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 puts kitty 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.
Many people misunderstand the motivation behind spray-marking behavior. All-too-often, owners 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.
Communication is Why Cats Spray
When a cat sprays, it’s a form of communication. Surprising to many owners, both male and female cats can spray. I’ve seen so many cases where owners 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 an owner’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 a cat’s life, he may spray a new object in the environment.
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.
Need More Help about Cat Peeing?
For step-by-step information on dealing with a cat who sprays, refer to the 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. You can also contact our office for a private telephone consultation or email consultation.
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.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is 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. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.