If you have a cat, you’ve probably seen this behavior called “spraying” before (even if you didn’t know what was going on) or you’ve seen and smelled the after-effect.
In the cat world, spraying is a term that’s used to describe when a cat spontaneously urinates in a place that isn’t the proper place to relieve themselves, like a litter box. It is commonly referred to as a cat marking its territory.
This behavior is common in both male and female cats because it is a way for them to claim an area of space as their own.
Cats can’t talk, so scent plays a huge role in communication with other felines and even other animals. However, as the owner of a cat, you probably find this behavior incredibly annoying and want to find a way to stop it.
The good news is, there are a variety of methods you can easily implement to get your cat to stop spraying immediately. We’ll discuss those methods below and why your cat is even doing this in the first place.
How do I know if my cat is spraying or simply urinating in the wrong spot?
Unlike their canine counterparts who urinate in a variety of ways, almost all cats relieve themselves in the same way, by squatting and releasing a stream of urine on whatever is underneath them.
Unless their litter box is very dirty or somehow unavailable, they will always urinate in that same spot.
However, when a cat sprays, he or she typically backs up to an item that is vertical (like a couch, a wall, or event another animal), lifts its tail, and sprays a small amount of urine.
That being said, some cats do spray or mark their territory while squatting. Typically, this is a behavior you’d expect more out of a female cat.
The main difference between urination and spraying is that the cat will squirt out only a small amount of urine versus relieving himself completely.
You can also identify if a cat is spraying by looking at their urine. If a cat is spraying he or she will release a much smaller amount of urine than what is released into their litter box.
Compare the urine that your cat is releasing outside of the litter box to what he releases inside the litter box to gauge if your cat is spraying.
The urine released when a cat sprays also smells different than their regular urine. There’s no getting around it; cat urine smells terrible on a normal day.
However, the urine that’s released when a cat sprays contains extra pheromones that make it extra smelly to the human nose.
Why is my cat doing this?
The scent is so powerful to your cat. It is a way for him to communicate messages to other cats and other animals since a meow doesn’t always convey what he is feeling.
Cats have a natural urge to mark or own their territory and while they can do that by rubbing their fur on an item, urine certainly leaves a very personalized statement to other creatures.
You’ll likely find that your cat sprays or marks his territory only in his home. This is because cats are very tied to their homes and very protective.
They leave their mark or their scent on their territory so that if they have to leave, any animal who visits while they are gone will know that the area is already claimed.
This behavior stems from a cat’s connection to his wild ancestors. While wild cats don’t spray a house or an apartment, they have an even more important job.
They have to spray the area where their newborn kittens are sleeping or the tall grass where they sleep at night and keep their scraps of food.
As you can see from this YouTube video even large feline creatures, like tigers, exhibiting territory marking behaviors.
In this video, the white tiger sprays the other tiger, letting him know that this was his place first. In the wild, this behavior is ok, but in your home, it needs to be fixed!
If my cat isn’t spraying, can she still mark her territory?
As we’ve touched on above, spraying is just one way that cats can claim their territory. Understand that you really can’t stop your cat from marking his or her territory.
What you can do is train them to do it in a way that is more appropriate for an indoor setting and less off-putting to you.
Cats marking their territory is totally normal. Instead of spraying, your cat can mark his or her territory by rubbing their paws, fur or face on the item that is theirs.
Cats have scent glands in these areas, so when they rub on you or whatever item it is, it allows the cat to lay claim to that item.
Essentially, this tells other cats to stay away. While you’d think it causes fights, this actually establishes natural boundaries and can help cats in a multi-cat home get along better.
When the cats first meet, they will sniff each other and familiarize themselves with each other’s scent. When they smell that scent on people, furniture or pet beds, the other cat will know to proceed with caution.
This YouTube video does a great job of showing the different ways that cats mark their territory by rubbing their scent on an object.
As you can see in this video, even behaviors you might see as playful, like a cat continuously rubbing his or her paws on the side of your couch, is actually a mechanism to mark his territory.
Here’s another great YouTube video. This one shows a cat rubbing the area surrounding her food and water bowl.
Someone looking at this behavior might initially think that the cat is playing with her food or water but what she is actually doing is letting other cats know that this is her food and they should stay away!
