Three classes of problems
Inappropriate elimination, in general, encompasses three classes of problems from which client complaints are derived:
1. Substrate preferences or aversions involve deposition of normal amounts of urine or feces. Substrate (texture/surface) preferences and aversions are linked
by texture but not by location. The preferred substrates chosen have a shared tactile association that becomes clearer to
clients on thoughtful examination. Examples of common classes of substrate preferences include soft materials (e.g., clothing,
bath mats, fireplace ashes) and smooth, reflective, cool surfaces (e.g., tile floors, sinks, granite countertops). Conversely,
cats that prefer cool surfaces may avoid soft ones. Preferences can develop innately because the cat truly prefers a substrate
other than the litter in its box. Or they can develop after the cat learns to dislike its litter or box.
2. True aversions develop when the accustomed substrate changes in a way that is repugnant to the cat. The usual reason is hygiene; litter
feels different when soiled, and soiled litter creates a very different olfactory and chemical environment from that which
the cat is accustomed. We've done a poor job of evaluating the olfactory effects of altered or soiled substrates, but given
the sensitivity of the feline nose and how quickly olfactory associations are consolidated in the frontal cortex, it's logical
to think olfactory concerns are important. Cats that find their litter aversive undergo a process of sampling and will find
another substrate they consider acceptable. Clients usually don't find these new substrates acceptable.
3. Location preferences or aversions involve deposition of normal amounts of urine or feces in places linked by region. Changing substrates appears to have little
effect on the behavior of these cats, but if a location preference is suspected and a litter box is placed in the chosen spot,
a cat usually uses it. Conversely, cats can learn to loathe certain areas no matter how wonderful the box, the litter or the
hygiene routine. Aversions to locations usually develop because of a stimulus the cat associates with threatening, disruptive
or injurious stimuli (e.g., the box is behind an entry door that crashes into the cat and box when opened).
Problematic elimination behaviors include spraying and non-spraying marking; both can be part of the normal signaling repertoire
Non-spraying marking involves the deposition pattern of urine or feces, which distinguishes this behavior from substrate or
location aversions or preferences. When non-spraying marking is a consideration, the amounts of urine or feces are small and
distributed over areas associated with social stimuli, not with substrates or locations.
In marking behavior involving sprayed urine, the cat treads on its front feet, raises its tail, quivering the tip, and sprays
urine vertically. If the cat is not backed against a vertical surface, sprayed urine makes a linear pattern on horizontal
surfaces. Both male and female cats can and will spray, as will those that have been neutered (castrated or spayed). Neutering
can decrease or stop spraying if it's been occurring for only a short while or is related solely to estrous cycles or responses
to them. Moreover, neutered cats spray less than intact cats.