The Real Deal - A Case Study in Stopping Urine Marking


Have I mentioned that I have wonderful clients?  Well, I do.  This particular wonderful client, let’s call her Ms. W, loves cats.  She has two beautiful adult female cats that have been enjoying life together, problem free, in Ms. W’s lovely home.  

Everything was going just fine, until Ms. W happened to pass through a cat rescue and fell in love with a strong, handsome man that she had to take home with her.  He is a white and grey tabby, strapping young fellow that she calls Toby.  Ms. W took Toby home with her and let the new housemates get acquainted naturally.  For the past few months everything seemed to be going well, until Mr. W noticed glistening, discolored vertical lines on her walls (just above cat height) and took a sniff.  I think you know where this is going.

Ms. W brought Toby to see me yesterday to take a good look at him and check him for urinary issues. On physical exam, Toby was completely normal...well, he is a bit overweight.  

It is always best to have your veterinarian perform a thorough physical exam to rule out medical causes for this urinary problem.  Once medical reasons are ruled out, it’s time to consider other causes for this behavior.  You see, there are lots of reasons why cats urinate outside of their litterbox.  Cats under stress - both emotional and physical -  urinate outside the box.  Science is not sure exactly why this is, but I think it is their way of communicating to us that something is not right.  People often use the word “spite” when the are referring to this behavior.  This word is not in my vocabulary to describe any cat.  Ever.  I think spite is a uniquely human emotion.

Ms. W’s cats gave her a big clue about the root cause of this behavior.  Urine in a vertical line down a wall is most often associated with urine marking. Cats use urine as a means of communication without having to have a direct confrontation.  Clearly, Toby’s arrival has caused stress in the household but we can’t be sure that it is Toby doing the marking.  You see, Ms. W has not caught anyone in the act, and female cats can spray too.

The best thing that Ms. W could do was hit the restart button.  When she put the cats together in the same living space right away, she inadvertently set up a very stressful situation for all three. Introducing cats very slowly is the key to harmony (and likely no urine marking) in a multicat household.

So, Ms. W and I are coming up with a plan and we are going to work together.  Ms. W is going to put Toby in a bedroom by himself.  She is going to make sure that he has all of the environmental enrichment that he needs to feel safe, secure and happy in his “studio apartment”, including hunting for his food (Want to know more about this?  Check out, two litter boxes, adequate hiding spaces, multiple water sources, vertical space to climb and hide, and adequate scratching post options.

Ms. W’s original two cats will have the run of the house that they are used to, which will make them very happy.  The ladies will have a chance to get to know Toby, and he will get to know them,  by sniffing him under the door gradually and without physical confrontation.  Ms. W will be able to improve the scent communications by adding positive feline pheromones (Feliway) to the environment.  She will continue with this living arrangement for one month and let us know how it goes....and we won’t be reuniting them in the same way.  

If the urine marking stops, we will know we are on the right track.  If not, we will investigate further, and you can follow me as together we solve this feline mystery.

2 Responses

Liz Bales
Liz Bales

December 10, 2016

HI Kris,
Wow! You have taken on a lot here. I will answer this as a two-part question.

Taming feral kittens is very tricky business. You are doing a lovely thing by caring for these kittens and trying to socialize them, but it is not easy.

The most important thing to know is that you must keep yourself safe. The kittens should be examined by a veterinarian to make sure that they are healthy and free of disease. If the vaccine status of the mother is unknown or the kittens have spent time outside, you need to be aware that there is a risk of rabies in all unvaccinated cats and kittens. If you are bitten by a cat, you must know that all cat bites are serious and should be seen by a doctor.
With that said, you must know that not all feral cats and kittens can be socialized. Some will never enjoy the touch or companionship of humans. I know this may be disappointing, but I wanted you to know this so you can gauge your own expectations. It is certainly no reflection of your efforts that these kittens may not be socializable.
I am sorry I can’t give you specific handling instructions for these kittens, but you might improve your outcome with a few tips. Cats rely on scent and chemical messengers to communicate. When we understand how these work, we can try to use these messages to make cats feel safe. There is a bottled cat pheromone called Feliway that releases a calming cat messenger into the environment. This can help cats feel calm and less threatened. In addition, you could put some articles of clothing that you wear in their environment as bedding. This will get them used to your smell. Then, swap these out with new clothes and wear the clothes that the kittens have been sleeping on. Cats feel much more safe and secure when we smell like them.

The second part of your question was about integrating these new cats into your home and I have a few tips that may help you here. It would be best if you took a long time to introduce these cats into your home population. Let the home cats and the new cats get to know each other for a long time under the door between the two rooms where they are now. You can do the same trick of Feliway and switching bedding. The next step would be to stack baby gates from floor to ceiling between the two rooms. Let the cats get to know each other through that separation for 10 minutes or less at a time. If you see the cats exhibiting stress, end the session. Gradually increase the sessions until they are comfortable with each other and you feel safe putting them together.

I will say that this is a bit of a risky proposition and you may consider permanently housing them separately.
Remember, there are important food and litter box considerations here as well. You need one more litter boxes than you have cats. For instance, if you have 7 cats, you need 8 litter boxes. These should be kept in multiple locations in the home.
Cats should hunt for their food. I strongly recommend one NoBowl Feeding System for each cat. This helps keeps cats happy hunting and not competing for food resources, which leads to stress and fights. Cats like multiple fresh water sources kept in a separate location from their food.
That is a big answer! Let me know if I can help to clarify anything and good luck! Thank you for all that you are doing to help these cats. You are doing a wonderful thing!

Kris Woods
Kris Woods

December 10, 2016

I have 3 kittens that I want to introduce to my existing 4 cats in the house. I have had the kittens in their own room for the past month. Plan on keeping them sequestered till they are spayed and neutered and healed. Any suggestions? One more thing. The sequestered kittens are a little feral. Has taken me 1 month to get one to warm up to me, no luck yet with the other 2 that I can tell are males. Suggestions?

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