Let me guess — you’re probably put off by the smell of pet urine, right? But your dogs and cats couldn't disagree more! For them, urine is like social media — with just one sniff, your pet can tell if the animal who left the urine was male or female (including whether she was in heat!); spayed/neutered or not; and even healthy or ill.
This information helps keep the peace in your pet’s neighborhood and can prevent turf wars. When your pet leaves urine, he’s doing more than just emptying his bladder — he’s making sure other furry friends know he’s been there.
Territorial marking is different from simply having an accident or missing the litter box. Male dogs may lift their legs on furniture or doorways, and cats can be found backing up to a wall or object and spraying urine backward, tail aquiver.
Marking is not done out of spite — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Your pet is telling anyone within whiffing distance that you are his pack, this is his house and he will do what he has to do to defend them. Sweet, right?
So, what makes a pet mark indoors after years of being perfectly house trained? A strong stimulus. While any change can upset a pet enough to want to properly mark his or her boundaries, some stimuli are stronger than others:
- a visit to the house from another dog
- a female in heat in the neighborhood
- a dirty litter box (or even dirty baby diapers!)
- scents of old house training accidents, particularly by another pet
- for cats, other cats roaming around your yard or porch. This is an especially annoying and frustrating thing for some house cats to bear.
snip to nip!
While both male and female dogs and cats will mark their territory, it is a much more common behavior in males, especially males who have not been neutered. In fact, spaying or neutering before sexual maturity can prevent marking in more than 90% of cats and 50% of dogs. For cats, this is around 6 months of age; for dogs, it’s usually 6 to 9 months. Neutering at any age can help, but it’s harder to eradicate marking if it’s a habit rather than a hormone-driven behavior.
One caveat: If marking behavior appears suddenly with no stimulus, it may be a medical problem. Urinary tract infections, feline idiopathic cystitis, incontinence or endocrine disorders may be to blame. Your vet (like your pet) can tell a lot from urine, too — drop off a sample for analysis if marking behavior is new or suspicious.