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All of us at Cat Hospital of Chicago wish you and your family—humans, felines and treasured pets of all shapes and sizes—the very happiest holiday season. We cherish the opportunity to care for your beloved cats and we are grateful to have earned your trust. Here’s to a safe, healthy and paws-perous 2016!

Ask Boo

Dear Boo:

I know you usually field questions from your fellow felines, but would you accept a query from one of your devoted human readers for your next newsletter? My tabby, Caesar, occasionally urinates outside of his litter box. It’s usually on walls in other parts of my house. (And, not to be indelicate, but the odor is unmistakable.) Can you tell me what’s going on—and what I can do?

– Mark

Dear Mark:

It is always a treat to hear from my two-legged readers!

From your brief description, it sounds like Caesar is using a cat behavior called “spray marking.” There were two key clues in your note. One is that he’s urinating on your walls—typically, cats with medical issues related to urination are more likely to relieve themselves on floors or other horizontal surfaces, as opposed to walls and other vertical surfaces. The second is the strong smell you describe. When we cats spray, the scent is definitely stronger than when we go inside the litter box.

One other way to confirm that he’s spraying (and not simply having litter box issues) is to watch his behavior when it takes place. If Caesar backs up toward the wall, if his tail twitches and if he kneads the ground in front of him, he’s most likely spraying. By the way, some humans mistakenly assume that only male cats spray, but female felines can do it as well. What’s more, spraying is much more common in cats that are not spayed or neutered.

Why would we cats, with our (mostly) fastidious ways, do such a malodorous thing? Well, as you might know, scent is one of the most important ways we communicate—usually with other cats, but sometimes with the humans who share our homes. There are numerous messages we might be sending when we spray. It could be anything from simply marking our territory so other animals know the space is ours to showing that we’ve won an altercation with another cat, or from bonding with one of our favorite humans (believe it or not, it can be a sign that we think you’re OK!) to showing concern when a human family member’s behavior or schedule has changed.

Also, with our exceptional sense of smell, we cats can tell a lot about other cats through their spray, including gender, age and whether they might be available to mate.

The smart veterinarians at Cat Hospital can give you plenty of tips about how you and other cat parents can cut down on your cat’s spraying behavior. You also can read more about it in this helpful article, but here are a few suggestions:

Get your cat spayed or neutered as soon as possible.
Thoroughly clean any areas that your cat has sprayed with an enzymatic cleaner, such as Nature’s Miracle, Anti-Icky-Poo, Zero Odor (available at most pet supply stores and online). Cats are attracted back to areas where they or other cats have urinated, so this will minimize his feeling that he “owns” that territory.
If possible, play with or feed your cat in the immediate area that he sprayed; this can help him associate the area with a more positive activity.
Limit the presence of other animals, and if possible, limit your cat’s ability to see other animals outside through doors and windows.
Use a cat pheromone diffuser or spray (such as Feliway), which can help calm cats. Spraying can be caused by things that are stressful to your cat (you, however, may not find them stressful). Cat stressors might include construction or repair noise, visitors in the home, loud music, a change in food or litter, a new medicine regimen, a strange cat in the yard, a barking dog, etc.

One of the biggest stressors that can lead to spraying is the addition of a cat (or more than one) into a household that already is blessed with multiple felines. (Bringing a new cat into a home can even be more stressful than a new drooly dog!) This stress is related to the new and resident cats (what we in feline world call the cats that were there first) not getting along all that well.
In multi-cat homes, be sure you have adequate food, water, litter, elevated surfaces and toys for all cat social groups (cats that may groom each other, curl up together, play together, etc., without significant growing or hissing).
Provide safe, calm areas in the home where your cat can retreat and relax.

As a kitty who marked his fair share of territory before he was fixed, I’m hoping that this background and these tips help you—and help keep Caesar from attempting to be so territorial.


– Boo

Email your questions to Ask Boo.

Fascinating Feline Fact

Cats evolved as hunters, and the active pursuit of food is an instinctive behavior for felines of all sizes. To make your cat’s mealtimes more enjoyable and appeal to his hunting instincts, hide small amounts of food around your home for him to find.

Another great way to appeal to your cat's desire for physical and mental stimulation during feeding is through the use of food puzzles. Round and tube-shaped food puzzles release bits of dry kibble when rolled just the right way. Some have sliders that move to reveal hidden compartments where you stash the food. Others have silos of different heights to make the hunt more complex. Whatever shape and size, they all challenge your cat to work for her food. Food puzzles are available online and at local pet stores.

Did You Know?

Did you know that changes in a cat's hair color and texture can indicate a deficiency in her diet? Several factors can alter the color of cats’ coats—the temperature, exposure to sunlight and, yes, aging. But color changing also can be triggered by diet. For example, a black kitty's fur can become reddish-brown if the food he eats doesn’t have enough tyrosine, an amino acid. A lack of copper or too much zinc can have the same effect. Changing fur color could also be caused by problems with the liver, thyroid or kidneys, though. So consult your Cat Hospital of Chicago veterinarian before making any changes in your cat’s diet.

Why Do They Do That?

Why does it sometimes look like cats are trying to bury (or cover up) their leftover food after a meal? Veterinarians speculate that this behavior could have two different explanations. One is that it evolved from their wild cat ancestors, who had to hunt for and kill their own food and then would bury it so that no other cats would eat their meals or so possible predators couldn't find them.

Another plausible notion is that cats do this when they don’t like the food and think it might be feces, or at least that it doesn’t taste much better than that. If this were the case, the cat would probably hide his food after eating only a few bites.

Holiday and Winter Safety

The decorations in stores and a definite chill in the air signal that the holidays and winter are upon us! While they bring with them an abundance of fun things for humans, they also present plenty of potential dangers for your feline friends. To ensure their safety and continued good health during the coming months, check out the Holiday Safety Tips and Winter Safety Tips in the Seasonal Reminders section of the Winter 2011 edition of Treats & Tidbits.

“If there were to be a universal sound depicting peace,
I would surely vote for the purr.”
– Barbara L. Diamond, writer

Back issues of Treats & Tidbits are available here.

We welcome referrals! If you refer someone to Cat Hospital, you’ll get $35 off your next visit!

2851 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 539-9080, fax (773) 478-0605

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