Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Managing feline aggression and urination

Michael is pictured here going nuts over a "catnip kicker" made by a client who grows her own catnip. Judicious use of herbs, cat toys and indoor cat gardens is a great source of environmental enrichment for cats.
Veterinary behaviourist Dr Gabrielle Carter gave a compelling lecture this morning about aggression between cats, and I found it fascinating. This is a problem seen commonly in clients with multi-cat households, but I’ve also seen it in my own household. On one occasion, Mike and the late Lil Puss Fawcett were sitting at the front door when a strange cat walked past. Neither liked the look of the stranger and the growling and hissing escalated…but they couldn’t open the door (nor was I going to unleash them, worked up as they were, as cat fights are a nasty business). But I was not prepared for what happened next – they went for each other instead.

It was like all the aggression needed an outlet. For the next week they did their best to convince me that they could no longer live together. Some environmental tweaking, feline facial pheromone and cat herbs later and things settled down but they were never 100 per cent the same.

On another occasion, Hero returned from the clinic having had surgery, and Michael decided he stank like a vet and chased him out of the lounge room.
So it was reassuring that Dr Carter mentioned these two types of events as common triggers for intercat aggression.

She discussed her management of intercat aggression.
  • Don’t try to force cats to be friends. Provide each cat with a core area where they can have all their needs met without walking past the other cat/other cats. This core area should contain food, water, a scratch pad and a litter tray OR a cat door to get outside. Dr Cartner is not backwards about recommending multiple cat doors in a household. And if you do provide a scratching post, make sure its tall enough that the cat can really stretch up vertically.
  • Use vertical spaces. Dr Carter is also a fan of thosecrazy houses you see on the internet all the time where someone has built elevated shelves, bridges, stairs and pathways just for their cat.
  • Use pheromones and, where appropriate, medications to help desensitise cats and try to counter-condition them (ie provide positive reinforcement when positive interactions occur).
  • When it’s a matter of outside cats coming and poking through windows and freaking out indoor cats, Dr Carter recommends using mothballs. These are toxic so they need to be crushed, put in a container with a few holes in it so vapours can escape, and left in the path of unwelcome feline intruders (but not so close as to repel one’s own moggies). Apparently 75% of cats will be repelled.

She also tackled the tricky topic of urine spraying, which I didn’t realise occurs in up to 25% of single cat households. Nonetheless, the biggest cause of urine spraying is stress and the biggest cause of stress (to cats) is other cats.
House soiling is different to urine spraying. Urine spraying is almost entirely behavioural, and involves spraying typically small volumes of urine on a vertical surface, in multiple sites, and cats tend to adopt a typical posture for this.
House soiling usually involves bigger volumes, in fewer areas, with occasional faeces involved, and often indicates urinary tract disease. Medical conditions should be ruled out.

But humans aren’t blameless here. Good litter tray hygiene (daily scooping, weekly 100% litter change, cleaning waste with an enzymatic cleaner such as Urine-Off or Biozet) reduced inappropriate urination by 76% in female cats and 56% of males.

Dr Carter gave her talk as part of a sponsored session for Hill's Pet Nutrition.