So something interesting happened this morning. Pancake sprayed in the house for the first time in his 4 years of life.
Why do I call his behaviour interesting rather than annoying, stressful or gross? Because urine spraying in cats is directly linked to their emotional health, it is their stress calling card if you will. So Pancake spraying urine all over the kitchen cupboards right in front of my eyes was and is fascinating. He’s giving me a visual and olfactory clue as to his current state of mind. It is up to me to listen.
Cats spray during socially stressful situations, possibly to increase their self-assurance, or as a coping strategy for stress or even as a form of displacement activity. You may be confused about this statement as there is a good chance you will have seen cats outside spraying urine against bushes, fences and other objects. It is normal behaviour for a cat to spray urine under these circumstances, however, if a cat starts to spray urine indoors this indicates that it doesn’t feel secure and that something is causing it to become stressed.
What does it look like when a cat sprays urine?
Some urine marking can take place on horizontal surfaces (usually objects or items of clothing on the floor), either in a squatting posture or by standing and spraying. But the more classical presentation for urine spraying involves the cat backing up to a vertical surface, often after sniffing the area intensely and showing a flehmen response. The cat stands with its tail erect and quivering and raises its hindquarters. The cat may or may not tread with its hind paws while squirting a stream of urine (usually less than 2ml). What is a flehmen response? It is a behavior in which the cat curls back its upper lip exposing its front teeth, inhales with the nostrils usually closed and then often holds this position for several seconds.
I’ll be honest, this morning I didn’t notice Pancake’s flehmen response. It may or may not have happened as I wasn’t paying close enough attention. He got into the litter tray as normal but instead of leaning forward in his semi squat position his tail went straight up and he sprayed.
The reason behind the behaviour
So what could have caused this? The most obvious clue would be our house move. Approximately four weeks ago we moved from our three bed house with a large garden to a flat. Pancake still has access to his secure garden as I ferry him back and forth twice a day. And while I may feel his stress levels should be low considering his time spent in the garden is essentially the same, what is easy to ignore are all the other stressful factors involved in going back and forth each day.
Cats don’t deal with change well. Unlike dogs, just “being with their human” is not the be all and end all for them. Cats that are loners by nature and enjoy their own space will suffer even more, as the daily human interactions will have increased. In Pancake’s case, the stressors for him include:
- Travelling in the van
- Going in and out of his cat crate (associated with ‘scary’ vet trips)
- The sight of other dogs and humans as I carry him from the van to the garden
- A smaller environment in our flat, fewer quiet areas for him to get away
Now this final point is an interesting one. As I have seen Pancake demonstrate an increased desire to be with us in the front room of our open plan flat. There are other rooms for him to sit in – the bedroom, the bathroom and two storage cupboards of ample size. Yet he, of his own will, has chosen to sit in the living room with us, either sprawled on the floor or under the couch. I believed this to show that he was no longer stressed. I am wrong. He is still stressed as this morning’s urine spray has proven.
Pancake has been on Zylkene – a product that can help support dogs and cats in situations where they find they need to adapt their behaviour to cope. He’s also received additional attention in the form of play time and general fussing.
So what is going wrong? To be honest, I am not entirely sure yet. His overall stress levels could be stacking instead of reducing. So although on a day to day basis I may feel he’s relaxed, deep inside he may feel far from it. He, along with our dog Grizzle, live within a highly emotional home as their dad is terminally ill. And while they may not understand what’s going on, they will feel the stress and fear we’re experiencing. They will know within their beings that something is not right and try as we might to be strong every day and be happy for each other, for them .. we are human and weak. Some days we will get upset, sad or angry and these emotions will trigger stress in our pets.
I asked myself whilst walking Grizzle this morning what might be stressing me out at this moment in time. What could I be transmitting to my pets. Yesterday I received an email about a possible exchange date for the house. This would be the final date Pancake could use his garden. The final day he would have a garden. Although I will be cat proofing his balcony it will of course not be the same. He’ll never get to chase, hunt or kill a mouse again. He’ll never see a bird land in front of him and watch it fly away as he pounces upon it. He’ll never get to eat a butterfly or other insect. Does this upset me? Yes! I can’t tell you how sad I feel on his behalf yet how impossible a situation we’re in whereby a balcony is the best we will have for many years.
So on reflection I do believe that my stressful feelings overnight may have impacted his mood this morning. Did he pick up on my fear and anxiety? Yes I think so. Sobering.
What else was different about this morning? Two things come to mind:
1) I forgot to defrost his usual bag of raw meat. For about a month I have been trying (unsuccessfully I might add) to transition him to Paleo Ridge raw mince as it would make my life a lot easier. Cats are notoriously hard to change in terms of food preference and Pancake has been stubborn as anything, refusing the new mince even though it’s the same type of meat, just in a new format (minced not chunks). So after turning his nose up at that I defrosted some white fish he’s never had before. But fish is fish .. isn’t it? Not to a cat apparently! Pancake loves tuna and salmon. Why wouldn’t he like cod? For so many reasons, unbeknownst to me of course. Whatever the reason – possibly one change too far! – he refused the second plate of food and promptly went to use the toilet. Which is when he sprayed.
2) Grizzle and I were both in the kitchen, quite near to his litter box, when he went in to do his business.
See why I started the blog off by saying it was interesting behaviour?
So many cat owners experience situations like this with their cat and dismiss it as ‘naughty behaviour’, their cat is being a jerk, acting out, trying to punish them, being annoying and all those other human explanations we apply to our pets when they are not doing as we think they should.
When you pick away at WHY they may be doing what they’re doing the results can be quite surprising. And upsetting. Our pets have hugely complex emotions and will be telling us how they are feeling in subtle ways, if only more people spent the time to observe and listen to what they tell us, perhaps fewer animals would end up in rescues.
I’m somewhat preaching to myself here. I pride myself on really knowing my cat and while I feel confident I know a heck of a lot more than most cat owners I’m clearly still getting something wrong.
Two immediate changes I made today were moving the litter tray out of the kitchen (into the dark cupboard in the hall) and giving up on the idea of transitioning him from the meat he’s always eaten to something else. I’m hoping that having his tray in a quiet dark cupboard will alleviate any stress he may have felt by having to go toilet in front of everyone. This is really obvious and I’m pretty disappointed in myself for ever putting it in the kitchen. Sure it’s not ‘busy’ in the true sense, but I chose it for MY convenience (easier to vacuum a hard wood floor than carpets), instead of it really being the best location for my cat. And not putting him under pressure to come to like a new food type, whilst dealing with all the other changes, is just kindness. Cats love routine and consistency, it’s what makes them feel safe and secure. So why did I think it would be a good time to change up what he’s eaten for the last four and a half years I’m not really sure … another selfish move on my part. Mince meat in packs is less messy than raw meat in bags I have to chop up.
The next couple of weeks and months will bring new changes and increased stress for both the pets, and I’m hoping that with more quiet contemplation I’ll get more things right than wrong. I hope you will join us on our journey and as always if you have anything to contribute pop a comment below. And if you feel the topic resonates with you or anyone you know then please do share on social media.
Till next time …