Why Do Cats Spray?

Cats are undoubtedly one of the most popular pets, with more than 74 million felines in American households alone! This is no great surprise, given cats make wonderful, loyal pets who love a good cuddle, while their independent streak means they are more low maintenance than many other pets.

While cats have been domesticated for centuries (the ancient Egyptians famously loved their pet cats!), they still have strong instincts from their days in the wild. While your cat might look like a cuddly bundle of fluff, he’s probably pretty sure he’s still a wild panther!

Unfortunately, sometimes a cat’s wild streak can come out with some challenging behaviours, such as aggression, hunting, or spraying. While these behaviours can definitely be helped with some effective strategies, they can be very difficult to manage.

One of the most difficult behaviours a cat might start to show is spraying. Absolutely anyone with cats will tell you that the smell of cat urine is one of the worst smells in the world.

It’s important to get on top of the problem quickly, as the longer it persists the harder it can be to break the habit in your beloved kitty. Plus, you obviously want to get rid of the smells from your home ASAP, to avoid any lingering odours.

Why do cats spray?

There are a number of different reasons why a cat might urinate outside of its litter box. Understanding why your cat is doing so is really important in determining how best to address the problem.

The first thing to determine is whether the cat is actually trying to mark its territory (spraying) or whether it is just not using its litterbox properly.

Spraying normally takes the form of smaller deposits of urine, often on horizontal surfaces. Spraying smells particularly bad, because it is not just cat pee, but some other chemicals too (more on why later). Usually, a cat will not squat to spray but instead will stay standing. On the other hand, a litterbox problem is just where your cat decides to stop using their litterbox and do their business elsewhere.

So, why does it matter?

Spraying

Spraying an instinctual behaviour that is associated with your cat marking its territory. Cats are very territorial creatures, and like to send out clear (and smelly) signals to other cats that this space belongs to them. Sometimes cats ‘communicate’ other messages through this method too, such as that they are on the lookout for a mate.

Some cats (especially unneutered males) will do this for no ‘real’ reason other than to make sure they are putting their stamp on their home. In addition, it might sound strange, but in the wild spraying can be a sign to other cats that he or she is on the lookout for a romantic partner. This is again while unneutered male cats are most likely to exhibit this behaviour.

The most common reason that a cat will spray, however, is when it has a reason to feel threatened or insecure in its territory.

One of the most common situations is where there are multiple cats in the home. The more cats there are, the more likely that one or more are going to feel threatened and start spraying. Cats are also likely to spray if there are conflicts between the cats in the house, such as if a new cat is introduced or one starts to display aggressive behaviour. Unfortunately, the behaviour can be ‘catching’ as other cats think they better mark their territory, too.

Even if there are no other cats, then your kitty still might get his guard up, for example if he can see other cats or dogs from his viewpoint. This alone might be enough for your cat to decide he better make sure the neighbourhood knows it is his turf.

Your cat may also feel threatened if there is a change in the home. Cats love their routines, and something as simple as a change in the type of feed your offer your feline buddy can cause them to stress out and spray in response. Also, despite their stand offish reputation, most cats like to get attention and feel loved by their humans. If your cat feels he’s being neglected, he might try to get your attention by spraying. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually very effective in winning human’s charms!

These are some of the most common reasons why a cat might be spraying. If you understand the ‘triggers’ for the behaviour, it is a lot easier to fix it.

Litterbox Problems

Sometimes, your cat might not be spraying at all, but just having issues with using their litterbox. This usually isn’t your cat trying to mark their territory but instead a problem with their tray or their health.

Any cat owner will tell you that cats can be very picky, and you can’t blame them for wanting a nice bathroom environment! If your cat suddenly stops using their litterbox, you should make sure that it is a nice environment for your kitty. Make sure:

  • The litterbox is cleaned properly and regularly
  • The litterbox is big enough for your cat to fit comfortably
  • The litter in the box is not too deep (just a couple of inches)
  • There is nothing blocking the entry way to the litterbox
  • The litterbox is private but not making your cat feel trapped
  • The litterbox is easy to climb into, especially for older cats

If you have eliminated any of these issues, then you may want to get your cat checked out by a vet. Many cats are susceptible to urinary tract and kidney infections, and these can sometimes lead to litterbox problems. If you see a sudden change in your cat’s behaviour for no good reason, it is definitely a good idea to get them checked out, just in case.

Now that we have explored some common reasons for cats to spray, we can look at how to change this undesirable behaviour so you can go back to living in harmony with your feline friend.

