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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cat Pees along Periphery of Rooms

Dear Greyce,

I am a 2 year old, spayed, declawed female with a tabby coat and yellow eyes. For the past year I've taken to peeing in fairly large amounts around the periphery of rooms in the house (except for the kitchen and the laundry room). And now it is on the increase. I've had my urine tested and it is fine.

When I urinate outside the box, Themselves take me back to where I've urinated and then to the basement for 15 or 20 minutes. They also clean the spots and then spray them. And they move my food bowl to where I have urinated. (Ha, ha! I just eat the food!)

Usually they don't see me in action. But just this morning, I did it right in front of Herself. And now I'm adding spraying to my repertoire.

I live in a multi-pet household and I think there is a problem here. My colleagues include two dogs: a) Sam (a 3 year old Cocker Spaniel spayed female) whom I adore and who adores everyone. I wash her, we play fight and we sometimes snuggle and sleep together; b) and Indy, a  5 year old, neutered male Chihuahua who is very affectionate with and protective of Herself and who likes to play with Sam. Indy is afraid of me and hides from me in his little house (to the delight of the adult children in the household).

There are two other cats as well: a) Ozzie is a 19 year old, neutered black male who is very affectionate and a little playful; but he moves slowly and is deaf; b) Misty is an 11-year old spayed female with soft, gray colours. She is vocal and affectionate with her favourites. And her very favourite purrson is Himself. She likes to play and loves being petted. She likes everyone but me!

In addition there are four humans: Themselves (male and female) and their adult children (male and female - one of whom has allergies so has minimal contact with us, and the other of whom we hardly see at all). My main purrson is Herself.

I think part (or all) of the problem is another cat in the house, Misty.

My problem started about a year ago when two things happened. First, Themselves' daughter had a bad allergic reaction and pet hair was suspected. So she would not pet or play with any of us. 

Misty really took this to heart because she had been closely bonded to her. Can you imagine what it must be like to go from being the only-beloved of a purrson and then suddenly being banned from any further contact with her? 

Second Misty got very sick and required extensive hospitalization. She had surgery but the vet could not find anything physically wrong with her.

When she returned home from the vet hospital, Ozzie and I growled and tried to attack her. So Misty was given her own room because the vet advised that her stress be reduced. She is now super-attached to Himself.

Now Ozzie and I have the run of the house during the day, while Misty stays in her room. Then at night, we retire to the basement and Misty takes over.

In the past three months Misty has been allowed out more often. Ozzie just ignores her but I hunt her and fight with her. At first she would fight back but now she just howls and will either run away or go back up to her room. I will sneak up on Misty when she is asleep and attack her. If I'm caught, Themselves put me in the basement for 15 or 20 minutes.

In the last two months we have all shared the space for short, supervised visits. These visits are now increasing in length and Themselves are supervising them less - unless we start to fight.

I know you want background information Greyce, so here goes:

I was a farm cat who was adopted at the age of 5 or 6 weeks. I was confined to the master bedroom for a week and then met Sam (the cocker spaniel) who is absolutely delightful. We are great pals. Then I met the other two cats, Ozzie and Misty. Ozzie was fine from the start. Misty refused to have anything to do with me!

Then I met the other dog, Indy, who was scared of me and kept his distance. He still does - for good reason, because I can be aggressive.

About 3 to 4 weeks later I was let out of the room with one pet at a time, until we all became accustomed to one another. 

As for me: I prefurr to be largely on my own (except for Sam) for I am not a lap cat. The only human contact I truly desire involves playing games with string or toy mice. I'm strictly indoors but enjoy looking out the windows and meowing at the birds. When I hear or see something that is strange to me I run and hide in the basement.

My daily routine is as follows: 6 a.m. breakfast. While Themselves get ready to leave, I chase after treats in the bathroom. This is followed by a nap and/or playing with my toys (with human assistance). 

I have 2 purrsonal toys -  a very favourite piece of string and a toy mouse, along with a box of shared ones. I prefurr to chase toys and throw them up in the air. I also like to hunt for toys under a blanket or towel. I am a mighty hunter.

While Themselves are at work, I have the run of the upstairs with the rest of the gang (except Misty). At 6 p.m. I am given dinner and everyone returns from work. Since I am fed twice daily and there are household issues, I am served in my exclusive food dish either in the dining room or the upstairs bathroom. After dinner, I have treats for dessert.

