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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Urine Marking & Cat Fighting Combo

Dear Greyce,

I am a beautiful, 9-year-old, spayed female with a complicated problem: I pee all over the house and I fight with my feline sister, Cassie. And this has been going on for a long time.

How It All Started
Let me give you a capsule history. 

I was originally in another household as a kitten and then was foisted into foster care when a combination of a new baby and a move made things too difficult for those with whom I was living. I went to stay with a young woman who lived quite quietly. After she had me spayed, I became aggressive with others. I did a round of kitty Prozac to help me deal with post-traumatic stress of the spay. Still I was good with her and so she decided to adopt me.

All was fine until a man came on the scene - about 7 years ago - a man with two other cats! I was given a very quick introduction to these felines - on their turf. It wasn't great, believe me. 

Then we all moved to a new place and Themselves hoped that with us all being in a brand new territory we would get along. Fat chance! The male cat kept me in line, so things seemed quiet; but he died some 18 months ago. 

Now there are only females left: Cassie (age 16) and moi. And we fight. A lot - to the point where sometimes skin is broken. 

Fights with Cassie

We have three prominent fights locations: 1) on the stairs, 2) in the kitchen when we are waiting to be fed and get in each other's way, or 3) in the basement when one of us in the way of the other getting to the litter box. We always fought when we were in Themselves' bedroom and so now are banned from it with the use of baby gate. We used to be able to jump them but are now too old and plump to do so.

Most often our fights happen late at night when the folks have gone to bed and we have no referees. Oh yes, I get jealous if Cassie is sitting at Herself's feet; then I come up and swat at her, or simply get up near where she is and then she runs away. 

Generally our fights are over quickly and don't escalate much beyond a bit of swatting and squawking from us both.  If one of us gets close enough to bite the other, that generally ends things. 

We separate when the folks get involved and clap their hands in our direction or throw something to break us up. Sometimes Herself chases us away from each other or pushes me with her foot if I am blocking Cassie's way to the litter box.

Don't get me wrong, Greyce. For the most part we tolerate each other. We are often found near each other in the dining room, lying on the floor soaking up the sun. We have a truce when we are eating side by side (even though we fight on the way to getting our food). If we are in the living room and I am with Herself and Cassie is with Himself, all is well. A few times when Themselves returned from vacation, we all slept together on the bed; and once we glued ourselves to Himself - both at the same time!

 So I think Cassie would tolerate me if I didn't bug her, sometimes aggressively swat at her, or try to keep her from the litter boxes by staking myself out on the stairs and not allowing her to get by.

My Peeing Problem

I pee on baseboards, toys left on the floor, doormats in the front hall, the sofa, guests' luggage, shoes, under Little Girl's bed, and on the duvet in the master bedroom (where Cassie likes to sleep sometimes).

None of the vet's advice has worked. Each and every time I go to the vet, I have my urine tested for the potential of infection - which I understand could make me want to pee outside the box. But I always have superb, Grade A urine. So there is no medical problem at the root of this.

Themselves have tried everything the vet and every web page they could find have recommended: 
- removing the covers from the litter boxes, adding another box, using different litters, moving the box location - all to entice me to use the box; Greyce, we have two, uncovered boxes in the basement furnace room. There aren't a lot of places to put an uncovered box and the vet said a covered box could contribute to the problem.
- giving me more attention (through more play and more affection), to reduce anxiety;
-  tin foil, sticky tape, putting food down where I have peed, every enzyme and prohibitive spray you can buy - all to discourage me from using my 'other' spots;  
- confinement - locking me up in the bathroom for a few days (though I managed to escape); and 
- keeping the blinds and curtains shut since I get agitated when I see cats outside (Cassie, too). We are also not too fond of those jerky squirrels who come around in our yard and right up to our windows and taunt us!. Still I continue to decorate the house with urine.

