Urine Marking

Investigating Urine Marking

  • Where does the voiding occur?
  • Volume of urine?
  • Is the cat defecating and urinating in the litter box?
  • What is the frequency of these behaviors?
  • What is the litter box setup and cleaning regimen (number of litter boxes, type[s] of litter, size of boxes, how often they are scooped and cleaned)?
  • How many cats, other pets, and humans are in the household?
  • Are there external cats or animals that might be considered stressors?

Consider asking the owner to draw a floor plan of their home showing the location of the litter box(es) in order to help identify other stressors. (Other relevant information could be added such as resting places of housemate cats that could be blocking access to the box, places with no easy escape routes, loud appliances such as a washing machine, high-traffic areas, kids’ playroom nearby, etc.)

If cats at any life stage present with lower urinary tract signs, the practitioner must obtain a definitive history to differentiate various underlying causes for the signs. Urine marking, which is recognized as a normal felid behavior,77 is certainly not desirable for solely indoor-housed cats. Most cats that mark have a characteristic posture, whereby their tail is lifted and voiding often occurs on vertical surfaces. However, cats can mark on horizontal surfaces, especially on owners’ personal items. A detailed physical examination and environmental history, including a description of the behaviors, should be obtained for these cases. For some questions to consider, see the “Investigating Urine Marking” box.

Urine marking, although often associated with intact male cats, can be displayed by both feline sexes, intact or neutered. Neutering is nonetheless advisable, supported by a study showing that urine-spraying behavior in a small group of 17 free-roaming domestic cats almost disappeared when the cats were evaluated after neutering.78 Unfortunately, neutering will not eliminate or prevent spraying in all cats. Because environmental stressors can trigger urine-marking behavior, assuring that the environmental needs of the cat are met is critical.38

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Dechra Veterinary Products, Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc., IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis Petcare supported the development of the 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines and resources through an educational grant to AAHA