is to make sure that your pet is altered: This procedure takes care of the problem in 90 percent of the cases if done before sexual maturity is attained, at about six months.
For those cats who don't respond to altering, physical or environmental stresses, such an illness or a new person in the house, may be triggering the spraying. Check with your veterinarian to be sure your pet is in good health, and discuss anti-anxiety drugs while you're there -- for your cat, not you -- if you're pretty sure the stress is environmental.
A common reason for cats to start spraying is the introduction of an additional cat. It's always a good idea to introduce cats slowly, by keeping the new cat sequestered in a single room with food, water, cat box, scratching post and toys for a week or more.(Yes, you should visit him often!) If you've just sort of thrown the new one in and now you've got problems, separate them for a while into their own territories, then reintroduce them slowly. It may be temporary, or not: Some cats will eventually be able to share food bowls and cat boxes, but others never will.
Discourage fresh marking by cleaning sprayed areas thoroughly and covering them with foil. (Cats dislike anything involving foil, and the sound of urine hitting it really annoys them.) Putting plastic carpet runners with the point-side up around the marked spot will also discourage revisiting the area. Another deterrent is two-sided tape; cats don't like to walk on sticky surfaces.
Don't hit your cat for spraying, even if you catch him in the act; doing so makes him even more insecure and likely to mark. Clap to distract your cat instead.
No, you don't have to spend the rest of your life with foil on your furniture or plastic on your floor. Nor do you have to keep your cat in a single room for the rest of his life. But these things are key to training your cat to give up a behavior he finds natural. And chances are if you're reasonable and consistent in your approach, you won't be living with that urine smell for long.
If you're just not getting through to your cat, though, or if you're getting angry enough to think about getting rid of your pet, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist. Better yet, ask for help in the beginning. A good behavorist will save you time, money and aggravation, and will help you return to loving your cat much sooner.
Pets on the Web: For information on everything from goldfish to the most elaborate saltwater setups, FINS: The Fish Information Service (www.actwin.com/fish/index.cgi) is one of the best resources online. FINS is an exhaustive collection of articles on fish-keeping as well as links to other related Web sites, information about e-mail lists and notes on the best places to secure equipment. It's all neatly and logically organized, too, with a minimum of graphic fuss, except for some lovely bubbles.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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