Ask Elizabeth: November 2011

Q. Dear Elizabeth: Our seven-year-old female cat Queenie is a spayed, well-behaved Siamese who is never allowed outside. However, there are several free-roaming outdoor cats in the neighborhood, and they have become a real nuisance. About six months ago, my husband and I started smelling evidence that the front of our house and our doors were being scent-marked. The odor of urine is quite noticeable and unpleasant for us and also seems to agitate Queenie. We’ve thought about putting some sort of repellent outside, but we don’t want to use anything that could harm these neighborhood cats or wildlife. Do you have any recommendations? What can we do to stop — or at least discourage — these cats from scent-marking our house?


A. On behalf of my fellow felines, I apologize for the annoyance that these wandering cats are causing you and Queenie. I want to be helpful, but before making any suggestions, I’d like to know whether the spraying of your home’s exterior is being done by one cat, three of them, or a whole colony. It might be useful to put up a notice somewhere in your area — the local grocery store or post office, for example — in an effort to identify the culprit(s).

If you briefly describe your dilemma, you may find a sympathetic neighbor who will cooperate in keeping his or her cat from wandering down the road to your place in order to do its spraying — and that could be the end of it. More likely, though, it’s being done, as you point out, by “several free-roaming cats” — homeless strays who are always wandering through neighborhoods, exploring the environment, hunting for tasty rodents or birds, communicating with one another or just having a look-see. For these outdoor animals, females as well as males, your home turf is just part of a huge playground. 

A variety of techniques and products might help you resolve your annoying problem. Before trying them, however, you’ll have to prepare the target areas properly. Whenever you notice that a cat has sprayed on your front door, say, or your back porch, wipe up the urine as soon as possible with a paper towel and scrub the surface thoroughly with a commercial enzyme cleaner or a solution of water and vinegar. (It’s best not to use a strong smelling cleaner, such as bleach, since a cat may try to overpower the odor by — what else! — spraying urine on it.) You’re then prepared to experiment with one or more of the following measures:

Place bowls of cut-up or ground orange or lemon rinds near the areas that seem to be favored by the offending cats. Or spread the rinds on the soil around the perimeter of your house. For some reason, cats seem to hate the odor of citrus and are likely to avoid the treated areas. They also despise the smell of mothballs, cayenne pepper and coffee grounds.  

Rake copious amounts of thorny clippings — from rose bushes, for example — onto the surface of the earth around the outside of your home. Cats won’t like to walk on this ground anymore than you would with your bare feet.

To keep a cat away from a specific area, try a small mat that emits a mild but surprising static pulse when stepped on. Available at pet stores, these mats are harmless and may serve as a deterrent.

A strategically placed motion detector will automatically emit either a startling puff of air or a sudden burst of water when activated by a cat that wanders into its area of sensitivity. Cats are smart. They’ll quickly learn to stay away from the area.

Purchase a bottle of fox, ferret or coyote urine and apply it to the earth and shrubs surrounding your house. Smart cats will tend to avoid areas in which they sense the presence of these predatory animals. 

These are just a few suggestions … you can also ask your veterinarian about other alternatives. Meanwhile, I’m hoping that you and Queenie soon find relief from the annoyance that these brazen neighborhood cats are causing. Love, Elizabeth