Mocha In The Garden

I find myself in a position where one of my cats is urinating inappropriately around the house, and these episodes are becoming more common.

A Little History

Back in December 2013, I said goodbye to my previous cat, Fritz. About a month after he died, I adopted two kittens as I missed the company of a cat. They were brothers and a condition of their adoption was that I keep them together.

They settled in well and I kept them indoors for the first 3 months. Then I started taking them out on harnesses into the back garden to acquaint them with the great outdoors. They were fascinated with the sights, sounds and smells of this huge outside world.

I did this every day for a month, taking them out for longer and longer. Then came the point when I felt comfortable enough to remove the harnesses and let them roam alone. Naturally, they went exploring...further afield than I'd initially hoped.

Mocha and Ripley The Day I adopted themRipley and Mocha when they were kittens

Not too long after they could come and go from the house on their own through the catflap, I noticed that Ripley would cower when I raised my arm behind my head (e.g. to scratch my head). Mocha showed a wariness too that had not been there before. And Ripley, in particular was very wary and suspicious of my feet.

My suspicion was that someone in the neighbourhood was having a "go" at the cats, waving arms and kicking out at them. I've never found out who this person might have been but some people have an extreme dislike of cats.

Cystitis Rears Its Head

Not long after that, Ripley came down with cystitis. It progressed into a chronic condition and I would find bloody urine in places outside the litter tray. Repeated vet visits and medications were the order of the day. It took 8 months before the symptoms started to subside. To this day (the cats are 3 years old now), he still gets flare-ups and, right now, has been on medication for the last 10 days for the latest such flare-up. However, he was cystitis free since early January so hopefully the episodes will become less frequent.

Cystitis In Cats
Cystitis in cats is most frequently the result of stress. What that stress factor is can be very hard to diagnose. You need to be a cat to see the world through their eyes. It could have been caused by another neighbourhood cat and, in the early days, there was certainly an un-neutered Tom throwing his weight around and harassing both Ripley and Mocha.

Then again, maybe the cause of stress was the amount of building work going on in the area. It could have been the noise, the dust, the to-ing and fro-0ing of builders, vans and equipment or the general changing nature of the environment.

Then again, the cat might have been stressed because I changed the duvet on the bed and he didn't like the colour or texture of the material in one of his regular sleeping spots.

The point is, it's very difficult to narrow down the trigger for stress when so many variables are involved.

Danièlle Gunn-Moore (Professor of Feline Medicine at The University of Edinburgh) explains why stress plays such an important role in recurrent cystitis in cats.

Mocha, I had assumed, was unaffected by stress. He was ebullient, happy, purred at the drop of a hat and always ready to play. Even with Ripley on near-permanent medication, I'd find the odd bloody urine pool somewhere in the house. I always assumed that Ripley was the culprit and, needing to urinate immediately, had not had the time to make it to the litter box.

Late last year, Mocha seemed a little lethargic and on a hunch I thought he too might have cystitis so I brought him to the vet to have him checked out. A course of medication solved that issue and he was soon back to his normal self.

However, about two months ago, I started finding pools and stains of bloody urine again, outside of the litter trays, on furniture. I thought Mocha might be having another cystitis flare-up so it another vet visit was called for.

When the vet was feeling his bladder to assess its condition, Mocha practically shot up to the ceiling. The vet had never seen such a painful reaction to such a bladder investigation. A sample of his urine confirmed that it was indeed very bloody. Given his reaction and the amount of blood present, it was obvious that his bladder was highly inflamed and he was suffering from cystitis and very uncomfortable, though was showing little sign of that in his behaviour.

Dr. Karen Becker, a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian discusses the symptoms of Feline Idiopathic Chronic Cystitis and what to do if your cat experiences it.

I now believe that both Ripley and Mocha were suffering from cystitis at the same time, when they were kittens and Ripley was first diagnosed, though Mocha gave no clues that he was in any discomfort and so I didn't see any sign that he was unwell.

I also think that it was Mocha who was urinating outside of the litter trays rather than Ripley, though Ripley may have had the odd accident or two.

