Why Cats Spray

Even though you may not be able to see it, if your cat sprays in your home you can definitely smell it. The unmistakable odor indicates that all is not peaceful in your cat’s universe. When a cat sprays, it can put everyone in crisis mode and it can put the cat at risk of being relinquished to the shelter, given away or sadly, even euthanized. Many people don’t understand why cats spray so they don’t understand how to effectively deal with it.cat stalking in grass 300x202 Why Cats Spray

Many people misunderstand the motivation behind spray-marking behavior. All-too-often, cat parents simply label the behavior as territorial marking but that isn’t the only reason cats spray. Unless you can uncover the true cause for the behavior, you won’t have much success in stopping it. So it’s time to sharpen your detective skills and do some undercover work.

Spraying vs. Indiscriminate Urination

To start with, you need to know that there’s a difference between spraying and indiscriminate urination. If a cat urinates outside of the litter box it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s spraying. These are two behaviors and can have very different causes. Indiscriminate urination is usually done on horizontal surfaces. Spray-marking is usually done up against vertical objects (although some cats do spray horizontally).

The posture for spraying is different from typical urination. When a cat sprays he typically backs up to the object, twitches his tail and begins treading with his front paws. He may also close his eyes while spraying. When a cat (male or female) displays normal urination, he squats.

When a cat indiscriminately urinates there may be an underlying medical cause or the conditions in the litter box may be unappealing. Even if the box is kept clean there may be something about the set-up that’s not appealing. There could also be something going on in the environment that is causing stress to the cat or making him feel as if it’s not safe to use the litter box.

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Communication is Why Cats Spray

When a cat sprays, it’s a form of communication. Surprising to many cat parents, both male and female cats can spray. I’ve seen so many cases where cat parents completely overlooked the female cat and were convinced (incorrectly) it was the male doing the spraying. The pheromones in urine spray reveal lots of information about the sprayer. It’s the feline version of a resume. A cat may spray-mark his territory to define the perimeter for other cats. He may also spray to create a familiar scent in his territory. Some cats will spray a family member’s belongings, not as a way of territorial marking but rather, as a way of self-soothing by mixing scents. Since scent and familiarity play important roles in the feline world, some cats spray new objects that are brought into the environment.iStock 000009472241XSmall1 300x199 Why Cats Spray

Confident and non-confident cats spray. A confident cat may spray as a grand display of his victory after a confrontation with another cat. A less-than confident kitty might spray-mark as a form of covert aggression. It’s a way of giving a warning without actually having to risk a physical altercation.

The information in the sprayed urine reveals information such as age, sex, sexual availability and status. These are important facts when it comes to cat-to-cat communication, especially in an outdoor environment where close encounters could result in injury or death.

Not all cats spray and if you gradually ease your cat through changes in his life such as the introduction of a new spouse, new pet, new baby, new house, etc., you’ll greatly reduce the chances that he’ll feel the need to spray. And of course, if you have an intact male cat you stand a 100% chance of spray-marking behavior so it’s a very wise idea to have him neutered. If your intact male is currently displaying spray-marking behavior, having him neutered will, in almost all cases, stop the spraying behavior.

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For step-by-step information on dealing with a cat who sprays, refer to Pam’s books Starting from Scratch or Think Like a Cat. For multicat households, refer to the book Cat vs. Cat. They all contain in-depth chapters on spraying behavior and indiscriminate urination.

Note: This article is not meant as a medical diagnosis. If your cat is displaying any type of litter box aversion or a change in behavior, contact your veterinarian because there could be an underlying medical cause.

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Cat Behavior Comments

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About Pam Johnson-Bennett

Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of the international hit TV series "PSYCHO KITTY" airing in the UK on Animal Planet and in Canada on Nat Geo Wild. She is award-winning author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.

7 comments

  1. What are some signs I can look for to be able to tell if its territorial marking or self soothing? I have a neutered male cat who I’ve seen spray and 5 other cats. We’ve had them all for a long Whatime and everyone seems to get along well. Then suddenly almost 2 years ago my one cat started spraying, indoors and out. There were no changes in our lives like a new cat or anything. He started acting aggresive towards a neighborhood cat around the same time too. I’ve tried feliway and giving him positive reinforcement when he’s around the other cats and being good incase he has a problem with them and I dont know it. I’m also making sure to clean up everything with an enzyme cleaner.
    We’re moving soon and I want to try to help him before we move because I know that will be a big stress and don’t want it to make him spray even more. How can I get this under control?

    I’ve bought your books and waiting for them in the mail but thought maybe someone can provide some tips while I’m waiting. Thanks for your time!

  2. I also forgot to add that he was checked out by our vet and he found nothing to medical causing him to spray and placed him on cat Prozac which did nothing to help with the spraying.

    • Tabitha, if he’s allowed outdoors and is encountering another cat, that could cause him to become more territorial when he returns indoors. That could also be a reason for him to become hostile toward his companion cats. If there’s a way to keep in indoors, that would be a good start.

      Spraying behavior is complex and is too difficult to answer in a forum such as this without a complete behavior history. Hopefully, when you get the books, you’ll have a step-by-step process to work with. If you still have questions, feel free to contact our office about arranging a consultation.

      Good luck. I hope the books are helpful to you.

  3. Jennifer Novotny

    Interestingly enough my (all neutered) male cats have sprayed less since we allowed this one male to travel outdoors (with claws). The other cats in the house never quite accepted him and with him venturing out of the house they all feel a little more secure. The cats inside the house are declawed. Could they feel threatened by the one because of the claws?

  4. i have a male cat that was a stray,i got him neutred and he new he was onto a good thing so he stayed around.i also have 2 female sister cats who give him a bit of a hard time but he seems well able and does seem to bring it on sometimes.he sprays in the house,is there anything i can do to stop him spraying?
    Thanks

  5. My male cat will not stop peeing on a 2 month old new bed!He should be ok with it by now? What’s up with that?