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Feline Urine-Marking

Urine-marking can be a troubling behavior for cat owners and may indicate some hard-to-handle stresses in the cat’s life. It is probably the most common form of inappropriate elimination and is the number one cause of surrender of cats to shelters and pounds, which often results in their untimely demise.

There are several reasons why cats may urinate outside their litter boxes, most of them simple in etiology. But when urination is employed as a signaling device, there is often intriguing motivation underlying the behavior. This motivation must be understood before the problem can be properly addressed.

All cats are capable of urine-marking – both males and females, intact and neutered. The likelihood of urine-marking is greatest in the intact male cat; neutered males are next most likely to urine-mark, then intact females, and finally spayed females. Urine-marking can be performed with the cat in a standing position or in a squatting pose. The volume of urine passed ranges from small and almost insignificant to a regular flood, and vertical surfaces are often the target. There is also a type of “virtual” marking behavior in which no urine is passed at all, so called phantom spraying, though owners do not usually regard this as a pressing behavior problem.

Spraying is the most common form of urine-marking behavior. In spraying, cats back up to a vertical surface, tread with their hind legs, quiver the tip of their tail, and deliver a fine stream of urine onto the surface. The purpose of this behavior is to inscribe a urine-born pheromonal message for subsequent passers-by to detect. The message probably reads something like: “Kilroy was here,” or “This is Kilroy’s place: Keep out.” Intact males have the greatest motivation to mark because of the behavior is testosterone-enhanced, but neutered males will also spray if suitably aroused. Though females can spray, especially intact females in heat, they urine-mark more commonly from the squatting position.

Recognizing Urine-marking