At present I pee mostly in the basement, in the corner of the dining room and at the front door. (They need to rip up the tile and baseboards at the front door to get rid of the urine smell.) I am now banned from the upstairs (where the bedrooms are) and from the living room (though only when I cannot be supervised). 

Yes Greyce I still use my litter boxes, too, as I don't go outside the box on a daily basis. They manage to find my spots because of the smell or the presence of a puddle. Sometimes Cassie rats me out by crying about it to alert them. And sometimes they stumble on a spot (and curse). 

They have tried every cleaning product they can think of. At present they soak up the urine with a rag, then use a spray product and let it dry naturally. Sometimes they will spray the area repeatedly for days. But they has given up on this because it doesn't seem to make a difference. The whole thing seems to have defeated them.

If I have done it recently, I hide. On occasion Himself has smacked my back (though Themselves know that doing so is futile - guess their frustration just mount). When I peed on their bed, Herself smacked me and yelled at me, so I ran and hid under the sofa. They had to lift the sofa up to get at me - so I could be cleaned up, because I'd wet and soiled myself from fear. They've tried praise when I do good things but it didn't work.

All About Me

I guess I lack what may be a termed, a positive personality (from a human purrspective). 

I am possessive of  Herself. I follow her around. I don't like to allow Cassie to be near or on her. When Herself is asleep at night, I sleep on the stairs near the baby gate and can't wait for her to wake in the morning and give me some affection - one of the few times I actually seek it - before being fed. When she showers in the morning, I join her in the bathroom.

I have also bonded with Himself and am okay with the Little Girl (now 4 years old). But I don't tend to really like humans. 

When new people come on the scene, I approach them boldly,  give them a sniff and sometimes rub up against them. But when someone tries to pet me I swat and hiss, or give a warning bite if I feel threatened enough. And then I find a spot nearby from which I observe. I used to run and hide from young children, but I'm getting more tolerant now that I'm used to a live-in one.

I don't like to be touched but will allow contact with my head or under my chin. My back is a no-no except with Herself and then only for a few minutes before I start biting. When I have had enough, I nip whomever is petting me. But I do like being petted when I'm in a mellow mood - usually in the middle of the day.

 Themselves can hold me for a short while. I put up a fuss when Herself scoops me up but I actually love it and purr super loud. I like to lie between her feet, especially if under a blanket. I knead the blanket, too.

Needless to say, I detest being groomed; within a few minutes I start to attack the brush or bite Herself. Because I'm a plus-size cat, I have problems reaching my back; so I have dander and matted fur. Next week I head to a professional groomer.

And it doesn't take rocket science to know that I also don't like other of my species. Given the choice, I'd rather live in a single-cat household. 

On the bright side, I am curious and intelligent. New things intrigue me and I like to inspect them - most especially boxes and bags. I like to lick plastic, so such bags are kept from me. 

While curious, I am also reactive. I get a bit frightened by loud noises like the vacuum cleaner! Traffic in the front yard scares me silly. Though cautious, I'm also curious when I have been taken out on harness and leash to the backyard. But I'm really an indoor cat.

During the day I hang out on dining room floor near patio door, or between the kitchen stairs and dining room. In the evening we all hang out in the living room. At bedtime, I stay near the stairs going up to the bedrooms and Cassie stays on her kitty condo at the foot of the basement stairs. 

Cassie and I free feed kibble, but we insist on a formal feeding ritual twice daily (early morning and dinner) even if it just means receiving a few kibble in the bowl. While the vet would like our feeding to be highly restricted because of our generous figures, we cry if our bowls are empty because we prefurr to graze. We get wet food on occasion - which I adore. Our water comes from a pet fountain.

I like to play for short periods and walk away from interactive games when I have had enough. Still, there are times when I get into a weird mood and start running and leap at corners as though something were chasing me.  I love catnip, real fur mice, things that dangle, balls (for catch-and-swat games), tissue paper, bags, and the laser pointer. We play less often with our humans now - as we age, as Herself becomes ungainly in pregnancy, and just because Themselves are very busy. 

