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Have you noticed lines or small puddles of urine along your windowsills, or perhaps along a porch door’s threshold? Does it happen more often as the weather warms? If so, your cat is probably marking his territory, letting other cats know the house is his, not theirs.
It’s not other cats in the house he’s trying to keep out of his space. It’s cats outside. That’s why urine marking picks up in spring and summer. People are more inclined to keep their windows and even some of their doors opened, and that brings your cat’s attention to other cats near your house. He feels he needs to say clearly, “this space is mine.”
“Territorial marking is not very common among neutered indoor cats,” says Tufts animal behaviorist Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, “but you frequently see it with cats in suburban areas where there are a lot of outdoor cats in the neighborhood.”
It’s especially apt to occur in households where cat lovers feed feral cats. If stray cats know your home is a good place to get a free meal, they’ll hang around, triggering urine marking in the cat who lives there.
The most important antidote for a cat’s territorial marking is simply to keep other cats away. “I tell people, if you’re feeding feral cats, feed them someplace else,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. Don’t make your house the flophouse.
The doctor also suggests using motion-activated water sprayers, if necessary. When they “sense” the presence of a moving object, like a cat, they spray a jet of water. Cats don’t like that and will quickly learn not to come around.
“Get rid of bird feeders,” too, Dr. Borns-Weil advises. The feeder attracts birds, but the birds then attract other cats.
It also helps a great deal to close the windows and pull the shades. What your pet can’t see is much less likely to bother him. You may not want to keep the windows closed on summer days, but you can at least close those where outdoor cats congregate and perhaps put a fan in that room to circulate air. That not only will make the room more comfortable but may also keep your cat out of it; a lot of cats don’t want their fur ruffled by a strong breeze from whirring fan blades.
What won’t do the trick are supposedly offending scents. “People used to talk about putting orange peels on the window sills to keep cats away,” Dr. Borns-Weil says, “but I have never seen it work.” If you keep other cats away and block your cat’s view, the territorial marking should stop.
If all else fails, talk to your veterinarian about whether medication is warranted. A course of antidepressants in the form of an SSRI — Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil — may help wean the cat of his territorial habit.
This article is the last in a three-part series on behavioral reasons cats urinate outside the litter box. In April we covered litter box aversion; in May, stress marking.