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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question

Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 23776
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
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Hi. Okay I have a problem with my two female cats. I will give

Customer Question

Hi. Okay I have a problem with my two female cats. I will give some background on them and then tell you about the problem. It might be a bit long.

Our cats were found as kittens being raised by foxes. We adopted them from a shelter at 6months old. They are now just under 3 years old. We keep having problems with them urinating and it just seems to be getting worse. They never do it in front of us, so we often don't find it until we smell it. Just recently we thought it was all going fine and had stopped however last week we've discovered three area's which have seen frequent use. In the living room under my daughters easel (it was dry to touch but when you got down to smell, it was very strong), under the stairs all over several pairs of my shoes (half a meter from one of the litter boxes) and under the dinner table in the kitchen (on more shoes and plenty of urine, its laminate floor and you could see it was more than one incident.)

I've cleaned the area with a pet urine eliminator, tried to get it to penetrate into the carpeted areas. And have sprayed a product called Feliway (hormone mimic) on the areas. So far there hasn't been any repeat accidents in these areas and we actually watched one cat walk up to the treated area under the easel, sniff it, walk away and immediately use the litter box.

So far so good. One cat though I keep catching standing with its rear to the sofa that I sit on (this cat is my shadow) and sticking her tail up and kind of shivering her rear end. She doesn't appear to be actually spraying anything though (I put my hand between her and the sofa and could detect nothing on my hand after she had finished)

What does all this mean? How can I stop them doing this (they don't do it upstairs that I've found), whats the best way to clean in up (I can still detect it if I put my nose to the area after its been cleaned.) We also have a dog which they get on great with but their accidents encourage her to wee in the house also. To solve this we use her crate when we are not at home and at night.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Cat
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Aloha! You're speaking with Dr. Michael Salkin
I have advanced training in feline behavior and am pleased to discuss Moth and Willow's troublesome behavior with you. I must admit that retraining them is going to be a challenge but perhaps after reviewing my notes that I use when lecturing about their behavior you'll have a better idea of how to address it.

Moth and Willow are clearly exhibiting marking behavior. They aren't likely to be eliminating inappropriately due to litterbox aversion or a medical disorder. Marking on a horizontal surface is marking behavior (a communicative function) caused by the same stimuli that causes spraying. We’re not sure what cats are trying to communicate to us but we do know that wild cats will mark to announce their presence. It’s reasonable to assume then, that they're doing so as well. The most common cause is increased cat density - in the home or nearby. Emotional problems, such as a stressful relationship with a family member, separation anxiety, anxiety over their status in the existing hierarchy, fear, owner absence, moving, new furniture, inappropriate punishment, teasing, household changes and remodeling in the home are examples of stimuli that can induce anxiety in our cats. The etiology can be difficult to diagnose, especially if the behavior is only manifested intermittently and because the stimuli for their inappropriate eliminative behavior may be imperceptible to you but readily so to them - another cat roaming outside or, indeed, each other, e.g. If emotional factors are influencing the housesoiling you might notice other changes such as avoidance, aggression or an alteration in their general temperament.

Treatment involves two major considerations: 1) remove the cause - easier said than done. You might have to be quite the detective to discern the stimuli for their inappropriate eliminative behavior 2) prevent them from returning to previously soiled areas. To re-establish a consistent habit of using the litterbox, they should be temporarily contained to a small area with the box and only allowed out when they can be supervised 100% of the time. When confined to a relatively small area, most cats seem to prefer to eliminate in the box rather than soiling the floor. It is then a matter of confining them long enough for a consistent habit to become established. As a rule of thumb, one week of confinement is usually recommended for every month of soiling. Moth and Willow should be removed from the confinement area as much as possible for socialization and play, but never allowed out of sight. Food rewards may help when given immediately after they finishe eliminating in the box. If they refuses to use the litterbox when confined to a small area, the confinement area should be changed to a large cage. The floor should be covered with litter, forcing them to use it for elimination. The litter is gradually removed and replaced with a litterbox. Once they have used the litterbox in a confined area for an appropriate amount of time, they can be allowed to have more freedom in the home. Previously soiled areas can be safeguarded by changing the behavioral function of the area by placing food bowls, cat bedding or toys in the area. The area can also be made unacceptable for them by placing a motion-activated alarm or lemon-scented room deodorant in the area. Plastic carpet runners can be placed upside down with the "feet" facing up. Plastic, foil, or double-stick carpet tape can be used to protect specific areas. Removing urine and stool odor is important. Products such as Nature's Miracle which are specifically formulated to work on these types of odors are recommended.

