Q. I need information on spraying. I have four neutered males that are housed exclusively indoors, and I am having problems. Can you provide any advice about how best to address this issue?
A. Thanks for getting in touch, and for taking these kitties into your home. I understand that this must be frustrating, and while it will likely take a more in-depth consultation about your specific situation to devise the best plan, perhaps a few points about this common feline behavior will help you.
The first thing to consider is to make sure that there is no medical cause for this behavior. Urinary-tract infections/stones and sterile cystitis, for example, can cause cats to eliminate inappropriately, so please make sure that none of these cats has a medical issue causing this behavior.
Not knowing how many/which of these kitties are spraying also makes it difficult, but it does sound like your cats’ housing situation (four males in one space) may predispose to territoriality. It’s true that intact male cats are more likely to spray than neutered males, but the latter can also be guilty, particularly if they were neutered at a later age. Cats may spray to mark their territory, and the simplest thing to do is to assure that you have sufficient numbers of litter boxes available to address territory battles that occur over litter boxes.
A good basic rule is that you should have the same number of litter boxes as the number of cats, plus one. In your case, this would mean five litter boxes. These should be placed away from high-traffic areas, but not in places that are hard to access and/or dark and dingy. They should also be placed in such a way as to minimize the likelihood that the user can be “ambushed” by other cats or pets when using the litter box. Also, be sure that you clean litter boxes frequently.
If the problem began when you brought a particular cat into the household, it may be that he was brought into a stable territorial situation that was disrupted by his arrival. My best advice if this is the case is to foster good relationships among your cats by playing with them simultaneously and giving positive reinforcements for good behavior while doing this. Of course, making sure that your cats are not bored by providing exercise and dedicated play time is important in general, as is keeping things in your home relatively regular with respect to scheduling (feeding, play time, bed time, etc.).
Cats can also be perturbed and prompted to act territorially by things they see outside, so restricting their views of the outside world with curtains or blinds can help if this is the case. New people in your home, moving to a new home, having contractors/strangers in your house, and the loss of other pets and/or people that were in the home can upset cats to the extent that they will spray. In these cases, dedicated play/affection time, with positive reinforcement and emotional support, can help make a cat less stressed and therefore less likely to want to spray.
Since scent is important in a cat’s territory-marking behaviors, it’s important to try to remove the scent from areas that have been sprayed as quickly as possible, using commercial products designed to remove animal stains/odors. Speaking of scents, some owners have minimized stress by using synthetic feline pheromones (spray or diffusor).
I hope these pointers help. If they do not, I recommend that you consult with your veterinarian and/or a veterinary behaviorist. Best of luck. Please send me an update when you can.