Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: Spraying Cat, Kitten Suckles His Tail, and More

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Dr. Marci Koski is a certified Feline Behavior and Training Professional who received specialized and advanced certificates in Feline Training and Behavior from the Animal Behavior Institute. While Marci has been passionate about all animals and their welfare, cats have always had a special place in her heart. In fact, Marci can’t remember a time when she’s been without at least one cat in her life. She currently relies on her five-member support staff  to maintain the feline duties of her household.

Marci’s own company, Feline Behavior Solutions, focuses on keeping cats in homes, and from being abandoned to streets or shelters as the result of treatable behavior issues. Marci believes that the number of cats who are abandoned and/or euthanized in shelters can be greatly reduced if guardians better understand what drives their cats to certain behaviors, and learn how to work with their cats to encourage appropriate behaviors instead of unwanted ones.

Do you have a question for Dr. Marci?
Leave it in a comment, and she’ll answer it next month!

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Cat sprays on everything

One of our cats (spayed female) sprays on everything. The kitties are rescued litter mates (sisters) and are in the house 100% of the time. Both healthy with no underlying condition. Any suggestions? – Ann

Hi Ann,

I’m sorry that your kitty is spraying in your home; cat urine is one of the hardest things to remove, so I know you must be frustrated.  Both male and female cats spray, and they can continue to do so even after they have been spayed or neutered (although doing so greatly reduces spraying problems in cats who have been altered).  There are many reasons why cats might spray, but it generally comes down to territorial security (or insecurity, as the case may be).

Cats use urine to leave their scent – sometimes it might be to say “hey, this is mine”, and other times it might be more of a self-soothing measure, like “I feel a little bit insecure about this, so I’m going to make myself feel better by surrounding myself with my own scent.”  Things that can trigger these insecurities include foreign scents or seeing other cats outside…those are two big ones.  So, looking at where your cat is spraying can reveal clues as to why your cat is spraying.  Is your cat spraying near windows or doors?  She may have seen (or smelled) an outdoor cat and is using urine to reinforce the boundaries of her territory.  Is she spraying near closets (where shoes and outdoor clothing are stored) or on objects that produce unfamiliar scents (like the fireplace, stove top, or air vents)?

If you see a distinct pattern, that can help you with a solution.  For example, if your cat is spraying in response to the presence of outdoor cats, try reducing her exposure to them – you can cover the bottom half of windows with opaque window film (which will let in light but obscure details), use motion-activated water sprayers outside to keep cats away from windows, and scan the outside of your home with a black light to find and treat any urine spray left by neighborhood cats.

If your cat is spraying on objects that are sources of foreign scents, try spraying Feliway on closet doors (where outdoor clothing is kept), or placing items with your cat’s scent near those locations (like scratching surfaces, bedding that has your cat’s scent on it, etc.).

Territorial insecurity may be accompanied by increased stress levels, and vice versa.  I highly recommend that you give both of your cats (separately) daily play sessions with a long interactive wand toy (such as Da Bird) to reduce boredom, give your cat the opportunity to “hunt” and express natural instincts, reduce stress, and build confidence.  Play is so important to cats, and unfortunately, so overlooked by many cat guardians!  So please try to incorporate daily play sessions in your cat’s schedule.

And, while eliminating to empty the bladder and spraying urine to mark are to different functions, it never hurts to make sure that your cats’ litterbox setup is in tip-top shape.  So, with two cats you should have three litterboxes all in different locations, make sure they are big enough (at least as long as 1.5 times the length of your longest cat, not including the tail), remove covers/hoods, and use a fine-grained clumping litter that is cleaned at least daily.

Finally, you may wish to speak to a qualified cat behavior consultant or your veterinarian.  Sometimes cats need help to reduce their stress to a point where they will respond to environmental modifications.  You can try calming supplements such as Zylkene (a hydrolized milk protein widely available), or your veterinarian may prescribe a medication to help your kitty manage stress. A behavior consultant can help you determine the likely reason for your cat’s behavior and offer additional things to try.