As for feline furnishings, Cassie has a condo at the foot of the basement stairs (really hers). Themselves don't want to invest in more cat furniture for fear I will pee on it and then it will need to be thrown out. There aren't many high places in my house - though I have been known to find them. When things get too much, I usually leave the room, go to a far corner, or hide if I need to. 

When I review this section, I guess I'm not exactly the most desirable pet in the world - especially compared to Cassie who is a gentle, sweet cat. She is a borderline love slut in search of contact from any human. She loves Himself and would spend more time with Herself if I would allow it. She also loves the Little Girl.  

Still I am much loved. And all would be well if I didn't test Themselves' patience by peeing all over the house to show what is rightfully mine!

The State of the Household

I have often heard Themselves fighting about me - about whether or not to keep me and trying to find ways to make me stop. Although they have tried to find me a good home, no one wants to risk it. Lately the word, euthanasia, has been discussed.

To make matters worse, They are starting a renovation to removed the wall between the kitchen and dining rooms, in a couple of weeks. They have been told it will take 3 weeks at most. And they are thinking about boarding me during this time. Cassie, too? I just don't know. 

In late June we can expect another invader: Baby Boy. Herself is pregnant and I'm marking more frequently. Herself was careful to give me attention when Little Girl arrived to mitigate any jealousy. What will happen with another one of Them on the scene?

All I know is that I need HELP and I need it NOW!


Dear Minou,

I meow with sympathy at your longstanding problem. And while you have provided a host of detail (thank you, by the way) it really comes down to a few points.

Your folks have tried many measures to deal with the problem, without success. That is because your problem really isn't about peeing.

Not about peeing, you say? My dear, it is all about your purrsonality and your sensitivity to territorial incursion (most especially via that too-hasty intro to Cassie and her room-mate) not to mention those pesky roaming cats and squirrels.

Before I give you my recommendations, let me take each of these problems, in turn.

Your Purrsonality: You cannot help who you are. And you are a very sensitive, aggressive and generally intolerant cat; and I would venture to say, you are anxious. This means that you do not share well and you don't do change well. Rather than send you to expensive purrsonal development retreats to get a purrsonality makeover, I suggest you accept the fact that this is just who you are - and work with it.

Territorial Incursion: If I could have a gram of catnip for every case I've advised on where problems resulted from a too-hasty introduction between strange cats, I could afford the cost of a team of servants to respond to my every whim! Yes, you had relative peace while Cassie's male counterpart was alive, but look at what happened when he left the scene!

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that improper introductions are especially disastrous for indoor cats because in such situations you and your arch enemy are imprisoned together for life, with no chance of escape. Cats who have outdoor access when faced with such situations, have been known to leave home as I wrote about in the case of Sinbad. His story has a happy ending which I will share with readers in the near future.

But the indoor-only cat is faced with reinforcing a sense of territory, comfort, dominance either by 1) taking it out on the environment (spraying, urine marking, scratching, fighting) or 2) taking it out on himself (self-mutilation, binge eating, anorexia, hiding, etc.). Obviously your response is in the former category.

So let's get to my advice.


1.  Make an appointment with a veterinary behaviourist, pronto! You are fortunate to live in an area where there are the services of a veterinarian who specializes in animal behaviour. As you have found out, not all veterinarians are so knowledgeable. And you need an expert.

I would prefurr that you receive expert advice at your locale because your situation is complex, the vet can meet you in the fur and your purrsons in the flesh (and that is a great benefit), and I believe you would benefit from medication to deal with anxiety. You need expert help here because some anxiety-reducing medications may enhance your dominance (and this is exactly what we do NOT want to have  happen). A veterinary behaviourist will know the right medication and dose for your situation, will know whether or not medical tests are required beforehand, and will be able to monitor your progress while you are on it. It's a big-ticket item but very important in your case.

Insist on a drug that can be dispensed in gel form and rubbed on the inside of your ear (or an equivalent easy-to-dose-you method). You surely don't strike me as a cat who would love a syringe or a pill.

