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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jack's Dilemma

Hi Greyce, I’m a big, nine year old guy who is adjusting to a new home and I have a LOT of questions for you, related to three different matters: urine marking, a canine surprise, and feline rivalry. But first I’ll tell you a bit about myself.

I’d been in the SPCA shelter for several months housed together with Annabelle, a much smaller and somewhat older cat (age 10 years). Because shelter staff said we get along and because my new purrsons thought I could use the company, Annabelle and I moved together – about 10 days ago.

The first matter deals with urine marking.

Our humans prepared a private room for us, expecting that we’d enjoy the security of a smaller space as we adjusted to our new surroundings. Said space has a bed in it. We both peed on the mattress. (Yes, we did have access to a litter box).

By the next day we were eager to see the rest of the house, so they let us out. For good measure, I anointed the scratching post along with some cushions just outside the door to our room. We have an upright scratching post and did have a flat cardboard scratch pad which I managed to anoint as well and so it was thrown out. We don’t use either and we don’t scratch anywhere that Themselves can determine.

These urine marks are largely on horizontal, soft surfaces and are confined to the safe room and just outside its door. Sometimes it’s a lot or urine and sometimes, a little. Themselves responded by throwing the marked articles (like the cushions) out, where possible, and by treating the rest (like the mattress) with recommended cleaners. They have never shouted at or done anything to us.

While Themselves set about cleaning up the marks, our access to that room was blocked off; this took a few days. It is now available and we have free access to it, as well as to the rest of our home.

It’s a big house with an upstairs and a downstairs. The upper floor has kitchen, dining and living facilities along with bedrooms and studies. The downstairs (which has become my favourite part of the house) has another living room, exercise room, mud room and a couple of bedrooms as well. Our safe room is one of these bedrooms – just off the mud room.

So my first question, Greyce, has to do with marking. In purrsonal correspondence you’ve recommended Feliway in a diffuser form for our safe room. But Herself was wondering if it would be compromised when the screened-in patio doors are open (which I very much like); and since we living in a desert environment, she’d have to have the air conditioner serviced if said doors were to be kept closed. We went to see our new vet a few days ago (for the first time) and he suggested the spray form instead. Themselves bought the spray and have been using it on our marked surfaces.

Our marking behaviour has markedly decreased (no pun intended).

Now let me continue my story and get on to the second matter. Adjustment to our new environment has been proceeding, with one fly in the ointment. Said fly is a DOG! No there are no other animals living with us, Greyce, but yesterday, Themselves did a kindness for the neighbour who was in a bit of a pickle – needing care for her elder dog who could not be boarded. They offered to take care of her.

Now said dog is well-behaved. When she came to our home she is leashed. She doesn’t bark or attempt to chase, probably because she lives with three cats and they have trained her well (thank goodness). Said dog stays at her home during the day and at ours (in Themselves’ bedroom) overnight. I didn’t actually see the dog as she was brought in through the front door and taken straight to Themselves’ bedroom (where we were not allowed to go). Annabelle saw her and hunched her back.

We were both sleeping on our chairs by the dining room table when Themselves woke in the morning. The dog was taken back to her house. We may not see her but we can smell her presence.

I have lived with dogs before so I was relatively okay other than heading to the downstairs’ living room to sleep – the place I’ve chosen to go when I am unsure of myself. After the dog left, Annabelle retired to our safe room and hid under the bed; Themselves closed that door so she could feel safe.

I am not sure how long this situation will continue with THE DOG, that is. Any comments, Greyce?

And now for the third, and final matter: Annabelle and I are having issues with each other, as well.

As mentioned, the folks at the SPCA believed that the two of us got along well together because we had successfully shared space at the shelter. Sometimes we touch noses. And we now tend to sleep on chairs in the dining room – about a foot apart. The rest of the time, I prefurr to hang out downstairs and Annabelle prefurrs the upstairs. So you’d think all is well. But to tell you the truth, I’m a bit of a bully.

