An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Pungent Scents of Comfort. Urine Marking #3: Changes in Resources or Schedules


Continuing with this series in Urine Marking, I'm going to deal with Territorial Threats #2 and #3, Changes in Territorial Resources and/or the Timing of Their Use(from my original blog entry - Urine Marking #1).


This relates to items such as furnishings including both your own (like your food bowl or litterbox) and that shared with humans (like the sofa, coffee table, and bedroom dresser). Changes can happen in any of several ways:
- the arrival of something new, like a new sofa.
- the arrangements of existing items (either to accommodate the new item or just because) - like suddenly removing your litterbox from the back hall and putting it in the bathroom; or moving the main items in the living room to give the place a new look.Of course, no cat would be so silly but this seems to be a past-time in which several humans indulge.
- renovations to your home (including overall remodelling).
- moving to a new home.

The New Item: There are many cats who accept the arrival of something new with mere curiousity. If you are a confident cat and that particular item is not seen as threatening, feel free to give it a thorough inspection, rub your cheeks against its surfaces (usually the corners) to mark it, and incorporate it into your territory. Nothing could be simpler. If you are less than confident, it is another matter altogether, for the arrival of said new items spells T-H-R-E-A-T.

 If the item is large or occupies an important space, even those of you who are confident may react differently. Size is one indicator of importance and importance is always taken seriously. You may not deign to spray the new magazine rack - a simple cheek rub may do. But when the new sofa arrives, purrhaps it deserves a thorough raking with your claws, not only to distribute your scent but also to let other invaders know of your presence (through the visible marks). Now this should be met with relief by the other inhabitants of the household, for you are doing an excellent job of territorial patrol. Instead they go ballistic! And while I'm not going to discuss scratching any further in this entry (it is the subject of yet another entry for the future), let me just say that there are those humans who would much prefurr a shredded sofa to one that is soaked in urine. Of course, urine marking of a new item just signals how anxiety-provoking it is to have such a large provider of new smells dumped into your home without your consent.

The wise human would anticipate the likely reaction and purchase Feliway spray (further information at ) and follow the instructions for its use. But the usual scenarios go like this:

Scenario #1: Your purrson has no clue that new furniture could set off a pee fest. The new sofa arrives. You do your job and give it a good spray on the corner that juts out, and do you get a thank you? NO! You get yelled at or smacked or punished in some way that just causes your anxiety to escalate further and so you pee again -- and maybe not just on the new sofa, but elsewhere as well. When punishment just makes matters worse, your purrson either a) calls the vet - who may recommend Feliway or anxiety medication for you - not the purrson - even though it is the purrson who is reacting hysterically about the cost of the sofa, or b) consults with a neighbour, office mate, pet shop owner or any of a number of people who may or may not provide useful advice, or c) decides that re-homing you via the nearest animal shelter would be a good thing.

Scenario #2: Your purrson finds out about Feliway after the pee fest starts. Buys it. BUT doesn't read the instructions carefully. Uses it the wrong way and then gets angry at advisors such as myself for recommending it in the first place.

Scenario #3: Your purrson buys Feliway in advance of the sofa's arrival AND reads the instructions carefully. When said item arrives, you are ushered into a quiet room in the house so that you are not underfoot for the delivery (complete with new smells, ensuing chaos as it doesn't fit through the door and all such antics) and then invited out of the quiet room after the sofa is ensconced in its new place (and the old one, if there is one, removed) and after Feliway has been applied as per the instructions. Your purrson continues to use Feliway as instructed so that you are able to incorporate this new furnishing into your territorial with minimum stress. No urine marking required.

Arrangement of New or Existing Items: You have memorized the arrangement of every item in your territory. This helps you monitor change. It also helps you navigate in the dark. And now something is amiss. And just like people who decide to put their keys in a new place yet continue searching for them in the old place, it is not unusual for you to get confused.

The worst cases are changes in the things nearest and dearest to you - food and water bowls, and litterboxes. And part of your reaction will depend on whether or not you wanted the change in the first place. Case in point: Suppose the dog was getting into your food dish on the floor. I, for one, would be appalled by dog slobber on my china! And then your purrson decides to make you a new feeding station on a low cabinet to which you can jump, and it out of the dog's way. What a wonderful change! But you may still search for your food bowl on the floor because it will take time to get used to the new location.

Ditto: Suppose your litterbox is being guarded by your pesky tortie room-mate, who looks so innocent while she sprawls in front of the entrance to the room in which the box is kept. The intimidation is enough to put you off using the box! Now if your purrson decides to add another litterbox and locate it in another spot quite a distance from the existing one, pesky tortie cannot possibly guard two places at the same time and your chance at urinating in peace is greatly increased. Another welcome change!

But suppose someone gets the bright idea that your litterbox is unsightly in the back hall and moves it to the furnace room. Chances are you will not be too keen on this idea and may continue to use the back hall regardless. After all, how can you be expected to remember where the box now is - and besides, you prefurr the back hall. The wise person would understand that important territorial changes pertaining to your purrsonal items are best moved slowly (an inch or so per day) until they arrive at the new location. That way you have the time to incorporate the change into the territorial map you keep in your head.