The reason I think that is because Ripley always uses a litter tray now (while in the house) whereas I've seen or detected Mocha frequently urinate outside of one. Mocha's confined to the kitchen at night now with access to the garden should he want it. There's also a litter tray for him to use if he doesn't want to go outside.

Most nights, the litter tray is unused and I assume he's urinated outdoors. Maybe once a week, I'll find a puddle on the kitchen floor instead of in the litter tray (which he does use on occasion).

The plus side of finding these puddles is that they show that the medications he's on have had some effect as there's no longer any blood in his urine.

These puddles in the kitchen are easy to clean up. But Mocha's developed a habit of urinating against vertical surfaces elsewhere in the house. This includes several instances of him urinating on the sofa, against walls, staining the wallpaper, against other wooden furniture. That might mean he's still stressed by something. Or maybe it's just become a habit for him.

He even urinated into my gaming PC (which wasn't on at the time). I didn't discover this until I later turned on the PC and the video signal was corrupted. This particular urination event destroyed a €400 high-end video card.

He's also urinated several times on another PC in my home office and, because I didn't find the puddles fast enough, some wood flooring has buckled and lifted after his urine soaked into it.

Last night he came in and urinated on the sofa again, right in front of me before I could stop him.

The house has a permanent whiff of cat pee so I seldom invite friends around as a result.

I'm at my wits end in how to deal with this behaviour which now appears to have become a habit.

A friend who's had several cats over the years (as many as 9 at a time) has had cats that urinate inappropriately. He and his wife (a bit of a cat whisperer) were never able to get the cats to use litter trays so those cats had to become permanently outdoor cats (with in-house visits for play time and human interaction).

I used some Feliway spray on the areas of urination I found (I'm sure there are some I've still yet to find) to see if that would dissuade Mocha from urinating in those spots again. Him urinating on the sofa last night put paid to that idea changing his behaviour.

The Last Chance

I ordered some urine neutraliser and a dark (UV) light from Amazon. Customer reviews suggest that once used on a area, the neutraliser removes all traces of urine, including the smell which might attract a cat to urinate there again. Many seem to have had success in changing their cat's bad urination behaviour as a result. This is an approach I hope will work with Mocha.

In addition, I've ordered a Feliway Diffuser and Spray. If Mocha is stressed in the house for some reason, the Feliway Diffuser will evaporate synthetic pheromones into the air which should relax him. I'll use the spray again on existing urination spots.

I'll use the dark light to search for urine stains and to see just how big those stains are. They may not be visible to the human eye, especially after an area has been thoroughly washed. Such areas, while they may smell clean to a human, likely still have a strong whiff of urine to a cat.

So I'll use the dark light to find urine stains, the urine neutraliser to remove all traces of those "accidents", the Feliway Diffuser to add stress-busting pheromones to the house atmosphere and the Feliway spray on cleaned-up urine patches to further dissuade Mocha from urinating there again.

This is probably going to be a lot of work.

Hopefully, at the end of all this, Mocha will start using the litter trays again. I do praise him when I see him using one, trying to reinforce that doing so is the right thing to do.

What If This Tactic Doesn't Work?

Ripley (Left) And Mocha (Right)
Ripley (Left) And Mocha (Right) sleeping together

I really only have two options if this cleanup operation doesn't change Mocha's behaviour:

  • Mocha becomes an outdoor cat - he loses all his house privileges, only has access to the kitchen for food and water and maybe sleeping overnight but the rest of the house is off-limits for him. The problem with keeping him is that if he's not allowed into the house, Ripley won't have free access in or out of the house (the kitchen door will be closed), so he becomes house-bound if I'm not around.
  • Re-home Mocha - maybe he'd be less stressed in a different environment. While he and Ripley get on most of the time, and often sleep together, they do have their spats. I have wondered if they're a stressor for each other and if they'd be better off in single-cat households.

What's Your Advice?

I'd love for this inappropriate urination to be a blip in Mocha's life and that it can be rectified by what I plan to do. If you've been in a similar situation, I'd love to get your feedback on how you handled your situation and what outcome I can expect in mine. Please leave any comments or advice in the comments below.

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