Potential causes of indoor marking

Sexually motivated urine marking

This form of marking is limited to entire males and females and is associated with the oestrus cycle of the female. The main distinguishing feature of this form of marking appears to be the presence of vocalisation, which is believed to improve the likelihood of other cats orientating towards the chemical signal (Bradshaw, 1992). In the domestic cat population sexually motivated urine marking is relatively rare as a presented behavioural problem due to the high percentage of neutered individuals.

Reactional urine marking

This class of urine-marking problems includes those that are motivated by anxiety and those that occur as a territorial reaction to potential threats either outside or within the home territory. In these cases the cat is using urine marking as a reaction to something or someone and there is a huge range of potential triggers for this behaviour (Heath, 1993). It is possible for a territorial motivation to coexist with anxiety and it should be remembered that many cases of indoor marking are likely to be multifactorial in their origins. Characteristics that help to determine the underlying motivation for marking include the temperament of the cat, the timing of the marking behaviour, the location of the deposits and the frequency of the behaviour. For example, territorial behaviour is most likely to occur when a new cat enters the neighbourhood, when there are alterations to the cat's social group through the arrival of a new baby, partner, cat or other domestic pet, when the protective nature of the core territory boundary is threatened by the installation of a cat flap or when the cat is forced to endure changes to its territory through a house move. Anxiety-related marking also occurs in response to major changes in territory or social grouping, but the history is also likely to include information about a lack of socialisation and habituation, exposure to traumatic experiences in the past, or the presence of actual or perceived threats from outside.

Frustration-related urine marking

In addition to the relatively common scenario of reactional marking, cats can sometimes begin to mark within the home as a response to frustration and in some cases this behaviour can become established as an attention-seeking behaviour as a result of the owner's reaction and the cat's subsequent learning. In cases of attention seeking the history is likely to include information about a high level of requirement for social interaction and the owners are likely to remark that the cat only ever sprays in their presence. Frustration-related cases are also likely to show an increased incidence when the owners are at home, and this sort of marking appears to be more common among the oriental breeds and in individuals that have been hand reared or are understimu-lated within their present environment. Investigation of these cases will require an in-depth behavioural history and additional information about the early life experience of the cat and the present relationship between cat and owner.

Treatment rationales

The most important step in treating cases of indoor marking is to cease all physical confrontation and punitive attempts at control. After all, if the cat is depositing urine within the home as a means of increasing its feeling of security it is likely that punishment will be counterproductive in dealing with such behaviour. An increased understanding of the function of marking behaviour usually leads most owners to their own realisation that punishment is not appropriate.

The two main aims of treatment for marking cats are to remove the need for the cat to behave in this way within the home and to break the habitual component of the behaviour, which has inevitably established over time. In cases of longstanding marking problems it is possible that the original trigger for the behaviour is no longer present and in these cases it is the habitual component that needs to be focused on.

Cleaning appropriately

Because of the communication function of marking behaviour cats are driven to top up decaying scent marks and therefore cleaning previous deposits appropriately is one of the most important keys to success. Although ammonia is a smell that humans associate with cleanliness it has to be remembered that it is also a constituent of cat urine, and in many cases problems of indoor marking and inappropriate elimination are perpetuated by the inappropriate use of ammonia-based cleaning products, which signal to the cat that another cat has been and deposited urine in the same location. Several products on the market are designed to deal with stale pet deposits, but one of the cheapest and most effective cleaning regimens is one that combines the protein-attacking action of a biological washing powder and the fat degradation of an alcohol such as surgical spirit (Neville, 1992). The regimen is as follows:

(1) Clean the area with a 10% solution of a biological washing powder (making sure to test fabric for colour-fast properties before use).

(2) Rinse the area with cold water and dab dry with a dry cloth.

(3) Spray the area with a fine mist of alcohol such as surgical spirit.

(4) Leave to dry before allowing cat access to the area again.

