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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I am considering adopting a 2-1/2 year old male cat. The people who now have him have a dog, whom they’ve had for a longer time than the cat. After a year and a half of not liking each other, the cat started spraying. I just had to euthanize my cat, who had major GI problems and would not poop in the box (took me a while to start putting paper around the box). She did that for about four years, but I really would not like to deal with another elimination problem. Any advice on what I should do about this potential problem?

~ Linda

male orange tabby cat with his tail up, rear view

Spraying can be a sign of stress. Eliminate the stress and you may eliminate the problem. Male orange tabby cat, (CC-BY) by רוליג

Siouxsie: First of all, Linda, good on you for being willing to take in a cat that needs a home — especially since this cat has been demonstrating behavior problems.

Thomas: Obviously the first thing you’ll want to do is have him neutered, if his current caretakers haven’t done that.

Bella: If this kitty is neutered already, the odds are that he’s spraying because he’s stressed. If he hasn’t gotten along with the dog, he might just have reached a breaking point where the anxiety got too much for him.

Siouxsie: Another possibility is that a feline intruder might be coming around his caretakers’ home and that’s what’s stressing him out.

Thomas: In any case, we do have some recommendations.

Bella: Take the cat to the vet and get him checked out right after you bring him home. If he’s not up to date on his shots, you’ll want to get that taken care of. Also, the vet will be able to tell you if he’s got any urinary tract problems that might be contributing to the spraying issue.

Siouxsie: Get yourself a few Feliway diffusers and place them in various parts of your home. Feliway is a synthetic “happy cat” pheromone that we’ve found works very well for eliminating the stress that causes territorial marking such as spraying.

Thomas: If there were places where your former kitty had a lot of accidents, clean those areas with an enzymatic cleaner like Anti-Icky-Poo (the best one we’ve used — and we’ve used quite a few) or with Fizzion, a carbon dioxide-based cleaner that comes highly recommended by none other than Jackson Galaxy, star of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell.

Bella: Find out what kind of food he’s been eating and what kind of litter he’s been using. When you bring him to your home, the familiarity of those things will help him feel less stressed. You can always switch brands later, but for now, stick with what he knows.

Siouxsie: Consider getting some new cat furniture like a tall tree or some cat shelves. This will give him some vertical territory and a place to get away from any disturbances like the vacuum cleaner or guests with whom he’s not familiar.

Thomas: You may already have some trees that your former cat used. You can try keeping these, as long as you’re willing to clean them completely using enzyme cleaners, stain removers, and a vacuum. But if you find that he sprays on or near them, you should get rid of them.

Bella: While you’re at it, get some new beds and toys, a new litterbox and new dishes. These things should be purchased new. Odors sink into plastic litterboxes, and no matter how well you clean them, the new guy will still smell your other cat. If you’ve been using plastic dishes, replace them with steel or ceramic.

Siouxsie: We don’t know how big your place is, but if it’s big enough to have a door that closes — other than the bathroom door — try letting him out of his carrier in that room. That way he can sniff around and find out what’s going on in his new home.

Thomas: If he starts investigating the door and acting curious right away, let him out to explore the whole place.

Bella: Let him do his exploration on his own time, and don’t try to force him into contact with you. When he’s ready, he’ll sit down with you and let you pet him.

Siouxsie: Once he seems to have settled in, start doing interactive play with him. The more you play, the more confident he’ll become and the less likely it is that he’ll spray. We all love feather wands and things on strings!

Thomas: Good luck, Linda. Please let us know how things go — and hey, send us a picture of him too, if you’d like.

Bella: Purrs to you for helping this cat!