Now let's go on the items shared with humans. Herself gets it into her head that the sofa should go from its usual spot along the back wall, to a more central spot to demarcate the entrance to the L-shaped dining room. Frankly, what she is doing is telling you that this entrance is now even more important. So purrhaps instead of rubbing the corner of the wall with your cheeks, you feel compelled to give the sofa a scratch or a spray. The wise purrson would understand this and take preventative action (the provision of a scratching post beside the exposed corner, the use of Feliway or another, less-disturbing room arrangements).

Renovations and remodelling are just as jumped-up version of what I've already described, except often accompanied by strangers, changes in schedules, and lots of noise. If the renovations cannot be contained, then I suggest you retire to your sanctuary - your private room complete with food, water, litterbox, toys, a radio playing easy listening music at low volume, and a Feliway diffuser - until the chaos is over; daily interactive play sessions would also help lower your anxiety.

Moving to a new home. This includes a range of scenarios from moving upstairs (from living in a basement suite), changing apartments of the same or similar layout in the same building, moving from an apartment to a house (or vice versa), or relocating from the city to the country. If you are planning to move, please consult the information sheet I'll provide in an upcoming entry called On the Move (to be posted on January 22, 2010).

Before I move on to Threat #3 I want to give you a layout you can easily print off and show your purrsons, to help them understand where we cats are most likely to mark inside a home. This is part of my home: my front hall, living room, dining room and kitchen.
I've shown where the furniture is located including my own stuff. My cat trees (where I perch, rest and scratch) are in pink. My eating areas are in blue. The striped green area is the soft chair where I like to have a nap in the afternoon and early evening. Red is used to mark important security threats for cats inside homes: windows and doors to the outside. I don't know about you, but I don't trust doors and glass to keep invaders out. And the peach/buff strokes show pathways or corridors.

The * (black stars) show where I mark. And interestingly, they are largely the areas my predecessors marked in this house too which means that they make sense to us felines. Since I'm a confident cat, my marks consist largely of cheek rubs (repeated rubbing leaves a brownish streak which Herself wipes down from time to time), except for the cat trees where I have a scratch fest. You'll see that where I mark relates to parts of the house or furnishings that jut out into corridors or pathways. Not only does this help with navigation, but also it gives me a sense of comfort. I scratch near what I view to be the most permeable areas of entry (glass windows and doors) to warn other cats that I'm here. And since Herself knew I'd likely want to guard these areas well, she located the scratching posts/trees here. (Also I, like most cats, like the scratch near where I sleep, so I use the cat tree for that, too.) I don't bother with the front door (because this door is usually closed and there are no invading cats who come up to it at present): I mark the first wall the juts from it instead.

Encourage your purrson to make a layout of your home and figure out the corridors and items that jut out. That could help him or her figure out where to put furniture or, at the very least, areas that might be vulnerable should your anxiety rise -- areas that are prime for scratching posts or cat trees or Feliway, for example.


This next set of changes simply refers to the schedule by which resources are used. Two kinds of examples come to mind, one involving other cats and the other, humans.

You may take the sun in your backyard in the early afternoon, just after the sun it at its highest in the sky and until the children in your family arrive home. This may be part of your daily routine. All of a sudden a new cat arrives in the neighbourhood. "What a wonderful sunning spot," he thinks to himself and proceeds to use it. No respect for the fact that it is yours. Obviously your work is cut out for you. Using your elaborate social signalling patterns the two of you will have to work out an agreeable schedule (or one of you will run the other off). And in the process, you may feel the need to ensure that said invader doesn't contemplate entering your home; a pungent reminder sprayed on the patio door might just do the trick.

That is why I'm such an advocate of cat enclosures and cat fences for those of us to take our doses of Vitamin D outdoors. That is also why some of us have to enlist out purrsons to use measures to discourage roaming cats from using our resources. (see my entry of January 17, 2010, The Invading Stranger - The Cat Outside) for tips on dealing with this.

Changes in Humans Schedules: You have an established pattern of use that incorporates all human activity. Some humans even remark that we are at the front door when they arrive home. Or that they find us seated at the window, awaiting our arrival. Does that mean that we hang around there all day? Of course not! It just means that we have a schedule of territorial use that includes the schedules of the others in our world, as well.

The purrson who regularly returns between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. and suddenly stays out until 10:00 p.m. is cause for anxiety. Even more anxiety-provoking if those changes are erratic. And if those changes in schedule also affect our feeding times, then anxiety can sky rocket. Free feeding or the provision of a timed feeder which provides you with meals at set times regardless of the presence of your human, can go a long way to alleviating your anxiety.

Next up in the series, I'll deal with changes in the relationships you have with other felines in your household - a prime motivator of pee fests. But that's for another day.