This is the time of year we see a lot of feline behavior problems. Why this time of year?....sex.
Cats come into heat approximately two times a year; early spring and early autumn or late summer. Their cycles are triggered by length of day and early spring to them is late January to mid March with kittens being born approximately two months later. Once queen cats come into heat they put out powerful pheromones [hormonal scents] into the air which spread rapidly. This causes the feral tomcats to start wandering, 'looking for love in all the wrong places'. This year, I assume because of the snow, problems caused by this are getting a late start. And what are these problems?
1. Male cats are very territorial, even neutered males to a lesser extent. If you have a male cat that spends time outdoors he may have a run-in with a feral tomcat. This can lead to snarling and vocalizing into the late hours of the night or worse, an all out teeth and claws war. Cat bites are nasty. Their mouths harbor multiple varieties of bacteria that cause infection and abscesses. This in turn can lead to unexpected visits to the veterinary hospital. Even worse, feral toms can carry serious infections such FIV [kitty aids], Bartonella [cat scratch fever], and a variety of respiratory viruses. FIV is transmitted by bite and Bartonella is transmitted by bite and insect vectors [fleas]. Both of these diseases are chronic with the potential to dramatically shorten lives.
How can you avoid these problems? Keep your cat indoors as much as possible this time of year and train kittens to be indoors only.
2. Wandering feral toms are out there. They are recluse and you usually will not see them. However your cat knows they are there. Indoor only cats are also territorial. Sensing toms are nearby can lead to behavior problems expressed in a variety of ways. The number one problem by far is marking or urine spraying. Cats mark territory with their urine. If you have a neutered cat that is suddenly spraying urine against walls or other objects he is probably marking. However, you cannot rule out other urinary problems such as infections or crystal and stone formation. The latter is dangerous and can be life threatening. Therefore we recommend all cats be checked by a veterinarian if abnormal urine habits develop.
Other behavior problems can be aggression toward other cats in the house or even you and other members of the family. Vocalizing at night, staring out windows for long periods and other changes in their normal habits can occur.
Controlling these problems can be very challenging. First, I cannot emphasize enough, do not assume that spraying is strictly behavioral. Have him checked by a veterinarian. Assuming the behavior is territorial here's some basic things to try. First, as weather improves, do not open windows facing into wooded areas. If you see feral toms close the blinds.
Commercially there are new pheromone products that have had limited success. Theoretically they 'de-stress' your cat. And if that fails, we can place him on mood altering drugs temporarily. As a last resort we will sometimes use feminizing hormone therapy.
But alas, eventually feral female cats are bred or go out of heat. Feral toms stop wandering and become less aggressive and your indoor neutered male usually starts behaving again. To be assured of this you must be vigorous in cleaning urine sprays and use odor neutralizers. Otherwise that bad kitty behavior can turn into bad kitty habits.
Dr. Jerry Miller graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has been serving Southern Ohio for his entire career.