Some cats are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. They may mark in response to the most minor of alterations. You must strive to keep the home environment as constant as possible. When situations exist that are likely to upset your cats, you might want to consider confinement, closer supervision and the use of anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication such as paroxetine (Paxil) or fluoxetine (Prozac). In fact, most behaviorists feel that without the use of psychotherapeutic drugs our chance of correcting inappropriate marking behavior is near nil. (Personal note: My two cats began marking as kittens. After 6 months of fruitless treatment they became outdoor cats - for 12 years.)

Nobody wants to confine their pet as I've described but their behavior requires desperate measures. My male urinated on my pillow while I slept - an obvious behavior designed to make sure that his sister and I knew who's bed it really was. He apparently was anxious about his status in the hierarchy of my home.

Success in management with psychotherapeutic drugs is measured by a 70% reduction in adverse events. In other words, if my cat urinated on my pillow 10 times monthly prior to drug administration but only 3 times monthly after drug administration, success in treatment is acknowledged. Needless to say, that didn't please me and I certainly hope that you have better "success" than I.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Willow has become a bit aggressive towards Moth in the last year. They used to cuddle up together and sleep or groom and they do not now. The only time they ever sleep near each other is if Willow decides to sleep at the bottom of the bed during the night on my partners side, in which case Moth is already there on my side as Moth insists on sleeping on my side or legs or next to my legs (she used to sleep on my head or actually next to me on her back under he duvet)

Moth is a nearly 100% house cat. If she does go outside it is for no more than 15mins at a time, she isn't very interested and she stays in the garden. Willow is going out less at the moment, but I think thats due to the weather. She will go out for a bit most days, minimum maybe an hour or two, average 5hrs. She roams around the area, in others gardens etc. My next door neighbor has in the region of 6+ cats, 3 new recently and Willow is not bothered by them, she hangs out with them and according to the neighbor is often dosing in their garden. I've seen at least two of theirs in our garden and Willow all getting along happily.

Now I think about it most of Moth and Willows interactions consist of, one walks past the other and a 'batting' fight commences. Willow occasionally will batt Moth for no good reason. They go a bit mad around 3-4am, sometimes independantly but occasionally together one chasing the other. Other than that they are friendlier with the dog then they are with each other.

Moth, is quite shy, she's not keen on being stroked by my daughter unless I'm calming her, which my daughter accepts and doesn't pester her. Moth prefers me to my partner but she has become a bit more tolerant of him recently and will accept fuss (I showed him what she likes) and in my absence will sit with him. Willow is independent but loves my partner, she sits on him in the evening, snuggles up under a blanket on the sofa with him etc. She doesn't really like me. She will tolerate about 1min of fuss from me on the head, longer or other places and she will bite me. If I try to move her from anywhere ie, from sitting between the gap under the worktop and the boiler she will screech at me and bite/claw me. She sometimes gets moody and gives my partner the odd nip but not like she does me. She likes our daughter, enjoys fuss from her but moves on when shes had enough. She tries to sleep at the bottom of my daughters bed from time to time and will doze on it during the day. We have a small extra heater in her room over night sometimes and she likes to peek out from under the bed next to this too.

Does this give you anymore insight into their behaviour? They were quite food aggressive when we got them, would grab a mouthful from the bowl as you set it down and run off and hide, growling whilst they ate it. this calmed to just growling whilst they ate out of the bowl to now they are fine. They don't have bowls next to each other either. They are quite bad for pinching food. Off plates if your not looking. If this happens they do growl when they run off with that and eat it. No changes in the house have occurred at all like the ones you've mentioned that I can think off though. Oh and they are both spayed.


Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for the additional information. There's litttle question that status anxiety and aggression exists and underlies the marking behavior. In this case each other's house mate should be incriminated rather than the neighbor's cats although they may be contributory and causing a redirected aggression which is defined as aggression directed not against the stimulus of that aggression (the neighbor's cats) but, instead, people or other pets in the household.

There's rarely one stimulus for a cat's misbehavior. Unfortunately, they don't benefit from psychoanalysis because they just curl up and go to sleep on the shrink's couch. In just a short time you've identified status anxiety and aggression, a possible redirected aggression, owner conflict/preference, a limited tolerance to petting (inadequate early socialization?) , and food aggression. Your primary concern, however, is understandably the inappropriate elimination behavior. Confining them together, however, as I mentioned above is likely to exacerbate their anxiety. It's asking a lot of you to confine them in their own areas to reestablish regular use of a litterbox but barring making one an outside cat or initiating psychotherapeutic drug therapy (which I have an abhorrence to but drug therapy for these cats is an option for the determined owner) I don't see other options. You'll note that I didn't mention the feline facial pheromone therapy which you alluded to earlier. My results with this therapy have been less than acceptable. Perhaps the pheromones are an aid but not to be depended upon solely when addressing marking behavior.

Please continue our conversation if you wish.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

We got them at around 6 months old and they were at a local shelter. They told us they were found at a bottom of a garden being raised by a pair of foxes, I'm not sure how old they were when they were found. Under 4months I would say. They were socialized well from when we got them in my opinion.

Moth loves fuss from me, she will take as much as I give and want more. She isn't often far from me when I'm in the house and I don't leave that often. I have bouts of severe depression (I have bipolar disorder) and have periods where I stay in bed. If I'm in bed so is Moth. I can't go to the toilet without her accompanying me. She used to try get in the shower when i was in it but she doesn't now as I let her get in once and she soon found she didn't like it. She will sit and wait for me to get out though. She grooms and licks me, nibbling my skin and likes to talk to me. Shes not aggressive with other people she just tends to move away.

Our house is quite large, isn't very busy or noisy, my daughter is 4 and is very calm and respectful of animals. She didn't really start showing an interest in the pets until about a year ago. My 7 year old Japanese Spitz loves the cats and with rub up against them, clean in their ears etc but they don't play together (she used to when we had a young cat years ago that was run over before it was 1)

I don't honestly think it will be possible for us to isolate them both separately and keeping Willow as an outdoor cat I'm not sure will work. I'm also not keen on the idea of using drug therapy for this (I've actually been on both paroxetine and fluoxetine myself) Is this option something that they would need to take long term? Is it something their insurance would cover do you think? And how expensive would it be?

I'm guessing the elephant in the room is the option of re-homing one of them, which might help solve the urination/marking.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Thank you. Please note that early socialization refers to prior to 7 weeks of age. Ideally we want to socialize our cats to both other pets and people before they're 7 weeks old. I understand that that wasn't possible with Moth and Willows.

I envision Moth wanting you to herself and her being anxious about Willow's presence. Her marking, then, is her attempt to confirm her territory. Drug therapy isn't forever. We do set limits. In my experience, if I don't see a positive result from drugs after a month, I double the dose. If I still don't see a positive result a month later, I consider another drug or consider sequestering a cat to another part of the home, to the outside or rehoming - the elephant in the room.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Okay, thank you very much. You've actually offered help with Moth before maybe 2 years ago regarding her re-occurring lump/crusty scabs. They haven't gone away completly, still get bouts every couple of months even with food change. Willow has flea dermatitis however (over grooms and scabs) so they both appear to be a bit sensitive!

I will review what you have suggested with my partner and discuss further about medication use with our vet. Re-homing would be a last resort.

Again thank you so much you've been really great, clearly explained everything in depth and given me a range of options and things to look for/consider.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Oh my! I didn't remember speaking about Moth previously and I should have - how many cats are named Moth?!

You're quite welcome. I'm going to check back with you in a month for an update. Feel free to return to our conversation - even after rating - prior to my contacting you if you wish.
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 23776
Experience: University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
Dr. Michael Salkin and other Cat Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for your kind accept. I appreciate it.