Start the medication as soon as you can because no matter what happens, you are in for two significant changes in your household (renovation and baby) and the possibility of a temporary territorial change (boarding).

Now just because I recommend you do drugs, doesn't mean that nothing else has to change. Because drugs - by altering your anxiety level - just buy you time to learn new ways of behaving BUT ONLY if your purrsons make and reinforce changes as well. So here goes . . .

2.  Consider boarding facilities for both Cassie and yourself while the kitchen is being renovated.

The thought of two stressed-out cats, one of whom is already manifesting serious behavioural problems, and a pregnant human, and a young child, and a renovation is overwhelming. A renovation such as the one you describe is bound to be stressful: strangers, noise, dust. You would be sequestered in a part of the house (for your safety) and subjected to noises and smells over which you have no control. Themselves may even be away during the day, the time during which most of this is likely to happen. You would likely not be allowed up to the area under renovation even when the workers are not there. And if you were, you could even start peeing on the construction in progress.

So let's simplify things for you and your humans.

I would like you to consider being boarded for the renovation period. This will take time to research, so start NOW! especially since getting reservations at good facilities isn't always easy. Ask your vet and friends for recommendations.

Ideally go for a cats-only boarding facility (no noises/smells of dogs welcome, thank you). Go for one that offers individual cat rooms (NOT cages) so you can move about.

Since I cannot predict how you would react to sharing with Cassie in a new environment, book separate rooms for each of you. You should be able to see one another or visit in a common area on a daily basis to keep up the rapport that you do have. Make sure your folks have visiting privileges, too.

Have Themselves inspect the premises before booking - to get a sense of the cleanliness, quality and as importantly, the vibe (the staff). Discuss the potential for booking longer than the alleged three weeks of renovation because I have yet to meet a contractor that actual kept to his timeline.

If you decide to board, let me know and I will advise you on what to take that will give you a sense of comfort. And I will advise how to make the adjust back home since your territory there will have changed during your absence.

(pre-medication/pre-boarding but to be continued thereafter)

3. Reduce the Opportunities for Fights

Fight Reduction over Litter Box Access

It is not a good idea for Cassie of have to 'hold' because she lacks safe access to her toilet. Instead you need to increase the distribution of this valued resource because then, Minou, you cannot stake out each and every toilet at the same time (unless you clone yourself).

You mentioned the limited area(s) in which boxes could be located without having a cover, especially since your veterinarian suggested that a covered box may be contributing to the problem. This is one case where I strongly recommend over-riding such advice.

Keep your current boxes as they are; eventually you will probably be able to remove one of them.  AND get some covered ones!

For a covered box you have two choices (and you may want to exercise both). 1) Go to your pet supply store and choose the largest covered box available (because plus-size cats need all the room they can get). 2) Make your own, super duper covered box from a big, covered plastic storage container (instructions follow at the very bottom). My friend, Chloe, said I could show you her toilet, made when her very large, elderly companion kept overshooting the box so needed a covered one with high sides. It's lovely - made from a storage contained. Alas I will have to re-shoot the photo. But I will get it to you, as soon as I can.

Install one covered box on each of the floors of the house to which either of you cats have access:
- one covered box in the basement at a significant distance from the furnace room (e.g., behind the sofa or by all the pee spots near the stairs);
- one covered box on the main floor (e.g, .in the foyer or by that delightful dining room corner than is been peed to death);
- one covered box on the top floor IF even Cassie is allowed some access to that floor, in whatever area makes sense. Note that if both of you will continue to be banned from this floor, then no such box is necessary.

Fight Reduction over Waiting to be Fed 

Okay. You know the feeding ritual. Your cat watch says it's almost time. And you are getting antsy.

Separate your feeding bowls. Keep one where it is and move the other, for example, around the corner between the plant and the furniture so it is some distance away. Or keep one where it is and move the other to that seldom-peed-on corner of the dining room. Hopefully that way, you'd each have separate areas around which to pace, and avoid setting each other off.