Can Cats Mark Their Territory by Scratching an Object?
The short answer is an absolute yes! As we previously mentioned, cats have scent glands in their paws.
When your cat is scratching something, like the side of your couch or your curtains, he or she isn’t bored. They are simply trying to leave their scent on that item!
There’s a quick fix for this kind of territory marking. Just pick up a scratching post like this one from your favorite local pet store or Amazon.
This one is great for a multi-cat home since it has three posts. It will also attract your cats since it has a ball attached for your cats to play with.
You could also get a scratching post that is an area for your cat to rest like this one from Amazon. Keep in mind if you do get your cat a scratching post like this, you should get one for each cat that you have in your home.
If your cats want to share their lounge area, it should be their decision, that is made after the cats have bonded.
Could there be other reasons why my cat is spraying, besides marking his territory?
While the likelihood is that your cat is simply claiming what he believes is his, if the spraying is paired with other behaviors, there could be other things going on. Below, we’ll review some of these other reasons.
However, if you suspect that the spraying could be due to another medical condition, it is best if you seek the help of a trusted vet immediately.
Just like humans, cats can also experience issues with their urinary tract system. According to the American Humane Society, if your cat has a urinary tract infection, he or she might start urinating more frequently. It might be painful for them to urinate and could even lead to them having flu-like symptoms.
Cats are intelligent creatures. What you might think is spraying is actually your cat urinating in front of you, because he wants you to know that he has a problem that needs fixing.
They also might start urinating in other places outside of their litter box, like the bathtub, the laundry room sink, concrete floors or your shower.
This YouTube video goes through the common signs you’ll exhibit if he or she has a urinary tract infection.
Remember, while this video gives good tips and can help you identify if your cat has bigger issues than just spraying, you should still see your veterinarian to seek treatment if you suspect your cat has an infection.
These infections are painful, so check out these soft chews from Amazon that promote urinary tract health. They can help your cat feel some relief from the burning sensation they might be feeling and prevent them from happening in the future.
Male cats are especially prone to blockages in their urinary tract system, which is an even more severe problem.
A blockage often can only be resolved with surgery, so if you suspect it is a blockage, visit your veterinarian immediately. Some signs include not using the litterbox and frequently licking or touching his genitals.
This YouTube video shows a cat who has a blockage and answers some frequently asked questions.
It explains the prognosis for your cat and even how much you can expect the surgery to cost.
A dirty litterbox
Cats are extremely picky about their litter boxes. If it is not to their liking, they will urinate elsewhere. They might even start spraying to let their human owner know that things need to change.
As a rule, you should always have one more litter box than the number of cats you have. So, if you have two cats, you should have at least three litter boxes to accommodate them. Make sure that you are cleaning these litter boxes daily to prevent accidents or spraying.
If cleaning a litter box isn’t your thing, get a self-cleaning litterbox like this one! It sifts through and cleans the litter and even has a step that ensures that your cat’s paws are free from the litter when stepping out of the box.
There is also a wide variety of types of litter. There’s a brand that uses rolled up newspaper pieces, one that uses larger chunks of litter, others that are a finer blend. Try a few different kinds out to see what your cat likes best and then stick with it!
Clean up the litterbox and you might instantly fix the issues you have with your cat spraying various items!
The Outside Environment
Do you ever notice your indoor cat staring at the outside world? Maybe they bat at birds that sit outside the window or meow loudly at stray or neighbor cats that walk by.
Either way, cats love looking at the outdoors and are able to clearly see what is going on out there!
While these stimuli can be good for some cats, for others, it is extremely stressful. When your cat sees other cats prowling around his home, this freaks him out! He might feel like he has to reassert his claim to his home and might start spraying.
Besides simply closing your blinds or leaving your cat in an enclosed room while you’re gone for the day, there are things you can do.
If, for example, you have a front door with glass inserts, consider putting up a frosted-style adhesive over the transparent areas. This will allow light to still shine through but will distort what your cat is able to see.
When it comes to a glass adhesive, this is a great choice that you can apply to the bottom of all of your windows!
Stress or Anxiety
Believe it or not, your cats can get stressed out and exhibit anxious behaviors, just like you! Whether your cat has recently been adopted and is just getting used to his or her new home or perhaps there has been a significant change to his life, your cat can get stressed out by it!