I'll speak to you soon.

Please disregard the info request.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Hello again,

We have been giving Willow Ovarid for the past 4weeks on instruction of our vet and it has and hasn't worked. He hoped it would bring out maternal feelings and make her more affectionate.

Willow hasn't been as grumpy with me. I've been persistent with giving her short sessions of fuss that I break off before she gets aggressive or bored. She has not tried to attack me when I've moved her off things and only got grumpy with me once when I attempted to remove something from her paw.

She has not been any better with Moth however. On the plus side there have been no 'accidents' that I have found. I made all the target areas I discovered previous less accessible/unsuitable and have upped how often I tend to the cat litter and moved one of the litter boxes upstairs to a spare room and this is their preferred litter box.


I still catch Moth 'spraying' quite frequently daily in specific places and try to interrupt her doing this as best I can. I've also introduced new toys for added stimulation and to help rid them off excess energy that Willow may channel into aggressive/bullying behaviors. They have some shiny crinkly balls, balls with a feather, Valerian pillow (Moth took to this quite well) which are in rotation and we've been sprinkling cat nip into a cardboard box for them to roll in (Moth particularly enjoyed this and my partner reported her later yowling like a banshee at the top of the stairs with wide eyes, batting at imaginary things....she seemed to be having fun.)

We will be going back to our vet next week, he did have another suggestion but didn't actually name it, just said he'd have to order it in and that it did have links to fitting.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
I can understand the partial response to Ovarid (megestrol acetate) because it isn't a first-choice drug for marking behavior. It does, however, often cause our cats to become more affectionate. I'd prefer that Ovarid not be administered. Adverse effects of this progestin hormone drug include increased hunger and thirst, adrenal gland suppression, an increaed risk of diabetes, diarrhea, and an increased risk of neoplasia (cancer). Please consider fluoxetine (Prozac) instead. I dose it at 1mg/kg daily and increase to 1.5mg/kg daily if there hasn't been an adequate response in a month.

Thank you for the update. I appreciate your doing so.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

I was not keen on Ovarid either, I just felt pressured by the vet into trying it (he didn't seem to like me making my own suggestions.) He made me aware of the increased risk of diabetes but did not mention the rest. Willow is well well under a 2kg weight and is very lithe as is Moth so I think he didn't consider diabetes from weight gain to be much of concern knowing we don't free feed as well; she is however a hunter.

I will try to request fluoxetine when we go to our next appointment. We are moving house now in 2 months time and I'm hoping that as you said before this will 're-set' the territory within the house and possibly help also.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for additional information. Remember - it's your dime (10 pence?) and your pets. Don't administer anything you're not comfortable administering. Have a good move and keep me posted, please.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Hi, just logged on to my account for another reason and thought I would give you an update as promised.

We moved house and its all fine now between both cats. They don't cuddle like they used to as older kittens still but there hasn't been any 'accidents' indoors or spraying etc.

We've been moved 3 months and they even nap fairly near each other at times now or both occupy the bottom of our bed at night. Still get the odd hiss or slapping match if their night meal is running late and they get hangry (hunger induced anger!) but that's it and the dog even gets some of that when it happens.

They are hunting more now as we've moved to a very small village. Moth never hunted before but shes had a shrew or two and brought us a live frog in. I actually think I've seen them hunting as a team.

The biggest difference besides re-setting their territory with the move (though the house is half the size) is the lack of neighboring cats. I've seen 2 other cats in our area and that's it; we had 6 just next door at our old home!

Moth had a 'romantic' encounter, I heard her wail and caught the Lothario as he exited the garden. She has since come home a week or so later cover in feces (down her back) and with a bleeding back leg and puncture wounds on her stomach though. I cleaned her up and she's fine. i can only think she got into a territorial spat with a Tom who mistook her spayed scent as masculine and decided to show her who was boss.

The only side effect I'm less happy with is her lack of need for my reassurance now. I've recieved far less grooming/stalking/licking since we've moved and as she's not so anxious and insecure!

Thank you again for your help.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 years ago.
What a good update! Thank you for taking the time to let me know.

My best to Moth and Willow!

Please disregard the info request.

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