After supper I have playtime with a human again. Around 10 p.m. I get more treats (about 10 to 15 in a day) and then I and my colleague, Ozzie, go to the basement for the night. We are confined to the basement because I would want to play in the middle of the night and for some reason all the humans wanted to do is sleep! Misty used to join us until she took sick.

While my food dish is exclusively mine, I share various water bowls and a water fountain with assorted pets. The cats in the household share three litter boxes: 2 open ones in the basement and 1 covered one in the laundry room. Misty has an additional box in the spare room which is her exclusive retreat. All boxes have unscented, non-clumping litter in them and are cleaned weekly.

I have access to all parts of the house (when we are not time-sharing) except for the adult childrens' bedrooms and the bathrooms (because I have urinated there). 

There are no cat trees or scratching posts in my home, largely I think because we are all declawed.

That's all I can think of Greyce. I do hope you can help me.


Dear Meeka,

Your paw is pointed in the right direction to locate one aspect of your problem: between Misty and yourself. But there is more. From what you have told me, there are several aspects to this.

Your past history and early adoption suggest that you may be lacking in essential social skills and resilience.
You were adopted when you were very young. Were you already weaned or did you require bottle feeding? I ask because bottle-fed kittens often develop problems in handling frustration and can become quite aggressive. Whatever the case, you were taken from your mom far too early to learn all the necessary skills she could have passed on to you. I prefurr that cats stay with their moms until they are 12 weeks of age by which time you'd be fully cat-educated.

Some of your nervousness at strange sounds and your lack of interest in being petted could be part of your genetic inheritance. And if so, you come by it honestly. We can't all be people pleasers. I'm just happy you have found a home that accepts you as you are.

In summary, you are unlikely to be a cat who can take things in stride - regardless of how confident you may seem. Peeing outside the box is your way of handling territorial threat - keeping in mind that territory is a cat's most important asset.

This problem started (I estimate) about 9 months after you had been integrated into the household. It's not unusual for intercat problems to manifest to an unacceptable (to the humans) level in this kind of time period. Moreover you were graduating from kittenhood into adolescence - which sets the stage for developmental challenges as well. 

Misty has experiences serious emotional trauma and so it is important that she not continue to be stressed or she could become seriously ill again. I am delighted that she had now bonded to Himself for this is a great sign. And we can enlist Himself to help ensure that her emotional needs are well take care of.

Your introduction to Misty never really got off on the right paw. And it has just gotten worse over time.
You have told me that Misty never really liked you in the first place. And then your reaction to her return from the hospital (so natural for she was likely covered with strange and intimidating smells) didn't help matters a bit.

Under these circumstances where one household member's nose was particularly out of joint when you were adopted, I believe that the way in which you were introduced to everyone may have been too rushed - even though it appears to have been fine. Often we cats give off very subtle communication signs that humans may not notice, to indicate that things are not going well. And unfortunately only when things really escalate, do humans sit up and take notice. And if you don't believe me, I invite you pick some of the entries under the Search Bar title, Re-integration (for example, Re-integration After Disaster 5/6/11).

You and Misty may have your purrsonality differences, but you also are considerably different in age. You are a young, energetic pre-teen and she is a senior.

And now you tell me that Themselves are working at re-integrating Misty into the full household. I fear the pace is far too fast. Why? Well simply because they are leaving you alone together for longer periods and under less supervision even though you two have a history of aggression. Sneaking up on her when she is asleep and attacking her surely doesn't give her any sense of security. Howling and running away are strong indicators of intimidation (even if the signals you give are subtle and thus unnoticed by the household humans). If I were Misty, I'd be loathe to leave my safe room!

Every household has its own threshold of the number of pets it can contain before things get out of hand. but it depends on the household: the levels of stimulation, the distribution of cherished resources, and the purrsonalities of those involved. In some households, more than one pet is just too much for the original animal. In others, 6 is just fine. But there is always a tipping point. And your household MAY have reached it. But before we give up, let's put a plan in place and see how much we can settle things down - before considering re-homing.

Here is what I advise:

1. Education
At this point, I'd really rather that Misty and you did not have face-to-face contact.

Instead I want you to give Themselves some homework on cat signalling. Click on the following links for further information.

In addition have them consult the blog entry, The Pungent Scents of Comfort - Urine Marking #4 (Jan. 26, 2010) and scroll down to the communication section. After they read that, tell them to take heart, Mick and Moby are now on good terms (see No More Urine Spraying March 3, 2011).

They can also have a look at the wonderful colour photos in Bruce Fogel's book, Know Your Cat: An Owner's guide to Cat Behavior. (See if you library has a copy.)

