Getting in a flap over cats ...

What can you do to keep the peace and stop the pee? Jane Furnival tries to control some wayward cattiness
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
What a bad time it is for cats. Humphrey, the Downing Street cat was almost run-over by the Clinton cavalcade. Then there were bizarre revelations of Princess Michael using traps to catch strays in the hallowed precincts of Kensington Palace.

But whatever ones sympathies, there is no doubt cats can be a nuisance. When my cat, Rocky, messed on the rush matting in the bathroom last week, my impulse was to conceal the crime rather than risk another "Give that cat away/Off with his head" tirade from my husband. But it proved impossible to clean. I had to cut out the smelly patch, and was found by hubby looking for a sharp knife in the cat-bedewed tool box. "The cats been in the bathroom again. Have you seen the Stanley knife?" I asked. "You don't need a knife," came the tart reply. "The vet will put him down painlessly for you". Rocky, eavesdropping, recognised his insulting tone and took a swift revenge. Husbands trousers were draped high on the bedpost. He heaved his aching joints on to the bed, and must have twisted himself round that bedpost in an acrobatic leap to water the trousers.

Is there no cure for such cattiness? Can I save Rocky? I asked some experts.

"Its unusual," said the pet behavioural expert Peter Neville, author of Cat Behaviour Explained (FAB Publications, pounds 8.99). He doubted that Rocky, a placid neuter, had a personal vendetta against my husband. The emotional bits of cats brains aren't as highly developed as a dogs. "Has your husband changed smell? Aftershave? Is he stressed at work? It you have tiffs, it can set the cat off. He's trying to associate his mark with your husbands. It may be innocent - if your husband brought in an old cat scent once, even if its gone away, he associates the scent with his."

Peter explained that Rocky could be treated by a pet counsellor like himself if a vet were to refer him, with fees reclaimable from pet insurance. He might prescribe an anti-stress drug similar to Prozac. Maybe my husband could become more cat user-friendly by feeding Rocky every day.

"Then there are two possible areas of ultimate disaster," Peter continued. "One, that your husband takes a swing at the cat." (Unlikely.) "Second, that it becomes a natural ritual for your cat to pee and poo on your husbands things, and he gets anxious if he doesn't."

So what can I do to keep the peace and stop the pee? There are cheap sprays that are supposed to deter cats from your house and garden, though I have never found an effective one, perhaps because many of them need to be applied daily and I give up too fast. Sainsbury's Homebase has a variety, from Pepper Dust at pounds 2.99 to Bio Ready to Use Cat and Animal Repellent Spray at pounds 3.79.

But the industrial-strength spray is called Feliway, available from vets at about pounds 13.50 for a 60ml bottle. You spray it on the items or places the cat favours for his toilet. Feliways Marketing Manager, Ronnie Leggat, revealed that many share my cat's problem. "People think they are the only ones to suffer," he said. "But our research shows that one in three cat owners has this problem. People put up with it, on average, for 55 months before seeking help."

Cats have specific betes noires. He once received a desperate call from the owners of a Siamese whose urinary dexterity had put paid to two camcorders, a microwave, a toaster and a kettle. Another owner found her Safeway carrier- bags of food soaked, the moment she came home with them. Ronnie Leggat suspects that some substances, such as plastic bags and warm electrics, give off smells which the cat confuses with other cats urine. So it resprays them to name-tag the places as its own.

Cleaning up with bleaches or detergents may also encourage them to go again in the same place. The ammonia in cleaning fluids has a urine-like smell. "Clean up thoroughly with a biological detergent, then fill a plant mister with surgical spirit and spray the area," advises Clare Tickner of the Feline Advisory Bureau, which publishes two free leaflets on the subject, Indoor Spraying Problems and Indoor Toileting Problems. "Cats rarely spray near their food, so put small tubs of dry cat food at their favourite sites. Stick the food down to stop the cat eating it." Other tactics include putting down pine cones of tin foil on the area. Never rub a cats nose in its doings, or tell it off, the FAB advises. It just makes them feel more insecure.

RSPCA vet David Grant thinks this complaint is the province of classy cats. "You see this behaviour in emotional cats, such as tortoiseshells, Burmese, Siamese, Abyssinian and, yes, British Blues." He warns that its a self-perpetuating problem unless you clean well.

"A cat urinates out a particular pheromone when it is stressed out. The smell of this reinforces the desire to pee there again."

If the smell lingers, what can you do? I have found that Ambi Pur air freshener, a real perfume bottle you plug in, is effective. The eucalyptus variety is best; the floral smells like cheap aftershave. Sue Phillips, of Classic FM's Gardening Forum, suggests Shaws No-Stain, an "amazing" clear liquid which removed all traces of her cats active dislike of a visitor.

Others have problems with intruder cats coming into their house or garden and leaving a marker scent.

Take a robust approach. Spiky plants will deter cats from using your flower beds. Spread out the cuttings from raspberry plants. Clear the area of cat-attracting plants such as catnip and catmint.

In extreme cases, there is always ambush. "A water pistol is useful," suggests Clare Tickner. The problem of cat burglars in the house is solved by using a Staywell 32 cat door, which gives cats a magnetic door key worn on a collar that releases the door catch only to them. There are several different colour codes of door key, and I found that a neighbouring cat was getting in because its owners had by chance bought the same colour for their cat. I got round this by writing to Staywell, who obligingly changed my unit free of charge.

The deluxe animal repellent, says Sue Phillips, is Catwatch Mark Two. This is an electronic box that emits an unpleasant noise if a cat comes within 40ft. Birds and humans cant hear it, and you can use it inside or outside the house.

Feliway Natural Spray costs from pounds 13.50 from vets. For more information, contact Sanofi Animal Health, PO Box 209, Rhodes Way, Watford, Hertfordshire, WD2 4QE (01923 212212).

The Feline Advisory Bureaus leaflets, Indoor Toileting Problems and Indoor Spraying Problems, are free if you send a large sae (and preferably a small donation). You can also order Peter Nevilles' book, `Cat Behaviour Explained', at pounds 8.99 including p&p. FAB, Taeselbury, High Street, Tisbury, Wiltshire SP3 6LD.

Staywell 32 cat door with cat door key on its collar costs pounds 42.50 from The Pet Pavilion, Chelsea Farmers Market, Sidney Street, London SW3 6NR (mail order, 0l71-376 8800).

Catwatch Mark Two, pounds 49.99. Call 01763 244266 (Concept Research) for stockists and mail order details.

Get a list of cat counsellors from the Association of Pet Behavioural Counsellors, 01386 751151. If you are referred from a vet, you can reclaim fees (average pounds 40) from your pet insurance.

Ambi Pur air freshener costs about pounds 3 from Waitrose and other supermarkets. Refills, about pounds 1.85.

Comments