Last Updated on February 7, 2021 by Julia Wilson
Urine spraying is a marking behaviour which enables cats to communicate with one another, it is also a leading cause of cats being surrendered to shelters. While we humans consider it a problem, it is actually quite normal and is their way of marking their territory.
What is the difference between spraying and urinating outside the litter tray?
Spraying is different from urinating outside the litter tray (which can be behavioural or medical) as spraying occurs on vertical objects such as furniture, walls, windows, blinds etc. The cat will smell the target object, then turn around and with the tail erect and quivering will direct a stream of urine onto the object. Feline spraying is a deliberate act and is not related to urinating at all and shouldn’t be confused with inappropriate urination.
Spraying is most common in entire male cats, however, it is possible for neutered males and female cats to also spray.
Cats communicate non-verbally in many ways. By scratching objects, body language, rubbing their cheeks and lips against objects (the face contains glands which when rubbed against an object secrete pheromones), defecating and spraying. There are numerous reasons why a cat may spray. Stress and territorial issues are the most common.
Cats are extremely territorial and spraying sends a powerful message of ownership to other felines in the area. Spraying is your cat’s way of marking his territory and defining boundaries. Territory problems may occur between cats living in the same household or if a neighbourhood cat comes onto your cat’s territory (such as garden, garage or in some cases into the house). Other cats may spray outside your home, on the front door or walls, which causes your cat to spray to re-affirm his territory. Male cats are generally more territorial than females, particularly entire males. Some cats will spray new furniture or objects, this is in an attempt to remove the unfamiliar smell of the new items.
Household changes such as moving to a new home, a new family member (human or animal) has come to live with you, a territorial battle between cats (be it two cats living in the same household or a neighbourhood cat threatening your cat’s territory), a change in household routine and separation anxiety.
Female cats may spray when coming into estrus to attract male cats. Male cats mark their territory and attract females.
The higher the number of cats, the greater the chances of spraying behaviour. Which is again stress-related. It has been reported that there is a 100% chance of at least one cat spraying in households with more than ten cats.
The location of the spray can also give you a clue as to a possible cause. Is the cat spraying close to a window or door? This could mean that another cat outside is bothering him. Have you had a new baby? Is he spraying on the cot or other furniture associated with the baby?
The most important issue is to find out the causes of spraying and try to resolve the problem. A veterinary check-up is important as up to 30% of cats who see a veterinarian for spraying have an underlying medical problem which includes kidney stones, kidney failure, lower urinary tract disease, viral disease and impacted anal glands.
The veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and obtain a medical history from you. A diagnostic workup will be necessary to rule out an underlying medical condition. This will include a complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis.
Desex male and female cats:
If you own an entire male or female, desex it to reduce spraying. Approximately 90% of males and 95% of females show a marked decrease in spraying after they have been spayed or neutered.
Spraying in reaction to a neighbourhood cat entering your property:
Try to minimise your cat’s exposure to the outdoor cat by blocking the view (with opaque film, planks or indoor plants), or find ways to deter the invading cat from coming onto your property.
Try to reduce it as much as possible. Spend more time with your cat and engage in play sessions with him. Pet owners should spend at least 15 minutes per day playing with their cats, it is a great way to bond with and bring down his stress levels. Maintain a predictable routine such as feeding and playing at the same time every day.
If the problem is caused by two cats in your household not getting along it may be better to keep the cats separated as much as possible. Another method is to try and foster a harmonious relationship between the cats. This can be done by creating positive associations such as playing with the cats together, feeding them together etc.
Never punish a cat who sprays as this will only increase stress.
Provide multiple resources in homes with more than one cat:
Each cat should have access to their own litter tray and food bowl, as well as multiple beds, scratching posts and cat trees. This provides the opportunity to seek out their own space if they want it and are not forced to share or fight over key resources.
Know your limits:
Some cats do better on their own, some are fine with one or two feline companions. I have found so much variance between cats. Some cats just aren’t particularly territorial and welcome new family members, others can be very funny if or when a new cat is introduced and this can bring about spraying. If you know your cat doesn’t do well with new additions, limit how many cats you keep. Again, the more cats you have, the greater the chances of spraying in one or multiple cats within the household.
If your cat is spraying in one location only, where possible, place food and water bowls near the location as cats are clean animals and don’t like to urinate/spray near their food source.
Clean the area thoroughly inside and outside your house and spray Feliway (a synthetic pheromone which mimics the feel-good pheromones cats produce) where the cat has been spraying. If possible, cover the area with aluminium foil to deter him re-spraying the cleaned area. Feliway also comes as a plugin to help relieve stress in cats.
If the cat has chosen one or two areas, move food bowls or beds to the location as cats are less likely to spray where they sleep or eat.
If you have a cat who has a habit of spraying on new furniture, make sure he is only allowed in the room when you are present until you are confident he won’t spray. Spray any new additions (furniture that is) with Feliway.
If the above methods are unsuccessful in stopping spraying behaviour, your veterinarian may recommend medications. Tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are most frequently prescribed.
Some of these drugs have contraindications and therefore it is advisable you speak to your veterinarian about possible side effects prior to using them so you can weigh up the pros and cons.
If the problem persists speak to your veterinarian about seeking specialist help from a feline behaviourist.
How to clean cat spray
Cat spray has a pungent aroma which is unmistakable. The use of an enzymatic cleaner can help remove the odour. There are many great products available at your pet shop or veterinarian designed to remove cat urine and cat spray.
Do not use an ammonia-based product to remove the spray as this will lead your cat to believe another cat has sprayed there and therefore make the problem worse.
Homemade urine remover
White vinegar odour remover:
- 100ml white vinegar
- 200ml warm water
Place ingredients in a plastic spray bottle and shake well.
Remove as much urine/spray as you can using paper towels. Mist the vinegar solution over areas of cat urine and rub with a paper towel. An alternative method is to mix the solution in a bucket and dip a clean cloth into the liquid. Rub the stain with the vinegar solution. After the vinegar dries, wipe away both solution and stain with warm water.
Hydrogen peroxide odour remover:
- 5.5oz (220ml) hydrogen peroxide
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 squirt liquid hand soap
Place ingredients in a plastic container and mix well with a plastic or wooden spoon. Apply the solution to cat urine stain, then rinse well with warm water.