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Why Cats Spray

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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 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.

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.

Note: whenever you’re dealing with any behavior that involves a cat not using the litter box, it’s crucial you have him examined by the veterinarian. Even if you’re sure the problem is behavioral, it’s important to rule out underlying medical causes.

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 different behaviors and can have different causes. Indiscriminate urination is usually done on horizontal surfaces. Spray-marking is usually done up against vertical objects but some cats will spray regardless of whether there is a vertical surface present. In this case, the sprayed urine will form a thin line as opposed to the typical puddle during urination.

quote from dr. haug

 

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The posture for spraying is different from normal 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 usually 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 causing stress to the cat or making him feel as if it’s not safe to use the litter box.

8 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.

  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?

  6. This was a pretty helpful article. I am at my wit’s end with my 14 year old neutered male cat, Merlin. The spraying started around the time my crazy, aggressive kitten, Abomination grew into adulthood, however Merlin was treated for a urinary infection which probably exacerbated things. Now the infection is healed but he is perimeter spraying everywhere, all over both the front and back doors, in the laundry room, even in my bedroom where the kitten is not allowed (the older cat has 100% access to the bedroom through an electronic pet door that the kitten cannot get into.) The house reeks. For fourteen years we were that house where nobody knew we had a cat… now it’s obvious from first walking in the door. I’ve even steam-cleaned the rugs, it’s just pointless because he soils them all over again. He does it two feet in front of me, my presence is zero deterrent at all.

    I’ve spoken three times with the vet and she is convinced the spraying is due to outdoor cats, not the kitten. The cats are now both on Zoloft transdermal to calm them down, but it will be a few weeks before we see an effect, if any. I am truly stressed and have spent hundreds of dollars trying to fix the problem, including buying a new cat tree, the aforementioned very expensive electronic pet door, and adding a big litter box to the living room (where it all began.)

    I have days where I want to ship them both to Abu Dhabi, Garfield-style.

    I guess I just want to vent. At any rate, I’m going to try some of these behavioral tips to see if it helps at all. I’m encouraged by the idea that I haven’t ”tried everything” because it sure feels that way. I have a very flexible, open-ended schedule which means they don’t have a lot of routine either. I’m going to really try to work on that.

  7. i have two kittens, Oreo (cali) and Tiger(tabby),i think Oreo is the one who is spraying. how can i stop it my kitten oreo is only spray on ME!!

  8. I have a female cat that turned 1 on February 26,2018. When we lived in our 3 bedroom house she wasn’t marking/spraying anything. I have a male cat that is nutered and another female that’s older. Anyways my youngest cat goes into heat every other week but she pees inside of anything that is not the litter box (laundry baskets, bath tub, etc.) She has an appointment May 7th to be fixed. I don’t know what to do about her I’ve had her since she was born and she has never done this. My partner and I of almost a year moved to a 1 bedroom apt in March, but she didn’t start marking things til probably about April ish.she poops in the litter box but pees inside of everything else ( but not on the floor) like laundry baskets and the tub,I have tried disciplining her but she wont stop. Any ideas on what I should do? Please help I don’t want to have to get rid of her

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