Why Do Cats Spray? How to Stop the Behavior and What triggers a cat to spray? If you have ever had a cat who sprays, undoubtedly the sense of frustration and betrayal you feel is overwhelming. What can you do without harming your cat? Why is your beloved cat spraying in the first place?
Spraying, a specific class of urine marking in cats, is a behavioral rather than a medical challenge. There are three approaches to the question of how to stop cats from spraying.
The most effective way to curb a cat’s behavior is to eliminate the cause. If the habit of spraying becomes ingrained, you may have to resort to deterrents. And finally, you can attempt behavior modification on specific forms of spraying.
Male spraying is particularly offensive because of the frequency and noxious smell. We address the causes of feline spraying and some steps you can take to prevent it and stop it.
How can you tell when your cat is spraying?
Spraying is a behavior whereby your cat uses a small amount of urine to communicate his or her status to other cats and animals.
It resembles urine marking, although spraying involves a cat backing up to a vertical surface. Unneutered males are the most likely candidates for spraying but neutered Toms and females may also spray under certain circumstances.
What is the difference between urine marking and spraying?
Spraying is a very small category of urine marking. Most cats that urinate inappropriately are not technically spraying.
Your cat may spray for a variety of reasons
Cats commonly spray for two reasons. Hormones are the driving force behind both. Spraying allows cats to communicate without necessarily making physical contact.
However, marking does not prevent all fights between cats. Despite the minute amounts of urine released with marking it has a potent odor.
Males marking territory
Unneutered Toms almost always mark their territory by spraying. They have the largest territories of any cats, and they mark areas where females are.
Males effectively are telling rivals to stay away. They will spray any vertical surface including walls, trees, houseplants, and table legs.
Females signifying their readiness to mate
Unspayed females are the second largest group of cats that spray. They mark their territories while at the same time letting males in the area know when they go into heat.
How to stop cats from urinating depends on their motivation
If your cat is urinating outside of its litter box, you should take a multifaceted approach to solve the issue.
Rule out medical reasons for inappropriate urination
One of the first challenges you face when your cat eliminates inappropriately is figuring out if it is spraying or marking.
If your cat has a health problem that you can address that will stop her from eliminating outside of the litter box, then you may not have a spraying problem after all.
There could be health reasons for marking
Your veterinarian will rule out possible causes of inappropriate urination with a couple of basic tests to begin. Health issues can cause behavior that resembles urine marking or spraying.
Blood chemistries are full of information about kidney and liver function, protein concentrations, and blood sugar. Most of these changes will manifest as increased or decreased urination but can occur frequently outside of the litter box.
A urinalysis will tell your medical professional whether your cat can concentrate her urine or whether she might have a urinary tract infection. Dilute urine may indicate kidney damage as do certain types of casts visualized under the microscope.
Cases of increased thirst and urination indicate inappropriate urination rather than marking or spraying.
However, a UTI can very well resemble marking with cats straining to release small spots of urine in multiple locations. A urinalysis is helpful because you may not be able to see any blood just by looking at the urine on your carpet.
The following list illustrates examples of health causes of inappropriate urination in cats.
- Skeletal injury
- Hip dysplasia
- Cystitis – Any causes of inflammation of the urinary bladder can lead to inappropriate urination; UTI, urinary bladder stones, urinary crystals
- Postsurgical pain – Pain management is crucial because cats in pain can easily make urinating outside of the litter box a habit; Declaws, spays, orthopedic procedures
- Hyperthyroidism – Common in older cats whereby they have an overactive thyroid gland
- Visual impairment
- Decreased sense of smell
- Obstipation – Cats may try to solve problems with constipation by going outside of the litter box; Inappropriate urination can follow
- Cognitive dysfunction in older cats – Signs in addition to inappropriate urination can include failure to greet you anymore, decreased affection, greater isolation, inconsistent appetite
Treat medical reasons for inappropriate urination
Your veterinarian can help you remove most medical causes of inappropriate urination in your cat.
Cystitis most closely resembles spraying and treatment involves removal of crystals, using antibiotics for bacterial infections, prescribing anti-inflammatories for urethral discomfort and bladder inflammation, and surgery and biopsies if indicated.
Fortunately, urinary stones in cats are rare relative to dogs. However, crystals can block the urethra, especially in male felines.