Other stressors include the adoption of a new cat, the birth of a child, the birth of a new litter of kittens or even a change in the weather!
Cats love routine. You might notice that they perform the same behaviors every single day. They want their food at the same time, they want to sleep in familiar places, interact with familiar humans and other living creatures.
If even the slightest part of their routine changes (for example, having to take a car ride to the veterinarian or staying a night at a boarding facility) your cat can exhibit some major behavior changes.
One of those stress-based behaviors is marking. They want to reestablish their territory and feel safe and secure, and spraying helps them to establish this.
Since cats can’t speak, they exhibit their stress in a variety of ways. If your cat is spraying and exhibiting the behaviors that you see in this YouTube video, it is time to head to the veterinarian for a second opinion.
There are some great products on Amazon that you can use to ease your cat’s stress.
If you know that your cat will be going through a stressful situation, you can buy a Rescue Remedy.
You can simply use the dropper to put a little of this solution on your cat’s food or in her water leading up to the event to help calm her down.
A desire to mate
If your cat isn’t spayed or neutered (known as intact) you’ll find that he or she has a desire to mate and that leads to some odd and sometimes troubling behaviors.
Spraying is a behavior that tells you your cat is looking to multiply! You can very easily solve this problem by getting your cat fixed.
This is a much bigger problem with male cats than female cats. In fact, here’s a YouTube video to show exactly what we’re talking about. Does this look like your cat?
According to Vetstreet, getting your cat fixed is a good idea for many reasons, including improved health overall. However, it is important to get your cat fixed as soon as possible.
Typically, as soon as your cat has this easy surgery, the behavior will stop, but if it has been going on for years it may be harder to stop. It could also never stop if it has become a routine or habit for the cat.
Do Female Cats Spray?
It is well-known that male cats (even those who are fixed) spray to show dominance or when they’re in heat. Did you know that female cats can also spray?
As mentioned above, cats spray for more reasons than just being in heat or when they want to assert dominance. In fact, according to the vets at Feliway, if your cat isn’t spraying for those reasons, you really need to pay attention because it is likely a serious issue.
While it is far rarer for female or neutered male cats to spray, they will do it when they are scared, anxious, have some sort of issue with their litterbox or because there’s some other underlying anxiety issue.
When a female cat starts spraying, it could be bladder stones, a urinary tract infection bladder stones or some other illness, causing bladder inflammation.
My cat just sprayed. Now, what do I do to stop her from doing it again?
First, make sure that you clean the area appropriately. According to Animal Planet, clean the area with an enzymatic cleaner that will not only remove the smell for you but will deter your cat from spraying or urinating there again.
Cleaners like bleach or those made to clean-up human messes might confuse your cat and he might start marking there more aggressively.
This enzymatic cleaner won’t stain your furniture or carpet, is antibacterial and removes the scent of urine for both you and your cat. Cats repeatedly spray the same spot, so if the scent is gone, he will likely not spray there again.
You can also try this enzymatic cleaner. It is all-natural and doesn’t use some of the harsh chemicals that can be found in other cleaners.
Once the area has been cleaned, take away its importance to your pet. If you see that your cat is constantly marking one area of your living room or a specific piece of furniture, make a point to feed your cat in that area or play with him or her on the furniture.
Instead of being a special area, that place where your cat was once marking has now become commonplace.
If that doesn’t work, you can make the area that your cat is marking unattractive to them by spraying it with a cat repellant spray.
This spray from PetSafe uses a motion detector to spray your cats when they approach an area where they frequently spray. The best part is, it works even while you’re not at home!
You can also try introducing pheromones into your home. According to WebMD, these pheromones can help ease your cat’s anxiety and quell their hormonal desires. This is an extremely safe option to try out, there are almost no known adverse effects.
The best part is this process is extremely easy. Most pheromones are introduced into your home via a diffuser, just like the kind that you use with your own favorite scents.
This diffuser from Feliway is extremely popular and helps ease both anxiety and stress on your cat that causes marking or spraying behaviors.
I have multiple cats. How do I know which one is spraying?