When they have mastered this subject, contact me again and we will look at how to proceed in getting Misty and you to deal with each other on a more positive basis.

2. Continued Time-sharing
 Slow down on the re-integration by a country mile.

Make an arrangement where Misty can join some or all of the household members with whom she gets along, when you are elsewhere and otherwise occupied. For example having an extended play time with Herself and Sam in another room (or the basement), while Misty interacts with the others on the main floor (purrhaps under the supervision and encouragement of Himself) sounds like a good idea to me.

She needs to feel safe and secure; and she needs to leave her scent marks (no, not urine) throughout the territory so you understand that it is hers as well. When the session or time is completed, then Misty should be taken to her safe room BEFORE you are allowed to join the others.

3. Play and Stimulation 
In your situation, stress levels are bound to rise. And one of the best stress management tools (for Misty as well as yourself) is the vigourous play session. Rather than go into excruciating detail here, please refur to my blog entry, The Aloof Cat (trust me it is about play) (12/20/09)

You also need more stimulation (though toy rotation, the introduction of new toys and some environmental change - for example a new cardboard box if you like to explore boxes. With that in mind, please look at the information I've prepared on the following: Guys Just Wanna Have Fun (11/9/09) and Stimulating Ideas (12/6/09). You might also consider Food Puzzles.

One of the ways to reduce stress in a multi-cat household is through the provision of different levels. When cats are able to arrange themselves at different heights from one another, they feel safer and less threatened. A cat tree is one way to provide levels but there are others (like shelves). Have a look at A Cat Tree for Every Cat (2/7/10. But don't go to any expense on this just yet, because I really do need to see the layout of your home and furnishings before we take this aspect further. (I don't want you to exhaust your catnip allowance!)

4. Feliway
At present I suggest Feliway spray for the spray marks (spray only NOT urine puddles). If you are not familiar with this product, consult the blog entry What Good is Feliway? (4/3/10).We can look at the Feliway diffuser later, because I think it can play a very positive role. But again I need to see your room and furniture layout (in relation to where you pee outside the box, etc). before we take this further.

5. Electronic Cat Door?
 Over the longer term, Misty may still need to have a safe room. With that in mind, consider the installation of an electronic cat door.

This is a small door through which she could enter or exit from that room. However it is coded to an electronic key (which she could wear on her collar) so only she could open that door. This would allow her to safely retreat from you - something that is especially important if you try to attack her when she is asleep.

Again, this is not a purchase to make in a hurry. Just think about it. Once we have the full plan in place, we can look at the viability of this option again.

 6. Those Urine Spots
We will discuss your urine spots more, once I have received a layout of your home and more information about how these spots are cleaned and what sprays are used, etc.

In the meantime, there is no point in being taken to the spot on which you have urinated after the fact. Themselves don't realize that cats do not learn this way. In order to relate one thing to another, the second thing has to occur within 30 seconds of the onset of the first - and that is unlikely in your case. And by the way, disciplining you in any manner will just backfire: it will make you confused and stressed. So even though this is very frustrating for them, just ask them to back off for now.

Instead ask them to keep a daily log of your urine escapades: indicating by day exactly where you urinated (when you do so outside of the box); and what you were doing (if they know this) just before you did the deed (e.g., saw Misty, hassled Indy, had a treat, etc.) I'm interested in details.

By the way, it is not unusual that when one cat starts to pee like you do, that another joins in. Is there any possibility that another of your colleagues could be making contributions as well?

On Another Matter: Indy and You
I am distressed by your relationship with Indy as well; but there is so much going on that we need to address some matters before others. At the very least, I do hope that Indy has opportunities to play and to have the run the of house when you are elsewhere - on a daily basis.

You should not be able to get away with this level of intimidation - even if in your mind, Indy is a rather large rat (and you have told me you are bigger than he is). However I ask that no disciplinary action be taken at this time until I have the full picture (yep, that layout again).

I am also distressed by the fact that adult children of your household think of your hassling Indy as entertainment. I hope you will be able to convince them that the situation in your household is a serious one (for at least Misty, Indy and yourself); and that it needs to be addressed appropriately and with patience and compassion.

We will need their cooperation (or, at the very least, there willingness NOT to make the situation worse by their own behaviour.) If not, I just might suggest that you re-home them!

I'll provide more advice one you send the details I requested.

Meeka, all of you can make changes - in the right direction. And I will do my best to help you.