Emergency Response – What to do Right Away

If you notice that your cat has urinated somewhere inappropriate it is crucial to act fast. Cat pee is notoriously hard to get rid of, and nobody wants their house to have a lingering smell! In addition, if a cat can smell urine somewhere in the home, they are more likely to urinate in that spot again, as it sends a signal to them that that is a good and appropriate bathroom spot.

Therefore, the moment that you notice the cat pee, immediately blot up as much as possible using a paper towel (throw the towels far away). Then, wipe the spot down with water to make sure you have gotten all of the urine. You can then use an enzyme solution such as Nature’s Own to neutralise the smell. Blot this up too.

If that doesn’t get rid of the smell or you don’t have an enzyme cleaner, mix up a combination of vinegar and water and apply liberally to the spot. The vinegar will neutralise the ammonia in cat pee and go a really long way to getting rid of the bad smell.

Once the area has dried, mop thoroughly, preferably with bleach or another disinfectant.

As much as you might be frustrated, there is no point punishing your cat. Spraying is a natural behaviour, and as you are unlikely to catch your cat “in the act”, he’s very unlikely to actually understand why you are mad. It will probably just make the problem worse as it may make him feel more threatened.

Long Term Strategies

Once you have fixed the immediate damage, it is time to think about implementing some strategies to deal with your cats bad behaviour and make sure it doesn’t return. Here are our top strategies for dealing with a cat who sprays.

Firstly, you should neuter your cat if you haven’t already. Unneutered cats, especially males, are far more likely to spray. It can be really difficult to actually put a permanent stop to this behaviour as it is such a hard-wired instinct in unneutered male cats. One of the most effective ways to prevent and/or stop spraying is to neuter your cat.

If you have multiple cats in your household, chances are that this might be the reason one or more of them are spraying. The best thing to do is make sure that your cats don’t feel like they are fighting each other for resources.

This means having a bowl, litterbox and perch for each cat. This will prevent your cats from feeling like they are threatened by the other cats. Specifically for litterboxes, it also means they are less likely to feel like other cats have “invaded” their bathroom space.

If you are not sure who is responsible for the spraying, you may also be able to talk to your vet about using a harmless dye, fluoroscein, to identify who is the culprit.

You should also try to prevent problems in the first place by properly introducing new cats to the family. Cats by nature are often quite solitary, so don’t expect to just introduce a new kitty to the household and have everyone get along. You should introduce them slowly, gradually opening up all of the space in your home so no one feels overwhelmed.

Similarly, if you are planning to make any changes to your routine, such as moving things around or introducing a different type of food, then you should do so gradually and while giving your cat lots of reassurance. While these changes might seem absolutely tiny to us, they can be a huge change for your routine-loving kitty.

If you do not think that the problem is between multiple cats (for example, if you only have one), then it may be that your cat is feeling threatened by other animals they can see outside. A cat is unlikely to understand that the neighbourhood stray can’t get into his house. The easiest way to fix this problem is to keep doors closed, or install curtains, so that your cat doesn’t get spooked by outside influences!

If the problematic behaviour persists, then there are a few additional steps that you can take.

You can try spraying synthetic pheromones in the areas where your cat uses the littertray, or even in the house generally. As spraying is usually caused by anxiety in your cat, these natural aides help relax your pet and make him feel more at ease. Studies have shown that this can be very effective in helping to reduce instances of spraying.

If the behaviour persists, however, it may be necessary to call in a vet. Just like humans, sometimes cats can suffer from clinical anxiety, and may be helped by some medication. Even in the short term, this can be very effective in reducing your cat’s stress and therefore the inappropriate spraying behaviours.

Another problem your vet can check for is, as discussed above, kidney or urinary tract infections that can cause inappropriate urination. This is particularly a big problem in older cats, so if your senior citizen kitty starts leaving marks around the house, it is definitely worth getting an expert to check him over.

So there you have it, a list of things to try if your cat starts to exhibit some troublesome spraying behaviour. It can be really difficult to deal with a cat who is spraying, however do not lose heart – it can be done. Unfortunately, some cats find themselves in shelters because of inappropriate spraying, which is really sad when you know how many options there are to help address this behaviour.

In addition to this article there are lots of great resources out there to help you find ways to fix this behaviour. Speaking to your vet is a good idea, especially if you suspect that there might be a health problem causing your cat’s spraying.

Another great resource is this book: This book will help you to understand your cat even further and prevent them from spraying. This will allow you both to live happily in harmony, with no foul odours for you to smell, and no stress for your beloved pet!

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