Q&A: Do cats mark their territories inside the home? What can I do to discourage my cat from marking inside my home?

Q. Are cats affected by tick-borne diseases?

A. Cats can get tick fever from the parasite Babesia felis. It is a different disease to Ehrlichiosis that affects dogs, but the parasite belongs to the same group. Ehrlichia and human tick bite fever are caused by a different group of organisms called Rickettsia. These parasites do not normally lead to a life-threatening condition, as the Babesia parasites do. We do not know which tick species transmit the parasite to cats yet. The disease is mostly seen along the coastal areas of the country, especially from Kwa-Zulu Natal to the Western Cape, but is seen inland too, especially in Kwa-Zulu Natal. There also seems to be a small area in Mpumalanga which has the parasite. It is seen mostly in young adults less than three years of age and the highest incidences occur during the summer months. Clinical signs will be primarily anorexia (not eating), listlessness and anaemia (pale gums). Less frequent signs include – weight-loss, yellow gums, vomiting, difficulty in breathing and pica (eating strange things). Your vet will prescribe a number of treatments with medication over a few weeks.

Dr Muirhead, Harmelia

 

Q. Do cats mark their territories inside the home? What can I do to discourage my cat from marking inside my home? I have only one cat, but my neighbour’s cat does come into my home from time to time.

A. There are several ways in which a cat will mark her home territory.

Bunting The term used to describe when a cat rubs her face and mouth on something. If the cat is happy and relaxed, she will bunt people and objects. This distributes facial pheromones onto the object being bunted and this method of marking is usually reserved for anything the cat deems to be part of her ‘safe and friendly’ circle.

Scratching Cats have scent glands under the pads of their feet and by scratching an object they leave not only a visual marker, but a scent one as well. Scratching is often used in strategic places like a tree at the entrance to the house, or (if no scratching post is available) a couch at the window or door. This is why it’s so important to have strategically placed posts for your cat to use.

Spraying: If a cat is feeling particularly insecure about something she will spray – this is when urine is deposited against a vertical surface. Spraying is not just about marking territory, it is also an emotional response to stress. So if a cat is having relationship problems with her owner or another resident pet, she may start spraying as a way to communicate her stress about the situation. If she is feeling threatened by a new addition to the home, changes to her safe space or if an intruder cat comes into her property, she may resort to spraying to convey her unhappiness.

Middening:  This happens in extreme cases. Cats deposit uncovered faeces in ‘high traffic’ areas.

What to do: The trick is not to discourage your cat from marking – persuade her to change marking strategies to an alternative that is acceptable to you both.

For scratching: If your cat is scratching, buy her a scratching post and put it where she’s currently scratching. She’s probably chosen that spot with great care! Ideally, the post should be one and a half times as high as the length of your cat when she stretches herself out, it must be sturdy (they hate it when a post wobbles) and she must have some space around it so she can have a good stretch.

For spraying : If she’s spraying, you first need to identify the cause of the upset and address that. You can clean the sprayed areas by thoroughly washing them with a biological washing powder and hot water and then wipe with surgical spirits to remove any fatty deposits. Once it is clean, get some Feliway spray to apply to the area. Sometimes it helps to put a food bowl in front of the sprayed area, but to be honest, that usually results in the cat spraying in a different spot. It doesn’t solve the problem, it just manages it. Calming collars can be effective to calm a slightly nervous or anxious cat, and of course you do get a variety of pharmacological options but these must be used in conjunction with your vet and behaviourist as the medication itself is unlikely to solve the problem.

The best way to discourage this behaviour is to keep your home safe from intruder cats. This is easily achieved by either cat-proofing your property or by installing a magnetic cat-flap so that only your cat can use the flap as an entrance or exit.

Karin Pienaar (Landsberg), animal behaviour practitioner, ThinkingPets & COAPE SA

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