Tuesday , 18 February 2020
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Dealing with that cat smell


Recently, someone wrote to me from Mumbai saying they lived next to a person who kept cats in his flat. They complained about the smell. I sent a team to the gentleman’s flat, thinking that he was one of those people who piles on animals because he is mentally unsound and starves them to death while being a nuisance to everyone around. But he wasn’t. A sensible person, he takes in animals that are hurt or ill, nurses them back to health, releases them or gets them adopted, or keeps them if they are crippled. All the cats were sterilised, clean and healthy. But there was a strong smell. The complainant was apologetic but she said she couldn’t live with it.

This is the third or fourth case that has come to me from Mumbai about cat smells. And indeed, cat urine odour is a problem.

Cats don’t hunt, eat or sleep in groups like dogs. They mark territories and avoid each other. To avoid face-to-face disputes, they communicate indirectly by leaving messages like urine marking to determine things like which area belongs to them and for how long and whether they want mates.

So how do you make out urine marking?

Urine marks are usually sprayed on vertical surfaces. The urine smells pungent because it contains extra communication chemicals.

The more cats who live in a home, the more likely it is that at least one will urine mark. This behaviour can be triggered by any change: new people, getting another animal, kitchen remodelling, changing work hours, having a baby, even a new coat.

First, neuter all the cats. The best way to minimise conflict between them is to divide the food, water, litter boxes, in different places across the house, so no two of them are near each other.

Provide more perching areas so that all cats can have a place away from the others. This can be as easy as clearing window sills or shelves, or purchasing multi-perch cat trees.

The second problem is how to make sure the cats use litter boxes to urinate /defecate. If the litter box is unclean, then cats, being very fastidious, will not use it. Scoop the box daily. Dump out the litter, wash the box with soap and warm water (no ammonia-based cleaners), dry it and put fresh litter in. Try a litter deodoriser on the litter daily. Kitchen baking soda is non-toxic. Carbon litter box liners are helpful in bringing down such odours.

The rule is one litter box per cat, plus one. If you have one cat, you need two boxes. If you have four, you need five boxes. Keep the boxes in different locations in your home. Don’t put a box in a small enclosed area which will concentrate the smells and make the cat feel trapped. A larger, well-ventilated area is best in a quiet area, away from your cat’s food, or anything that can startle your cat while he’s using the box.

At least 10 per cent of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination, or defecation, but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes. If your cat isn’t comfortable with her litter box, or can’t easily access it, she won’t use it.

Investigate possible medical issues like diabetes, kidney diseases, or urinary tract infections, which might cause her to eliminate outside of her box. Other reasons could be that the box is too small for her or it has a hood or liner that makes her uncomfortable or that the litter is too deep. Cats prefer one to two inches of litter. Those who have grown accustomed to a certain litter, dislike the smell of another. Old cats, or cats with physical limitations, may have difficulty using certain types of litter boxes, such as top-entry boxes, or with high sides.

Most prefer large boxes that they can enter easily. In fact plastic storage containers are excellent. Most cats prefer clumping, unscented litter. Offer different types of litter in boxes placed side-by-side to allow your cat to show you her preference.

It is possible that some cats just like certain places, like carpets or bedding. Make these areas less appealing to stand on by putting rubber mats, plastic sheets, tin foil, or double-sided sticky tape.

If your cat has experienced a frightening or upsetting event while using the box, she could associate that event with it and avoid going near it. In order for your cat to learn new pleasant associations, move the litter box to a new location, or add a few litter boxes in different locations. Pick locations with multiple escape routes so that your cat can quickly leave her box if she suddenly feels anxious.

Vary the litter. Use a finer or coarser texture. Leave treats and toys for her to find in the area leading to her box. Don’t put her food bowl next to the box because cats usually don’t like to eliminate close to their food.

Incorporate the use of sprays or diffusers that deliver a synthetic pheromone that has been shown to help relieve stress in cats.

When your cat pees outside her litter box, instead of yelling or punishing her, immediately place her into the litter box. Do this every time she pees outside and pat her on the back when she pees in the litter box.

Despite all this, if the cat is urinating in places other than the litter box:

  1. a) Blot up as much of the urine as possible with a cloth towel. Don’t rub the stain. If it’s dry, pour cold water on the stain, and blot. Avoid detergents with ammonia as this encourages your cat to mark the spot again. Make a water and vinegar solution (1 1/2 cups of warm water and a 1/2 cup of vinegar) for both old and new stains and pour this over the stain and soak for 3-5 minutes. After the solution is dry, sprinkle the area with baking soda (a lot) and let it dry for a few hours. Vacuum the excess baking soda. If the stain is tough, repeat the entire process again.
  2. b) Mix 3/4 cup of three percent hydrogen peroxide with 1 teaspoon of dish detergent. Sprinkle this solution over the baking soda and test a small spot, because sometimes peroxide can discolour fabrics. Work the baking soda into the fabric or carpet. Let the mixture dry. Vacuum after a few hours.
  3. c) Make a spray bottle: Mix 5 oz baking soda, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, 1 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide and half a teaspoon of orange essential oil in a bowl. Put this in a spray bottle. Shake the bottle and spray on the affected area and let dry. The powdered dried solution can be vacuumed later. Repeat until you witness results.
  4. d) Mix 1 cup of baking soda with six drops of any citrus fruit. Sprinkle the mixture on the dry affected area and leave overnight. Vacuum the area in the morning and the odour should disappear.
  5. e) For walls and cement flooring, wash the area with an ammonia free cleaner and wipe clean with fresh water. Mix ten portions of water to one portion of bleach solution and put it in a spray bottle. Keep yourself well protected by using gloves and keeping the area ventilated. Spray this mixture on the walls and flooring and let sit for about thirty seconds. Wipe it off with a clean damp cloth.
  6. f) Wrap few charcoal pieces in a newspaper and place in the affected areas, and keep the house well ventilated. Let them be for a few hours and the odour will disappear.
  7. h) Non-toxic air fresheners are available from pet and health stores.
  8. i) Plants, like spider plants, are effective at filtering ammonia from the air and removing bad odours.
  9. j) Enzymatic cleansers, designed to neutralise pet odours, can be found at most pet stores.
  10. k) Before washing your clothes, rinse the area with cold water. Add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar to the detergent. Dry in the sun.
  11. l) If cats pee on potted plants, place a couple of orange peels on the soil. Cats hate the smell of oranges.
  12. m) To cleanse the air in a room, leave an open cup of vinegar.

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