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Dear Doctor - Our experts offer solutions for inappropriate marking in cats

Bengal is marking on stovetop

[From Tufts April 2011 Issue]

I have a 14-year-old Snow Leopard Bengal who was neutered at 11 months. He is a third generation and perhaps, has too much of the wild cat in him. He is extremely affectionate, bright and the leader among the pets in the house. There are five other cats, two dogs and a variety of large birds.

Tommy is extremely possessive of me. He has always sprayed occasionally, but lately, he has also sprayed on my kitchen counter and even worse — defecated on top of my stove. My kitchen is an open area and I cannot close it off from the rest of the house.

I do have a homeopathic anxiety and stress medication from my veterinarian. It works sometimes. I also had a complete blood panel performed on Tommy recently and the results indicated that he is healthy.

What can I do to stop this spraying so that I can use my stove and kitchen again? I know this is a behavior problem. Inside my house, I have five litter boxes containing pine litter. I clean them daily. In addition, the other pets have never bothered or agitated Tommy.
Donna Gepfert

Dear Donna: As you undoubtedly are aware, Bengals are extremely intelligent, active cats who can be acutely sensitive to the slightest changes in their environment. This sensitivity has earned Bengals the reputation of having some issues with marking in the home — so the behavior somewhat goes with the territory.

You note that Tommy has a history of occasional marking behavior, so the question is why he has changed the location of areas he marks and/or the frequency of this unwanted behavior. You report a location change which you, for obvious reasons, find disturbing. Without more information to guide me, I can offer a few general suggestions.

Your veterinarian has ruled out medical causes for the change in Tommy’s elimination patterns, which is an important first step. You have a sufficient number of litter boxes, assuming they are located throughout your home and not in one general area. I question the use of pine litter, which some cats dislike, but if Tommy has used this litter in the past without protest then it likely isn’t a cause for his behavior change.

Typically, when I see a change in marking behavior, it is associated with social or environmental change for the cat. You report that Tommy gets along well with the variety of other animals in your home, but check to make sure there have been no changes in his relationship with them, especially the birds if they fly freely in your home. Tommy is possessive of you, so consider if you have changed your interactions with him in any way, no matter how subtle — remember we are dealing with a sensitive and “opinionated” personality. Has there been a change in your schedule? Have you been spending more time with another animal in your family?

Since your kitchen is open and we can’t deny Tommy’s access, you’ll need to clean the soiled areas with an enzymatic cleanser to ensure there are no remaining smells to entice Tommy to remark his scent post and make the areas he currently marks unappealing. For example, you can place sheets of cardboard covered in contact paper, sticky side up, on your countertop to dissuade him from walking on the counters. However, marking behavior is typically the result of emotional discontent, so you need to identify the underlying problem or the marking will continue — if not on the counter top then somewhere else in your home.

A certified animal behaviorist can assist you with the necessary “detective” work if the problem continues. Finally, if you do identify the stressor, but can’t eliminate it from your household, medication may be helpful to stabilize Tommy’s mood. Good luck!
Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, CAAB
Animal Behavior Consultations, LLC
Brooklyn Veterinary Hospital,
Connecticut

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