Thursday, 25 August 2016

‘Which cat is spraying in my house?’ and other behaviour FAQs

In our latest live Facebook FAQ event, Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow took over our national Facebook page and answered behavioural questions from cat owners and supporters.

Don’t worry if you missed out, our feline specialists will return again soon. Have a look at the bottom of this post for upcoming dates to pop in your diary.

Here are some of the questions that Nicky answered:

Question: I have three sibling cats and have in the last three years taken on two strays, so now have a total of five cats. At first they seemed to get along ok but we now have a sprayer or sprayers. How do we find out which is the sprayer? We are at our wits’ end to know how to deal with this!

Answer: Sorry to hear that you've got cats spraying in the house. The first thing to do is to identify the sprayer/s. You can either set up a camera to spot who's doing it, or you can chat to your vet about getting some fluorescein to put in capsules. This will make the spray glow under UV light. It needs to be given to the cat that is LEAST likely to spray, and working through the group systemically (leaving a few days between changing cats) to the next one least likely to spray, until you find out who's doing it.

These cats will then need to be health-checked including a urine sample to rule out medical reasons for the behaviour. For more information about dealing with spraying check out our blog post on spraying and our leaflet Managing your cat’s behaviour.

Feline spraying behaviour
Question: I have a two-year-old rescue cat who was born prematurely and hand-reared, she is a bit small (3kg) and can't miaow or purr normally but seems very well generally. I have trained her to sit, ‘beg’ and ‘shake’ (tap my hand to get a treat), and am trying to train her not to be afraid of the vacuum cleaner. She wasn't afraid of it, but then there was an incident and now she runs away. Any advice?

Answer: Wow, what a clever kitty! She sounds lovely! Sadly, many cats are afraid of the vacuum cleaner. As long as she doesn't have any medical problems, then I would suggest trying a very gradual desensitisation programme. Start with the sound of a vacuum cleaner on your phone played really, really quietly so you can barely hear it and make sure your phone is well away from your cat but that you can see her behaviour. She should be calm and not bothered by it. If she is upset by it, then you'd need to use even more baby steps. Play the sound for a few seconds and then stop, and reward her with a small treat for calm behaviour. For more advice on the rest of a desensitisation programme, contact a qualified behaviourist who can guide you through the process tailored just for her (

Question: My eight-year-old rescue cat can be really lovely but doesn't understand claws hurt! Is there any way to make him understand not to get his claws out all the time?

Answer: It depends whether he's getting his claws out when kneading his paws, whether he's a bit over the top during play or whether he's showing aggressive behaviour. If it's aggressive behaviour, then I'd recommend having him health-checked by the vet to rule out medical problems and then getting a referral to a qualified behaviourist such as an APBC member ( If it's play, then have a read of our blog post on inappropriate play.

Cat playing with a mouse toy
Cats can get over-excited during play
Question: I have a rescue cat with a vague history and I'm baffled as she doesn't seem to like being stroked! Any ideas?

Answer: Have you mentioned this to your vet? There could be a medical problem that causes your cat to not want to be touched. Behaviourally, being stroked is something that cats learn to like during the kitten socialisation period of two to seven weeks of age. All cats are individuals so some cats may seem to tolerate or in some cases, even appear to like be touched in some of these areas. In general cats like quite brief, low intensity interactions that are quite frequent. When cats greet each other in the same social group, it tends to be a brief head rub. Unfortunately, humans are the opposite! Our interactions are generally less frequent, but high intensity and prolonged. This is often another source of confusion.

Question: My five-year-old male Bengal cat makes a very strange meow – he only does it when he is by himself and I usually go very quickly to check what's going on and he stops. It is a very deep loud noise, it sounds more like “auuuuu auuuuuu”. I can't seem to find anything on it on Google!

Answer: If he’s making a different noise than what’s normal for him (obviously Bengals can be quite chatty at the best of times) then I would recommend trying to take a video/recording of the sound to show your vet, as well as taking your cat to the vets for health check to rule out medical reasons. Has he been neutered? There are lots of different medical conditions that can cause a change in vocalisation. Behaviourally, there could be all sorts of different reasons including attention seeking. 

Try introducing him to feeding enrichment:

For Bengals in particular, try a clean litter tray, half filled with water and pop in a few ping pong balls for a fun toy!

Question: We have a 10-year-old cat we rehomed nearly three years ago. After she has used her litter box for a number two she always wipes her bum on the carpet outside the bathroom. She is wormed and our vet has checked her glands on each visit... how can we discourage this?
Answer: Sorry to hear this and it's good that she's been to the vets. As she doesn't have any fur around her bottom area, it's likely that her tough tongue feels pretty sore on the delicate skin. I would suggest where possible, you could try and wipe her bottom for her using cotton wool pads with warm water on (while wearing gloves of course!).

Veterinary note: Please note that we are unable to give specific advice on your cat's health or any change in behaviour observed. For medical problems, consult your vet who will have access to your cat's medical history and will be able to examine them.
Check out the behaviour section on our website for further advice:

Would you like to ask one of Cats Protection's feline experts a question about your cat? Don't miss the next live Facebook Q&A sessions: chat with vet Sarah Elliott on 1 September; Neutering Manager Jane Clements on 22 September; and Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow on 29 September. All Q&As are held on Cats Protection's national Facebook page from 2-3pm. See you there!


  1. Very interesting information! Thank you!

  2. Saying "ow!" when the claws hurt you can help signal to the cat they are playing too hard. Just don't yell too loudly - you don't want to sound aggressive. Cats and dogs routinely meow or yelp briefly to let their littermates know they are playing too hard. Doing this helped me with several cats. Also if the cat is chasing you or your foot/hand at the time, stop moving.

    1. We always recommend that body parts aren’t used to play with cats, as it can cause inappropriate play behaviour problems and can lead to human injury. Although it’s very tempting to use fingers to play, particularly with kittens, the consequences can be quite severe when the cat begins to mature. Instead, the best thing to do is to use toys to play with the cat, toys such as fishing rod toys are great, particularly for cats that like to try and play with hands as this keeps their attention away from the owner's body. We would definitely agree that keeping very still (although it can be hard to!) when a cat is trying to play with feet or hands is the best way of letting them know that this is not an appropriate way to play, as these ‘toys’ become boring since they don’t move. Unfortunately, vocalising at all can be enough to reinforce behaviour in some cats (even if it isn’t shouting or telling off), which is why ignoring bad behaviour (and rewarding good behaviour) is the best approach to take. For cats that have a tendency to pounce on feet in the house, wearing protective clothing like wellington boots will help to ignore the behaviour, and redirect them to a toy.