Is My Cat Spraying or Just Peeing: How to Tell the Difference

When my clients come to me asking for help with their cat spraying, they are usually quite stressed out. It is not a pleasant habit to be dealing with and none of us want our home smelling like urine.

Many owners who come to me have been dealing with this issue for months or even years on end. Thankfully, once we determine why the cat is spraying it is usually something we can resolve.

How do I know if my cat is spraying or peeing?

Spraying

It isn’t unusual for an owner to confuse peeing with spraying but there are some key differences. Spraying tends to be when a cat releases a small amount of urine, usually on a vertical surface while their tail is lifted high up in the sky. The cat may tread or pad their back feet and quiver their tail as they spray. See picture below:

Cat spraying

Watch this short video from our founder Julia Wilson:

Peeing

Cats urinate when their bladder is full, in order to eliminate urine from their body. They should be doing this in their litter tray, while posturing and will release a good puddle of urine.

cat peeing outside on sand

Why do cats spray?

Most cats will spray as a means of communicating with other cats, whether or not there are any nearby. It is an inbuilt behavior.

They may be doing it to let others know that the home is theirs (territory marking) and cats who share their home are more likely to do this.

Cats also spray to alert nearby cats of their reproductive status. Uncastrated males start spraying around the time of puberty, to make sure everyone knows they’re ready to reproduce.

Importantly, any cat can spray; whether male, female, entire or neutered. When a neutered cat sprays it is usually a sign of underlying stress or anxiety. This can be due to the cat sharing their home with another pet, a new baby arriving or a change in their routine.

Less commonly, there will be an underlying medical issue such as bladder stones or a UTI.

How do I stop my cat from spraying?

If your cat has not been neutered, the first thing to consider is having them castrated or spayed. For many, this will resolve signs completely.

Your vet can check the urine for any signs of crystals, stones or infection. If present, your cat may be issued with a urinary diet or perhaps a course of antibiotics. In my experience, infections are rarely present in these kitties.

For many ‘sprayers’ the key will be in reducing their anxiety and helping them to feel calm and confident in their home. It will also mean ensuring their needs are met and they have been provided with appropriate places to urinate within the home.

Some good things to do for these cats would include:

  • Providing 1.5 litter trays per cat (so 3 in a 2 cat household, 5 in a 3 cat household)
  • Ensuring the trays are regularly cleaned
  • Using a type of litter your cat likes
  • Having trays in areas of the home that are quiet and where there is not much foot traffic
  • Providing plenty of space for your cat to have ‘alone time’ when needed, including hiding spaces and cat beds in quiet areas
  • Making sure your furry friend has all of their own resources including water bowls, cat trees, scratching posts etc.
  • Never telling off or punishing your cat when they spray, as this just worsens any anxiety

Best product to help at home

An enzymatic cleaner

I always recommend an enzymatic cleaner so owners can effectively clean the urine sprays up, rather than masking the odor with other products. This helps prevent re-spraying in the same area.

I particularly like this spray as it can be used on both hard and soft surfaces, and many cats prefer to spray on things like carpets and sofas.

FAQ

Is a cat spraying also peeing?

While spraying does involve the release of urine, it is not normal ‘peeing’. Cats do not do it because they need to empty their bladder, they are sending chemical messages out to other cats, or displaying their anxiety.

Does cat spray smells or looks different from urine?

Cat spray can be a more concentrated urine so can look darker and smell a bit stronger.

Is a different body position when peeing sometimes also the sign of a medical condition such as UTI?

Yes, sometimes cats may spray and strain to pass urine when they have an underlying medical issue such as cystitis or a UTI. So, a vet check is sensible if signs are not resolving quickly or the cat seems in any way unwell.

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