Q: “My cat has been acting very territorial lately ever since I have been bringing home my new boyfriend. She is usually very outgoing but when he comes over she will sniff his shoes and then spend the rest of the time hiding away which is unusual for her. Even worse is that she has been peeing on my bed and outside of her litter box. I think she is marking her territory. On top of that my boyfriend also has a cat who has been peeing on his things too. What is happening and what can I do?” -Eliza
A: It’s common for cats to become jealous and territorial over a new romantic partner. Cats struggle greatly with accepting change: moving homes, adopting another cat, and definitely having a new boyfriend or girlfriend. When they see that a new person has entered your life, and that you are spending more time together, your cat will naturally become stressed and worried about it. Their worry comes from a deep survival instinct — they worry you will not give them as much attention, they also worry that you will stop feeding them, stop taking caring of them, and abandon them completely for this new person. It is a threat to their survival.
Cats are extremely scent-oriented, far more than humans. Each person has their own unique scent, and cats can easily smell another person. After your boyfriend leaves, his scent is still there, and they can still sense him. And you also said that your boyfriend has a cat, which means she can definitely smell his cat’s scent too, which adds more of a threat.
Peeing outside of the litter box is often a cat’s way of marking their territory. In order to combat your boyfriend’s scent, they will pee outside of the litter box to make their smell stronger. She is doing this to claim dominance over you and to send a message to your boyfriend that she is more important. This behavior is wrong, but your cat is acting out of fear, not because she’s being bad.
It’s going to be an adjustment period. In time, your cat will naturally warm up to your boyfriend and see that he is not a threat. Sadly you may have to deal with a period of cleaning up after your cat. You can make it a little easier by keeping the litter box clean and fresh, also try adding more litter boxes to your home, put a mat underneath the litter box, or switch to a hooded box that has a wall around it.
When your boyfriend comes over, try to introduce the two of them. Without scaring your cat away or cornering her, see if she will let him pet her or hold her. And then when your boyfriend is gone, make an extra effort to spend time with your cat, to pet her and play with her!
Also — while peeing outside of the litter box is often a behavior issue, it’s also important to be aware of an underlying health issue. Make sure your cat’s pee is not red or brown. There’s a chance it could be a UTI, which can be treated with providing fresh water for your cat and giving cranberry supplements in their food. If this problem persists, then you may want to contact your local vet.
My expertise comes from my animal science bachelor’s degree, as well as a lifelong experience of mothering many cats. For serious and life-threatening issues, please refer to your local vet.
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