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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hi. I have a 5-year-old “torbie” (tabby/tortoiseshell) cat and a 3-year-old ginger female. They have been spayed but in the last few months the older one has been hissing and lashing out at the younger one. My younger one cowers away from her. The older one has started to spray around the house in all places and the spray has blood in it. I have three litterboxes which are cleaned every day, and both go outside when they want.

This spraying did happen once last year; when I took her the vet, he did not investigate this problem. I don’t want to get rid of her. It’s just a pain having to constanly clean the carpets. She sprays in front of us as well behind the TV, sofa, laundry basket, mail, on the floor … basically, anywhere. Please help me!

~Rose

Siouxsie: Frankly, Rose, we’re shocked that your vet didn’t investigate the problem when you reported that your cat had blood in her urine. That’s a major sign of a urinary tract infection. Peeing outside the litterbox is another symptom.

Thomas: When people write to us that their cat is having these symptoms and others like straining to pee or sitting in the litterbox without any results, we e-mail them right back and tell them to call the veterinarian right away. The receptionist will usually tell the person to bring their cat in right away.

Dahlia: Then when that person goes to the vet and says their cat has blood in the urine and is spraying or urinating in inappropriate places, the first thing he or she will do is take a urine sample and test it, looking for bacteria or other signs of infection.

Siouxsie: Blood in the urine could also be a sign of irritation in the bladder or urethra, brought on perhaps by too much territorial spraying.

Thomas: There’s a difference between urinating and spraying. Generally you can tell by the posture the cat takes or the stains that are left. Urinating leaves stains on the floor, and the cat takes the ordinary “squatting” pose used in the litterbox.

Dahlia: Spraying, on the other hand, is usually done against vertical surfaces like walls and furniture. When a cat sprays, he or she backs up to the wall and “squirts” urine onto that surface. Spray stains tend to start at cat nose height and dribble downward. When a cat sprays, the tail points toward the ceiling and jiggles rapidly.

Siouxsie: It’s not as common for female cats to spray as it is for male cats, but it does happen. Female cats tend to spray when they feel very anxious, stressed or threatened.

Thomas: How could your older cat have become so anxious or stressed? Well, if she and the ginger have been buddies for a long time, it’s probably not because they suddenly came to hate one another.

Dahlia: But there are other factors that could be at play. First of all, the sprayer might have had a bad encounter outside (with another cat or with some other thing like a car or a person), which caused her to become extremely anxious. She may be deflecting her stress by redirecting it to the other cat in the form of aggression. Read more about how to tell whether your cat’s aggression is fear-based or anger-based in this column.

Siouxsie: It’s also possible that your ginger cat may have come back in from one of her forays smelling like something unfamiliar. Maybe she got sprayed by a skunk or covered with oil, or maybe she spent a long time at the vet. If the unfamiliar smell was very threatening to your older cat, she may still be reacting to that even if the ginger doesn’t smell odd anymore.

Thomas: Another reason your older cat may be stressed out is because something is happening in your home life or you had a visitor who scared her. People-bonded cats react very strongly to difficulties in humans’ lives. If you were having problems with a housemate, spouse/partner or child, or if you’ve had changes in your work schedule (gotten a job or been laid off, for example), your cat could get really worried about that, too.

Dahlia: Of course, if your older cat is sick or in pain, she’s also going to deflect her stress onto the other cat and express it by behavior like spraying or peeing where she shouldn’t.

Siouxsie: So, Rose, the first thing you should do is take your cat to the veterinarian (maybe a different vet, if your current vet doesn’t seem to take your cat’s troubles seriously) and make sure she’s physically healthy.

Thomas: If she gets a clean bill of health, then it’s time to deal with the stress issue. Think back to the time when the spraying started and see if any major changes happened in your life around that time. If not, try to remember if one or both of your cats came back from an outing and were acting “different” or skittish.

Dahlia: Clearly whatever happened has had a bad impact on your cats’ relationship. In order to get your cats to like each other again, you may have to go through a process called reintroduction. Pretend that one of your cats is a brand new arrival and follow our instructions for introducing new cats to one another.

Siouxsie: You’re also going to have to do some serious cleaning to get every last bit of urine scent out of the carpets and furniture. Ordinary carpet cleaners don’t get rid of the residue that leaves a smell cats can detect. To clean up the leftover residue of urine and feces, use an enzymatic cleaner such as Anti-Icky-Poo or Nature’s Miracle. Enzymatic cleaners will neutralize all odors associated with body wastes, and your kitty won’t have a “reminder” of where she should do her business.

Thomas: We’d also recommend that you pick up some pheromone diffuser and spray. Comfort Zone, also known as Feliway, works very well to ease the anxiety that causes cats to spray or urinate where they shouldn’t. It’s not cheap, but we know from experience that it works very well if you use it as directed.

Siouxsie: Mama ordered our Feliway from CatFaeries, a company based in California, USA. You can get it vets’ offices, pet stores and through online outfits such as Drs. Foster & Smith as well. The great thing about CatFaeries is that they send you a handout with information about how to use Feliway precisely for your situation.

Thomas: CatFaeries also sells urine cleanup products and flower essences to help your cats deal with their emotional issues as well.

Dahlia: Ordinarily we don’t rave about products or particular merchants–and you should know that we’ve got nothing to gain, financially or otherwise, by referring people to CatFaeries–but we do love to let our readers know about small, independently owned companies that offer excellent products and excellent customer service.

Siouxsie: We won’t lie to you, Rose–the work of getting your cat to stop spraying and getting them both to like each other again is not easy. It’s a pretty labor-intensive process. But if you don’t want to get rid of your sprayer, we’re pretty sure you’d be willing to make any effort necessary to get her behavior back in line.

Thomas: And if for some reason this effort fails (unfortunately, it does in a small percentage of cases), your vet may be able to offer you the option of anti-anxiety drugs such as busprone (BuSpar) or fluoxetine (Prozac) to help your sprayer relax enough to change her behavior.

Dahlia: Good luck, Rose. We’re quite sure that peace and non-smelliness will come back to your household if you undertake this program of behavior training, serious and effective cleanup, and pheromone use.

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