Many such cats can experience relief and clearance with an indwelling urinary catheter, but occasionally, one will require surgery that expands the urethral opening.
With causes of polyuria (increased urination) and polydipsia (increased drinking), resolving the underlying disorder will usually eliminate inappropriate urination if it does not become habitual.
There is more to hormonal spraying than estrus
You may think that you have neutered your cat so there should be no further spraying. While territorial marking and estrus are the most common motivations behind your cat spraying, many hormones can trigger urine marking.
Anxiety and stress are the next most common reasons for marking for an unfixed pet. Stress marks how a cat reacts to his environment, other cats, or people in his life.
- Multiple cat household – Your cat is having trouble getting along with a particular individual
- Cats in the neighborhood – Your cat may react to the scent of cats in the neighborhood or even to the signals they are leaving by marking
- Not enough resources – If you have a large number of cats all living in the same house, one or multiple cats may perceive a limited amount of food, hiding places, beds, or litter boxes
How do you prevent spraying?
As is true of many challenges, prevention is more effective spraying than anything else.
Neuter or spay your pet
Spraying is largely hormonal, so spaying or neutering your cat will eliminate the need to mark in close to 90% or more of cats.
The easiest cure flows into a set of logical conclusions. Spayed cats no longer go into heat and therefore have no reason to advertise estrus. Neutered cats have decreased levels of testosterone and thus a lower desire and urge to mark their territory.
The ideal timeframe to neuter a male cat is between the ages of four and six months. Toms potentially reach puberty at quite a young age and, in some cases, five months old is too late.
A queen usually experiences its first estrus between 22 and 28 weeks old. Your goal should be to neuter or spay your cat before spraying develops in the first place.
This makes sense when you consider that 5 to 10% of cats may still spray after you neuter them, according to Manhattancats.
Put outdoor cats out of sight and out of mind
If you have an indoor cat and you know she may be stressed by the activities of her outdoor relatives, you can take a few steps to ease her anxiety.
Especially when you are away from the residence, try to remove your cat’s access from rooms adjoining doors and windows near heavily trafficked outdoor areas.
By doing this, you may also be able to cut down on your cat’s exposure to certain smells. Moreover, can keep certain windows covered so your pet cannot see other cats.
Pay attention to the times when your cat is most agitated and focus your sequestering efforts during these periods.
Increase resources such as litter boxes
You should provide litter boxes to match the number of cats you have plus an additional box. Therefore, if you have three cats, you should provide four litter boxes. You would do well to apply the same principle to beds.
Another thing to take into consideration is food bowls. Some cats do well with free-feeding while others will overeat or guard food.
If you have multiple cats and they do not have the same feeding habits or cannot eat together amicably, it is best to separate them during meal times. Fights among stressed cats often start with subtle hostile acts that can escape human detection.
Address issues where household cats are not getting along
You may need to separate your cats if they are not getting along. Attempt to reintroduce them at a later time once you identify the two cats that are the most at odds with one another.
Also, if you have more than one cat, spend time making their times together positive experiences.
Like dogs, you can give them treats when they are in the same room together. If they walk on a leash, try to walk them together. Engage in cuddling sessions with two or three cats nearby.
When pheromones first came out for feline behavioral modification, there was a lot of skepticism. However, according to Time, cat pheromones can be extremely effective for mild to moderate anxiety.
You can apply a pheromone diffuser system to multicat households, for cats experiencing stress from outdoor strays, and in other situations where stress plays a significant role in spraying. Pheromones work within a few days but the effects are dependent on continued use.
Antidepressants can help prevent spraying
Most commonly, your vet will prescribe a tricyclic antidepressant and drugs like Prozac that act on serotonin levels. Clomipramine, or Clomicalm, is in the same pharmaceutical class as amitriptyline.
Such drugs aim to relieve anxiety, and they generally take three to six months to exhibit their full effects.
Training can deter spraying in some cases
If you are willing to spend extensive time training your cat, you may be able to modify some spraying behaviors that are unrelated to stress.
If your cat first started marking, you can clean the area well and prevent your cat’s access to it.
You may also start litter training again to reinforce the desired behaviors. Eliminate the reasons for litter box avoidance.
- Dislike the smell, texture, or size of the litter; try switching to larger or finer, or odorless
- Do not like the litter box – Try uncovered or covered
- Try cleaning the litter box more frequently