If this isn't enough to prevent altercations, then consider getting timed feeders to dispense this ritual food (again at quite separate locations), so that no human is involved and thus there is no issue about who gets fed first (or one of you getting in the way of the other enroute to the food bowl). This is an expensive option and you would still need other, free-feeding bowls, so should only be used as a last resort.

Fight Reduction at Night When Themselves are Asleep

Cassie, I understand you like to sleep on the condo in the basement at night. And Minou, I understand you like to be near the gate by the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. So let's make sure that there is a litter box and food and water on each floor at night.

If there is a covered litter box on the main floor, then Themselves can insert a baby gate between the main floor and the basement. So you, Minou, will be fine because you will have the water fountain, your kibble bowl and a box. And you will NOT have access to Cassie.

Cassie, there will be boxes on the basement floor (furnace room and a covered box elsewhere). Keep a water bowl (or fountain) on that floor as well. And ONLY at night, before bedtime, have your purrson put down a kibble bowl for grazing.  Relax: Minou will NOT have access to you at this time!

In short: at bedtime, each of you has a separate floor (and no access to the other) that will meet all of your needs.

Fight Reduction on the Stairs

This is more complex and frankly, we need to deal with other things, first. Any possibility of you sending me a photo of the stairs (and adjacent walls)?

Another Important Note

Are you separated when no one is at home? If not, I suggest this be considered to further reduce the chance of fights.  You can time share - with one of you on the main floor and the other, the basement. You can change places on alternate days. Just make sure litter box, food and water are available on both floors.

4. Deal with All that Urine

We must do what we can to discourage you from peeing outside the box. As mentioned, there are several contributing factors and these will be addressed in part by medication, increased and separate resources (fight reduction measures), and measures I'll talk about later related to roaming cats. Believe me, all of these will help.

Let's focus on the basement, first, because that is an area of choice for your pee fests.

I note all the lovely red dots which are your pee spots.

You have not said whether or not your pee fests are limited to leaving puddles and spots on horizontal surfaces like duvets and sofa cushions, or if you are multi-talented and also leave spray marks - about 6" (15 cm) above the floor on walls and other vertical surfaces.

From what you have said, I believe it may be both; in which case, I recommend in the installation of a Feliway diffuser.

This is a synthetic facial pheromone which will give you a sense of comfort, because it is a version of the same pheromonal code you use when you rub your cheeks against something in your territory to mark it as your own.

I'm sure you will want to learn more about this product, so just click on Feliway (then select About Feliway, and choose How to Use). You can also consult my blog entry, What Good Is Feliway Anyway? The first time around, you will have to buy a diffuser and a refill (it comes as a combo); after that you will only need the refill. You plug the diffuser into an electrical socket, taking care not to have it obstructed by furniture or drapes. One diffuser should be good for the basement (you can check out the area requirements on the website or on the diffuser instructions) and will last about a month. It will work 24/7 giving you this sense of comfort and in this way, discouraging you from peeing outside the box. And yes, it will take time.

In the meantime you MUST NOT clean up any of your urine marks (on the floor on which the diffuser is installed) with anything other than plain water or surgical spirits. Surgical spirit is the fancy way of saying rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, available at drug stores.

If some of what you are doing is spraying, you may also want to use Feliway spray IN ADDITION to the diffuser. Clean any new marks (or re-marks) as instructed. Then if you are also using the Feliway spray, put one spritz of on it. And leave it be.

Now let's go upstairs to the main floor, and your two other pee-fest areas.

Again I note all those red dots of new and old pee.

The dining room corners are relatively self-contained. Once your folks have cleaned them (with their product of choice) AND they are fully dry, have them cover the area over with some plastic carpet protector - the heavy plastic with pointy bits on the bottom, used to protect carpeted stairways. It is available by the metre (yard) in most hardware and such stores (like Home Depot or Canadian Tire) and will not rupture their bank account.