I like to guard the food bowls. To thwart me, Themselves installed two gravity feeders: one upstairs in the kitchen and one downstairs in the mudroom. Now I’m unable to guard both at the same time, so Annabelle is quite pleased because she can eat in peace. We also have a gravity water dispenser.
Because of the alleged marking issue, Themselves responded by purchasing additional litter boxes. Now we have three: a covered one, a large open one, and a smaller deeper one (which Annabelle prefurrs). I prefurr the first two as I can’t fit into the smallest one. One is downstairs and two are upstairs in the corridor outside the kitchen area. Now I cannot guard all the litter boxes at once! Another win for Annabelle but . . .

She has taken to guarding the top of the stairs and to stalking me.

Living with Annabelle is a bit like living with an hormonal teenaged girl. Sometimes she is fine, we touch noses and sleep close together. Then sometimes she comes looking for me - to trigger a staring match, or blocks my path, or sits on tops of the stairs waiting for me to try and come up.

It’s at these times that we are most likely to become vocally confrontational. I try to get as small as I can (no mean feat given my size). We used to paw at each other from a distance, but that has stopped. She doesn’t normally jump me when I come upstairs but I have learned to watch for her. If Themselves see Annabelle is about to be up to no good they try to distract her; it normally work but not always. Sometimes she just runs around them to follow me.

At present we are down to one noisy encounter once a day, generally in the latter part of the evening when I am becoming more active and she has been up for most of the day.

Funny, after Annabelle recovered by hiding under the bed from THE DOG, she was all loving and calm when she emerged and didn’t even bother me.

Human friends have told Themselves that we will probably sort out our relationship over time. But I’d prefurr a prognosis from a knowledgeable feline. So what do you think Greyce? How should be proceed?

A catnip bouquet to you if you can sort all this out. With purrs, Jack

Dear Jack, You are obviously a most puzzled cat in the midst of a new adventure: from animal shelter to new home with changes in room arrangements, the unexpected arrival of a canine visitor, and a feline companion who was not of your choosing! I wouldn’t be surprised if what has transpired in a mere 10 days has used up one of your nine lives!

And while you suggest that the matters about which you have asked my advice are different, know also that they are related: They all deal with adjustment to your new social and physical environment. So let me take them in turn.

First Matter: Urine Marking

As you know, the securing and maintenance of territory is of prime concern to felines. We do this by conducting territorial patrols throughout the day and night, and by depositing and refreshing scent (marking) using pheromones from our cheeks, paws, and hind end. We rub against things primarily to give us a sense of comfort by adding a purrsonal touch to significant items; if need be we scratch (usually to warn other felines of our presence); and when the going gets tough and anxiety levels rise, we deposit urine or feces.

The literature on marking is vast and confusing largely because our behaviour is complex and the human brain is unable to fully grasp it. But let me clarify a few matters; then you can leave this passage on your screen at home for Themselves to read.

We all mark. Sometimes we do it vertically (e.g., against a wall) and sometimes horizontally (e.g., on a mattress). Rumour has it that the less confident we are, the more likely we are to mark horizontally.

Marking is different from depositing waste (i.e., urinating). Marking consists of small amounts of urine, deposited to secure territory. Urination is a big dump, so to speak; we urinate because we have to pee.

Now here is where humans get confused: 1) Some humans think we mark because we are unhappy with our litter boxes. Usually if we are unhappy, we will pee elsewhere – often quite close to said box. This is called inappropriate urination (meaning inappropriate from a human point of view). And usually figuring out what is wrong about the box (its location, size, litter, etc.) is enough to fix the problem. 2) But many of us mark IN the box and well as pee IN the box. There are those of us who just can’t resist anointing a freshly scooped box to give it that eau de chat aromatherapy. There are even those of us who refuse to use a box that has just been used by an arch-rival unless said box is scooped first. In such cases if another box is not available, one may have to resort to using the floor!

The most common reason why we fail to use our litter boxes is because of a urinary tract infection; even 40% of cats who mark have such infections. These infections are not uncommon during times to stress such as adapting to a new environment. So I am so pleased that you have met with your veterinarian who is better positioned that I to have determine your health status. Where infection is present, medical treatment is required. But given that your veterinarian has given you a clean bill of health, we need to look elsewhere.