You can figure out who is marking by process of elimination. First, if you have multiple cats, it is likely your male cat, especially if that cat isn’t neutered. However, even if he is neutered, it is far more likely to be your male cat than your female cats.
However, if you have only female cats or other dynamics are at play, your veterinarian can help you determine which cat is spraying.
According to the ASPCA, there is a harmless dye called fluorescein that can be consumed by your cat. It doesn’t leave a mark on your furniture but will turn a fluorescent blue under a UV light.
This YouTube video shows how a veterinarian can safely give fluorescein to a cat and how easy it is to use. It is very safe and will quickly allow you to decipher which cat is responsible.
However, if you’re afraid to use fluorescein, or it is not available in your area, you can still figure out which cat is spraying quite easily.
Simply confine one of your cats to a room like a bathroom or a bedroom for a day or two. Confine them one at a time, then check that room and see if there are any signs of spraying to determine which cat is responsible.
I think my cat has no other issues and is just spraying to mark his territory. Besides the suggestions above, what else can I do?
Provide areas where your cat can be alone.
Just like humans, cats need their space! If you have multiple cats in your home, your cat that is spraying might just need some alone time. You can help your cat achieve this by occasionally confining him to her to a room.
However, some cats will find this stressful. They want to be away from other cats, but they don’t want to think they’re missing out on anything.
The perfect solution to this is a cat tree! Some of the best cat trees that are out on the market. If you’re really crafty, you can make one yourself.
Otherwise, check out this highly-rated option on Amazon!
As you can see in the photo, with all of the different levels and even a hammock and cubby hole, your cats can enjoy their space while enjoying this cat tree at the same time!
Play with your cats!
According to the ASPCA, cats desire to spend time with their owners. They also have a lot of energy, especially if they are kittens. Cats typically love playing with sparkly items or things that dangle from a stick.
When your cats play together, it can stop them from fighting and increase their bond. That will stop the spraying behavior.
However, be aware that this could have the opposite effect if your cats really dislike one another! Be sure to read up on cat aggression before trying this method.
Don’t make your cats share resources.
If you have multiple cats, are you keeping all of their food and water bowls in one place? While they do like the routine of having their food in the same place, mix it up a bit!
According to Doctors Foster and Smith, you should place the cats’ food bowls and toys in different places across the house so that each of your cats can lay claim to one of them!
Keep new scents away from your cats.
If you know that your cat is prone to marking, keep new scents away from him or her. For example, if you go to visit a friend’s home, take your clothes off when you get home and put them directly in your washing machine.
When you have friends come over, put your cat up in another room so there are no attempts to spray your guest!
Of course, should you have a guest that chooses to stay over, put their belongings up and don’t let your cat into the room where they’re staying?
I’ve tried everything. Nothing seems to be working. What now?
If after reading this article and putting the suggestions listed above into place you’re not seeing any results, there is still hope.
Keep in mind, change can be very quick but be patient: it can also take months! Keep trying, and if after a couple of months there is no change, consider these methods.
First, some cats are just anxious by nature. If that’s the case, see your veterinarian. They can advise if a low-dose of anxiety medication is appropriate your cat. Spraying is often indicative of a bigger issue, like high levels of stress, a conflict between your cats, or anxiety.
In particular, it is recommended that you ask your veterinarian to connect you with a certified veterinary behaviorist.
These are veterinarians who have gone through extra schooling to specifically study animal behavior and determine what medications would be best for them.
They also will work with your veterinarian to ensure that your cat is getting top-notch care all around.
According to Dr. Gary Landsburg from Merck drugs like sertraline, fluoxetine and buspirone are commonly used to treat anxiety.
It is something that pet owners can feel confident exploring. Cats have successfully been using these and other medications for decades with great results!
Medication is a good option, but it is not for every cat. Sometimes, cats just don’t get along in a multi-cat household. It doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of your cat. It just means you must find out what isn’t working and fix it!
Just like a certified veterinary behaviorist will work with your normal vet to find the right medications to ease your cat’s anxiety, an animal behaviorist will work with you and your vet to stop the spraying behavior.
An animal behaviorist will visit your home, assess what might be causing your cat to be anxious, aggressive or stressful. He or she will be able to see even things that you as the owner are not privy to.
Never give up. Spraying is a very easy problem to fix, you’ve just got to find the right solution!