Many cat owners have to deal with spraying – the problem with small amounts of urine found around the house. To cats, this behavior is a way of communicating, but to people, it’s a struggle that can put the cat at risk of being surrendered or even euthanized. You are probably wondering: How do we deal with spraying quickly and effectively? We will get to that, but first, let’s make sure we all understand why cats spray.
Why do cats spray?
Cats spray to send a message – be it that they are stressed or ready to mate. It’s important to know that they don't do it out of spite. Spraying – or marking – is all about communicating through scent and it differs from urinating because when cats pee, they squat. On the other hand, when cats spray, they usually mark vertical surfaces. They are standing with their backs to the object, twitching their tails and spraying urine, usually at another cat's nose level. In this case, the urine may form a thin line instead of the paddle that's formed when the cat has peed outside of the litter box.
But what triggers spraying?
Several reasons usually cause spraying:
Each of these will get a detailed look in the next paragraphs. However, we should first clarify that spraying is done by both male and female cats, and those who have been spayed and neutered do it far less. Still, 10% of neutered males and 5% of neutered females also spray, reports the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Medical issues may be causing your cat to spray
Every time our pet changes its behavior, it’s important to rule out medical reasons first. This is valid for spraying, too, as it could be caused by a physical discomfort that inflicts stress. This means that as a result of being stressed, the animal may spray urine.
Additionally, a medical problem may cause pain that makes the cat adopt a spraying posture to urinate. It’s also possible that cats who are sick are not spraying but simply peeing in other places. For example, urinary-tract inflammation can increase the frequency and urgency to pee. This could make a cat go outside the litter box. Diabetes, thyroid, and kidney disease may cause cats to drink more and urinate more often. Of course, old age may also interfere with a pet’s ability to get to the litter box in time.
This is why cat parents should always take their pets to the vet to ensure there isn’t any health issue triggering the behavioral change. A physical exam, urinalysis and other diagnostic tests will reveal if there is a medical reason for the behavior.
Problem: Your cat has changed its habits and urine is found around the house. The urine smells differently or has blood in it.
How to fix it: Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. It is important to determine what has caused the change in your cat’s behavior. If the problem is not disease-related, your vet will help outline next steps and possibly prescribe anxiety medications. An animal behavior expert can also evaluate your cat’s problem and help you develop a treatment plan.
Territorial conflicts could also make cats mark
Cats are territorial and solitary animals that might mark an area to show that it belongs to them and minimize contact with other cats. What could trigger your cat’s territorial instinct? Neighboring animals, multiple cats in the same household or a newcomer, to name a few.
If you have many cats, your cat could be spraying because it has received a threat from another animal. Keep in mind that a threat could be a stare, which is not noticeable to the human eye, explains veterinarian Dr. Cathy Lund for PetMD. In this situation, it might be a good idea to closely observe the situation, separate the cats, and improve the harassed animal’s feeling of security.
Yet another reason for spraying could be adopting another animal. Even if your cat has lived with other pets before, you should know that cats are pickier than dogs and your cat may tolerate one animal but not another. Also, cats often view newcomers as invaders and can be particularly territorial.
Problem: Other cats – outside or inside – seem to bother your pet, and this has led to spraying.
How to fix it: If you have multiple indoor cats, provide a few perching areas and sisal or carpet scratching posts. Cats need their own space and conflicts can often be resolved simply by offering pets more room. Creating space can be as easy as clearing shelves or providing a cat tree or tower. If the problem persists, it may be necessary to determine which cats do not get along. Keep them separated with their own litter and sleeping areas and slowly reintroduce them while adding a positive experience such as treats. If marking seems to be stimulated by cats outside the home, then prevent your indoor cat from seeing them by closing windows, blinds and doors. You could also attach a motion-detection device to your lawn sprinkler and set the sprinkler near your windows to scare the neighboring cats.
TIP: How to identify which cat is spraying?
The desire to mate is another reason for cats to mark
One of the roles of spraying is to advertise reproductive availability. Cat urine contains chemicals (pheromones) that send messages to other cats, so, during mating season, male and female cats communicate by spraying.
This is why it’s important to neuter and spay cats. While the age at which a cat matures sexually can vary, male cats in multicat households or close proximity to other cats are more likely to spray at a younger age.
Problem: You have an intact (non-neutered) male cat that’s beginning to spray urine with a distinctive odor – strong and pungent.
