Feline Urine Marking and Inter-cat Aggression
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2001
Niwako Ogata

There are two types of elimination problems in cats: inappropriate elimination and urine marking (spraying). Each problem is totally independent and a detailed consultation is needed for classification. Though fecal marking (middening) also exists, the prevalence and the cases have not been well studied.

Since the signs of elimination problems can also be caused by feline non-obstructive lower urinary tract disease, it is important that veterinarians first determine whether there is a physical problem. Idiopathic Cystitis, in particular, may be an intermittently recurring problem and the initial urinalysis often does not show any abnormalities.(1) Therefore, serial urinalyses might be necessary if the practitioner is uncertain whether there is a physical or behavioral problem. In fact, it has been shown that cats with inappropriate elimination problems, were more likely to have had a past history of lower urinary tract disease than non-problem (control) cats.(2)

If physical problems have been ruled out and a behavior problem is diagnosed or suspected, each of the possible causes of inappropriate elimination such as litter box aversion should be investigated. Veterinarians should screen for all possible causes through detailed consultation with the owners and a thorough investigation of the environment. Substrate aversion, box aversion, location aversion, or a combination of these may be possible causes. Some cats prefer other surfaces and/or locations than the litter box.(3)

Urine marking on vertical surfaces is called spraying and is a means of indirect communication in predatory and territorial animals, including domestic cats. Studies on domestic cats have shown that regardless of sex and neutering, both indoor and outdoor cats may urine mark. This means that even though the frequency of marking in males is higher than females, marking may have both a sexual function as well as other ethologically necessary functions.

Studies have shown that urine marking can be a message for time-sharing the joint occupation of an area.(4) Hart and Hart have said that urine marking increases during the mating season.(5) It has been proposed that urine marking may be performed in a context of excitation that is positive, such as sexual excitation or predation, or negative, such as aggression or anxiety.(6) It is thought that urine conveys a function of provoking the attention of other cats with an unfamiliar scent, as well as for a calming effect on the cat itself by depositing a familiar scent. In domestic pet cats, however, even if marking is a natural means of communication and sexual function, it is intolerable for most owners when it is done in the home.

The first corrective measure for most cases in practice, is neutering, but this does not always solve the marking problem.(7) Therefore, the only way to get further improvement is to consider the ethological reasons for marking and apply them to the treatment program. Most positive excitation such as sexual behavior, predatory behavior and play behavior associated with prey, is temporary and rarely lead to owner’s complaints about urine marking. Negative excitation due to environmental causes and social insecurity lasts for a longer time and often occurs repeatedly. The major forms of treatment are environmental correction, behavior modification, pheromone treatment, and pharmacological treatment.

The environmental and behavior modification techniques will be the most effective when the causes of the problem can be determined. For example, after moving, providing a new secure territory including an area for elimination, food, and resting is most effective. The inveterate cases, however, may arise out of persistent insecurity in the environment, which leads to anxiety and frustration for the cat.

The presence of inter-cat aggression, which may have a connection with the frequency of urine marking, (8) may be an important factor in the success rate of the treatment. If the anxiety level is high, it is likely that pharmacological treatment may be effective.(9) It is, however, important to know that getting good results with drug therapy also requires a combination of the other therapies because medicating cats can be difficult and recurrence is seen with drug therapy alone.(9)

Recently, clinical trials with pheromone treatment for urine marking have demonstrated that the frequency of marking with inter-cat aggression was higher than when there was no inter-cat aggression.(10) Inter-cat aggression is one of the most persistent social stresses and is likely to lead to environmental stress as well for the cat living indoors. Thus, the ideal treatment must address the control of both the aggression and the anxiety in the cat if these are the cause of the problem, rather than just providing an acceptable territory.


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Niwako Ogata

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