Best of luck to you – I know this is a difficult situation, but keep investigating and ask for more help if you need it.  There is a solution out there!

Kitten suckles tail

Our new rescue kitten has started to suckle. That’s not terrible – except that he suckles on his tail. I’m afraid his tail going to to get irritated. What can we do? – Shannon

Hi Shannon,

Congratulations on your new kitten!  It’s not terribly unusual for kittens to suckle, particularly if they were separated from their mothers early on.  Suckling can be another one of those self-soothing measures that is comforting, particularly during times of change or transition.  Most kitties will grow out of as they get older, but it’s generally not harmful unless they suckle so much that the skin gets irritated or starts to bleed.  The other thing to look out for is suckling on fabric items, as they can be ingested and cause blockages.

If you are concerned that your kitten is suckling too much, keep an eye on his fur – is it thinning?  Or is the skin becoming red or chapped?  If not, things are probably fine.  If you are at all worried about it, you can try distracting your kitten with some other activity; either playing with a toy, or if he’s sleeping, gently removing his tail from his mouth and letting him lick your finger instead.  If you do notice any signs of irritation, please talk with your vet about a safe way to keep him from suckling his tail and ways to treat the irritated skin.

But have fun with your new kitten – I hope that you have many happy years together!

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4 Comments on Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: Spraying Cat, Kitten Suckles His Tail, and More

  1. Barbara Miskovsky
    July 10, 2020 at 7:24 am (4 months ago)

    Dr, I have a 6year old male that was seen by a vet ,cat is healthy but overweight. When he goes in the box he only puts his front paws in and peas outside of the box where I have clean pads to absorb the urine . The box is always clean. Now he is going into my boyfriends closet to relieve himself . I clean it up and spray Natures Miracle for cats and I will see if it works like it did in the living room. I relocated to Florida from N.J. after my Mom passed and I sold the home. The cat only loved my Mom and me. He started this about 6 months after the move. I bought new boxes 2 and use the litter that I used in NJ. My boyfriend is very good to him but I think the cat is trying to mark his turf in his closet. I am at the end of my rope and I don’t know what to do anymore. Any suggestions ?

    Reply
  2. Rachael
    February 8, 2020 at 11:30 pm (9 months ago)

    Hi Dr. Marci,

    I have a 5 yr old female cat who has always had toilet issues.
    Her latest issue is that she off and on goes underneath her kitty litter tray (poo).
    There is no real pattern she does it when her toilet is clean or when it’s two days old etc.
    She did have a urinary tract a couple years ago but has been diagnosed.
    Not too sure how to stop this bad behaviour.

    Reply
  3. Karen
    February 8, 2020 at 12:39 pm (9 months ago)

    Hi Dr. Marci,

    Working for a rescue I get a lot of questions from people looking for help with litter box issues. I pass along a lot of your helpful advice regarding litter box placement, litter, size, number of boxes etc.
    One situation that I often struggle with is when the cat refuses to use the box after there is a medical condition or crisis- such as when a cat has a bout of diarrhea or a urinary blockage. I always of course have the owners make sure the medical issues are resolved first and in addition to all the regular litter box rules I offer suggestions such as buying new boxes, adding new locations, trying empty boxes, using cat attract litter- even confining them to a smaller area. even after all of these suggestions some cats continue to ignore their box- to either pee or defecate depending on their issue and often either go near it or in the same room.
    Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for getting cats who have a bad association with the box back to using their box?

    Reply
  4. Abby
    February 5, 2020 at 4:38 am (9 months ago)

    I have a neutered male cat who is 5 years old. He was fixed when he was about 3 months old. He’s also an indoor cat. For the last year, a few times a month, sometimes 2 or 3 times in one week, he’d dry hump my leg. This would always be at night when I’m under the covers. I’m not sure why he does this, if it’s normal or something I should be concerned about.

    Reply

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