How to fix it: Neuter or spay your cat. This will change the odor and may reduce the cat’s motivation for spraying. Although marking isn’t limited to a cat’s desire to mate, this is one of the main reasons cats mark. Neutering or spaying is a proven treatment for cats who spray for reproductive purposes.
Routine changes in the household are associated with cat spraying as well
Cats are creatures of habit, so any change might cause stress and provoke spraying. For this reason, cat owners need to realize that cats don’t think their urine smells bad – on the opposite, animals comfort themselves with their familiar scents. Spraying makes cats feel more secure and content, so, if your cat is spraying, think about what might be stressing it out. Here are a few possibilities:
- New baby
- Different work schedule
- New spouse
- Reduced play time
Problem: It seems like a home remodeling project has upset your cat and you have noticed wet spots on the side of the couch and the drapes.
How to fix it: Make more time for your pet and play. Physical activities – like a game of “follow the feather” – are a great stress reliever. Also, set apart a hiding area for your cat to escape during stressful situations like remodeling projects or parties. Remember to not punish your cat even if you see him or her spraying. A punishment will only make the animal more anxious, and thus more likely to spray. And finally, clean the marked spot thoroughly because, if there’s even the slightest scent of urine left behind, your cat will be tempted to spray again.
Litter inadequacies may also be a reason for your cat to spray
The issue of proper litter box maintenance should always be addressed when dealing with a spraying cat. Although spraying is not an elimination problem, if there are too few litter boxes in a multi-cat household, a conflict may arise over litter box use, which could contribute to spraying.
So, make sure you have one cat litter box furniture for each cat, plus one extra. This means that if you have two cats, you’ll need a minimum of three litter boxes. The size and area matter too: The litter box should be bigger than the cat (1.5 times the cat’s length) and be placed in a quiet, low-traffic area. Most importantly, keep it clean – scoop the litter twice a day and clean the toilets with warm water and unscented soap once a week to reduce the presence of any offending “other cat” smells.
Problem: Your well-behaved cat doesn’t connect with the litter box anymore and has started to leave unpleasant “surprises” around the house.
How to fix it: Try to change the litter box. For example, if you have changed the mix to a scented one or have placed a liner that makes your pet uncomfortable, she or he may decide to pee outside of the box. So, go back to normal. If you have multiple cats, place litter boxes in low-traffic areas with at least two exit routes – the point is to avoid conflict between the cats. Don’t forget to keep the box clean and completely replace the litter once a week.
Why do cats pee in the bed?
From a cat’s point of view, a bed makes the perfect toilet because it is absorbent and clean; however, a cat may be using your bed for several other reasons:
Separation anxiety: It’s comforting for the cat to mix her scent with the human’s scent – if, for example, her parent has been gone for too long, she might be soothing herself.
Confrontation: If a new significant other is sharing the bed, the cat might be sending a message.
Stress: If the cat doesn’t feel safe in the house because of renovation work, new people or another unexpected change, she may choose to stay in the bedroom for safety reasons.
Unacceptable litter box: If the cat’s toilet is dirty or set at a new location, she’ll look for a new spot and the bed meets the requirements.
What you can do about it:
Introduce some playtime on the bed, so the cat makes a positive association. Offer some treats.
Address conflict with another family member by asking that person to feed the cat.
Eliminate any litter-box issues as well as multi-cat issues. Make sure the cat feels safe going out of your bedroom.
Try changing the bedding, including the comforter. Look for different fabrics and textures.
Take your pet to the vet to rule out any other factors contributing to the issue.
The bottom line
There are a few things you can do to avoid cat urine spraying:
Always provide plenty of climbing, resting and feeding areas, especially if you have many cats. It is essential that cats have plenty of space, so conflict could be avoided and the animals don’t feel the need to mark their territory.
Ensure each cat has a litter box that is scooped daily and add an extra box on top of that.
Ensure that your household and work routines don’t change often – moving, noisy parties or new roommates may cause stress to your pet, which may contribute to spraying.
Finally, if your cat’s behavior changes, consult your vet first to rule out any medical reasons why your cat is spraying.
Please note that this blog post is not meant to give a diagnosis. If your cat displays any type of behavioral problems, it’s best to talk to your vet.
The following infographic explains the reasons behind cat spraying and how to deal with it. Feel free to share it if you like it.
About the author
Viva Bolova holds a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. She spent 14 years doing work for major brands and writing for various publications. Now she writes on travel and pet-related topics and has experience as a PR expert for an international airport.