Peeing on the mattress is easily explained. Annabelle and you are scooped up from your familiar digs, transported to your new home and placed in your safe room. A whirlwind of stress if there ever was one. And then you are confronted with a completely new territory including a host of strange smells. First item on your agenda is to secure said territory. You approach high ground by landing on the mattress – often one of the most odiferous furnishings of the human household (all sorts of human aromas, detergent or dry cleaning residues, as well as tiny bits of human skin). Your delicate noses are assaulted by strangeness, you are exhausted from your ordeal, you are anxious. And then the door is closed and you are safe. You relax a bit – and so does your bladder – and the next thing you know, the mattress is wet with your very own urine. You may only have intended to mark but once your bladder relaxed you went full bore; and now the area is covered in your very own, comforting scent. End of story.

And the rest of the marks give every indication that you were into territory securing mode.

And that is why I recommend (to others) and recommended in our private correspondence, the use of a Feliway diffuser. Not only does it deter marking but it also allows comfort pheromones to disperse through the entire room and engender a sense of well-being. It’s a strong recommendation I make to any cat who is moving into a new place. Your veterinarian recommended the spray form instead, because he was focused on the marking itself rather on the larger issue of overall environmental adjustment. Now as long as Themselves use the Feliway appropriately (as directed in terms of application, frequency, and cleaning), then all should be well. And given that you like to have the patio doors open so you can inhale the breezes through the screen, the spray is a good choice.

Again I urge you (and other readers) to consult my blog entry, What Good is Feliway? (posted on 4/30/10) which lists two excellent sites. I find that most humans in their eagerness to address marking, rush out a buy the product without fully reading all the information on the site. And they end up using the product improperly. They forget that knowledge is power.

Since you are someone who feels the need to mark important items that are not familiar to you, I suggest that Themselves keep Feliway on hand when new furnishings (including new cushions) are purchased. Meow them to consult the instructions when using it for this purpose (since instructions vary with the objective). And remind them that Feliway has a shelf life and that the expiry date is meaningful.

You mentioned that your urine marking is decreasing. This means that you are adapting to your new surroundings and probably are switching more to cheek rubbing. Good for you!

Second Matter: THE DOG!

While the timing was less than stellar, it does appear that Themselves have taken all possible precautions to ensure that canine contact is/will be minimized. If THE DOG is going to visit for several more nights, then I suggest that Themselves consider keeping their bedroom off limits to Annabelle and you until the dog is back home on a permanent basis. At that time they should apply Feliway in said room – assuming one or both of you is allowed access to it – to minimize any urine marking requirements on your part and to allay Annabelle’s fears.

In my experience, cats who are fearful (like Annabelle) of the presence of, say, a dreaded dog, will behave in a more circumspect manner after the event (as she had). It’s as if they are on their best behaviour. Go figure! But again, since the both of you are already going through so much change, anything that can be done to keep things on an even keel is very much recommended. No sense having either of you become ill from stress.

Third Matter: Rivalry

Oh dear. This is one of those cases of good intentions going awry.

So the folks at the shelter thought that Annabelle and you got along. Maybe you did at the shelter – either because of a highly limited space allocation or because of the presence of other cats (one or more of whom may have been more dominant and kept everyone in line). One thing is certain: feline communication is complex and subtle; busy shelter staff may not have noticed the signs that Annabelle and you were not getting along.

You were both given the same safe room because the humans assumed that you were amicable companions. Not so. And Themselves are getting all sorts of advice to just let the two of you work it out. Sorry, but this is bad advice and I don’t care who it comes from.

My files are filled with cases like yours, of cats introduced to each other too soon or thrown together by circumstance. At first they may seem to get along. Or in a matter of a week or so, things may seem to have settled down to the occasional altercation – something similar to your situation. But in a month or so, I can pretty much guarantee that all hell will break loose. And then we will be into a MAJOR intervention – possibly after a major vet bill for scratches, bites or infections as well. So take a tip from me: Let’s not go there.