Removing the need

To remove the need for cats to mark indoors it is important to identify the trigger for the behaviour and isolate, eliminate or control it as appropriate. This relies on accurate history taking and the work-up in cases of indoor marking is the most important part of the consultation. Where the source of stress cannot be identified and the cat is showing signs of severe lack of confidence, the use of a small room or even an indoor pen to decrease the size of the cat's defendable territory can help. Provision of a pen where the cat can safely retreat can increase confidence and, provided it is coupled with other measures to increase home security, it can be very successful.

In addition to dealing with the specific trigger it is important to increase the signals of security within the home and to redefine it as a core territory. This can be achieved by providing increased opportunities for the cat to perform those behaviours that are carried out within core territories of feral and wild cats, namely eating, sleeping and playing. By increasing the number of feeding stations, feeding smaller but more frequent meals or changing from a timed feeding regimen to one of self-service, the cat will see the home as a source of valuable resources. Provision of extra high-up resting places and increased opportunities for owner-directed and independent play will also improve the security of the home from a feline perspective.

Use of social odours

It has long been recognised that the presence of facial scent signals appear to increase feline confidence and act as a way of familiarising territory and removing the need to mark. Owners in the past have been advised to use a cloth that they first rub over the facial glands of their cat, especially in the cheek area, and then apply to those areas in the house that have been previously marked with urine but have been appropriately cleaned. Recent developments in pheromonotherapy' have resulted in the production of a synthetic analogue of one fraction of the social odour complex that comes from the face of the cat, and the product is marketed under the trade name 'Feliway' (Ceva Animal Health). Feliway is known as the 'familiarisation pheromone' and it is believed to provide a feeling of security for cats in unfamiliar or stressful situations. Its applications reflect this belief, although the exact mode of action is as yet unclear. When it was first produced Feliway was only available as a spray, and regular application of the product to previously soiled sites and also to regular walkways through the house and to points of entry and exit was shown to help significantly in treating problems of indoor urine marking (White & Mills, 1997). However, cleaning regimens needed to be adjusted when this product was being used and this often led to breakdowns in the success of treatment. The ideal approach was to allow 24 h from the time of cleaning with the regimen outlined earlier to the application of the Feliway spray, but when this was not possible it was preferable to omit the biological washing powder part of the regimen and simply wash down with water, apply surgical spirit and then wait for 30 min before applying Feliway. These problems have been overcome by the recent production of a diffuser device which emits the 'pheromone' directly into the atmosphere, rather than applying it to the previously soiled locations. This device is plugged into a conventional power socket and left switched on for 24 h a day. Its simple application helps to improve client compliance and the results in trials suggest that this device is an important part of the therapeutic approach to indoor urine marking (Mills & Mills, 2001).

The role of drug support

When drug support is used in cases of indoor marking it is important that it is seen as an adjunct to behavioural therapy and not a substitute for it. Drugs such as the tricyclic antidepressants, for example clomipramine, can be used to give a rapid cessation of the behaviour, which is good for owner compliance but also serves to break the habit of spraying (Overall, 1997). The starting dose for clomipramine is 0.250.5 mg/kg once daily and treatment is usually needed for between 3 and 6 months, during which time behavioural therapy should be instituted. Withdrawal of clomipramine should not take place until the cat has been symptom free for a period of at least 4 weeks and then the dose should be decreased on a gradual basis. There has been a lot of interest in the use of buspirone, which appears to give promising results and have a lower recurrence rate than diazepam. However, it should be remembered that buspirone can lead to a side-effect of increased intercat aggression and its use in multicat households is therefore not recommended. The dosage regimen for buspirone is 5 mg/cat twice daily for 7 days. If the patient responds treatment should be continued for 8 weeks and then gradually withdrawn (Hart et al, 1993). Diazepam and megoestrol acetate have both been advocated as treatments for urine spraying in the past, but it is largely agreed that their use is no longer appropriate in view of potential side-effects and effective alternatives.

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