This won't prevent you from marking the area further, but it will make urine easy to find and easy to wipe up, since it will not penetrate. And that, my dear, will be a blessing under the circumstances.

Of course you could try the same Feliway method I recommend for the downstairs, but it is expensive and your folks are probably tired of such expenses, so I just thought we'd do one floor for now. It's really up to your folks' bank account.

The foyer is another matter, especially since it has soaked the tile enough that the smell remains. The front door and side entry are common pee-fest areas for cats like you, Minou. Entry ways (and windows) are considered vulnerable aspects of territory, worthy of protection.

If you need to rip up tile and floor, then BEFORE you replace them you MUST use a proper primer that will form a barrier between the existing surface (which could still have some urine) and the new one. The best produce of this type of which I'm aware is Kilz (select Primers and Paints on the sidebar of its site). To block pet odours, the site's FAQs section recommends one of Kilz Complete, Kilz Original or Kilz Odorless. (I vote for the latter since paint odour is likely to be an issue.)

If you have any interest in it, before going to that expense or ripping things out you might want to give one last try to a product called Anti Icky Poo - unscented version (usually available on order through your vet). In this case, you would probably pour it over the area and then let it dry naturally. It may require two applications.

In any case, you will need to take steps from discouraging roaming cats from marking, as well. Check the outside of the door and window in the foyer. Thoroughly clean them with a urine cleaner. Rinse well. Clean again and then either leave to dry or rinse well, depending upon instructions. Feel free to use a cleaner with a heavy scent - anything to discourage the feline visitor. Check every day for spray marks and clean as needed. Reasonably soon you should be able to reduce the checking and cleaning process, until it becomes a rarer event.

Also refer to my entry, The Invading Stranger, for tips of dealing with roaming cats who bother you so.

The other measure that will help, is to truly get rid of existing urine.

When you and Cassie are away being boarded might be the purrfect time to do a more thorough cleaning of your urine spots. Check out my page at the top of the blog, Cleaning Urine and Other Stains, for suggestions.

Just A Few More Things . . . 

Use a calendar to keep track of when and where you pee. We need data to determine the extent to which these methods are working. And I like records rather than memory.

A word about discipline: Your fights are already broken up by your folk's intervention. Good for them! Find out if they can figure out when the two of you are up to no good, BEFORE the fur starts to fly. If they need help with the subtle signals you may be giving in advance, let me know. And I'll give them some lessons and suggestions intervention.

As for discipline when you pee where they don't want you to: Please remind them NOT to bother. It will only make you more anxious and thus more likely to re-commit the crime! Let's not get into the complicated issue of feline reinforcement, which requires considerable finesse if it is to have any chance of success. Better they take a deep breath (or 10) and walk away!

Get rid of all those extra food bowls. They aren't discouraging you from peeing and may be contributing to your weight issue. Take them away!

I have suggestions for your feeding habits. But really, Minou, you have more than enough to do right now. So let's just concentrate on what I've advised so far.

I wish Cassie and you the very best. Do let me know how you are doing.


INTO A LITTER BOX (with apologies for 'dated' information)

1.   Purchase a box of sufficient size for the situation. If simulating a hooded/covered box, then box height with lid must be at least 18”+ to allow the cat to stand. A box of that height or higher, with a length of 29" and width of 16" would be fine. 

2.   Cut an 8”-wide opening at about 6” to 8” from the floor of the box – cutting open a cat doorway sufficient to allow the cat entry. Use a carpet knife or similar tool. Locate this entry in the centre of the side of the box. Which side you use (long or short) depends on the space in which the box will be located and, most importantly, ensuring that your cat has enough room to turn around for proper placement of the behind.

3.   Cover the cut edges with duct or packing tape because they are sharp.

4.   Option: Spray the bottom of the box (only) with a vegetable spray such as Pam, BEFORE putting the litter in. Do this every time you completely clean the box. This makes it easier to scoop the litter (especially clumping litter) and reduces odour penetration into the plastic.