Here are my recommendations. They are all important so make sure Themselves don’t limit their focus to one or two.

Recommendation #1 - Time-Share Space: Right now, you and Annabelle need to be kept separated when you cannot be supervised, that is, when there is no human in the room that at least one of you is occupying. For the most part, you have already managed this on your own – by you staying downstairs and her upstairs. Is there a way of blocking access between the two floors? Even a large piece of corplast (plastic coated cardboard available at hardware or drafting stores) might do the trick. (It makes no sense for a human, for example, to be in the study, Annabelle in the dining room and you downstairs because the human will not be able to keep tabs on the situation. The human needs to be there because I am going to recommend human intervention a bit later in this piece.)

And no, I don’t mean that each of you should have permanent, separate territories. Just use them when you cannot be supervised so that you don’t have the chance of getting into standoffs or fights. So what I’m getting at is allowing you both access to all parts of the house – but with each of you having access to a different portion at any one time. Again when you can be supervised, you can be in the same space – preferably at least for one period a day to help you get used to each other.

Recommendation #2 – Intervene to Prevent: You cats will need Themselves to help nip inappropriate behaviour in the bud. Have them read my entry, The Pungent Scents of Comfort: Urine Marking #4 - When Your Feline Relationship Goes Down the Tubes (1/26/10).

Recommendation #3 - Interactive Play: I cannot emphasize the importance of such play enough. Its purpose is to simulate the predatory cycle (stalk, chase, pounce, etc.) inherent in out genes. We need this. We need it every day. If not, our arousal level rises and without intervention, it may even rise to a level where we can no longer control it. Then in comes the vet with recommendations for pharmaceuticals.

Themselves may have preferred to adopt older cats on the grounds that they are less active than kittens. And that is true. But what is also true is that all cats need activity and that adult cats prefurr interactive to solitary play.

Proper interactive play helps us lower our arousal (read anxiety) levels. It gives us a good physical workout. And it can be intellectually stimulating as well. We are beings with finely-honed sensory systems and highly developed brains. Yet humans tend to think that we should just be easy-to-care-for cuddle buckets. Not so. Especially for cats confined to indoor environments, interactive play is essential.

Go directly to my blog entry Only On My Terms (12/20/09) and insist that Themselves implement the recommendations on play (they can ignore the rest). Make sure that they either give each of you at least one (and prefurrably two) such sessions INDIVIDUALLY each day OR a joint session IF AND ONLY IF both humans are involved. Otherwise, one of you will get the workout and the other will sit and watch; and you both need the workout.

And yes they can consider solitary play items as well, we per my blog entry Guys Just Wanna Have Fun! (11/9/09).

Recommendation #4 – Two Safe Rooms: If there are circumstances where both of you must be shut away for your own safety or sense of security, then I suggest the use of TWO safe rooms. There is no point in locking two rivals up in an enclosed, small space, unless you want tensions to rise. I suggest that the current safe room be yours (since you are nearing the end of your marking spree there) and the new safe room go to Annabelle. And don’t forget the Feliway! It would help her get used to her new room (the first time or so – just a few spritzes as per instructions).

Recommendation #5 - Create Abundance: Themselves have done a great job of increasing your sense of abundance through the installation of more feeders and litter boxes. And as you’ve noted, by placing them at various locations, it becomes impossible to guard them all at once. These are excellent ways of reducing tension. Give them a purr and a cheek rub!

Recommendation #6 – Tension Reduction through Height and Hiding: You can also reduce intercat tensions through the provision of height and hiding places. This might allow you to more easily share spaces. This is the one recommendation that can be implemented later. When you are ready you can consult A Cat Tree for Every Cat (2/7/10) and Stimulating Ideas (12/6/09).

And stay tuned over the next month or so when I continue to tackle the subject of environmental stimulation.

So Jack, you have a tonne of homework to do. By all means, delegate the bulk of the responsibility to Themselves - for I find that humans work best when they are kept busy. I look forward to hearing about their progress. Greyce