Cat Spraying Problems

Why Does Your Cat Spray?

You love your cat. He is a wonderful companion. You had him neutered. So why is he spraying in the house? This is a very frustrating problem for pet parents to deal with.  It is messy and it smells bad. Let’s first look at why it is happening and then at some solutions.

Marking Their Territory

Most often, cats will rub up against surfaces, furniture, or even their owners to leave scent and claim their territory and belongings. If you have more than one cat, you may have noticed that after one cat has been to the vet, other cats in the household will hiss, growl, and even swat at him after he returns. There is one cat in my household who will continue this behavior with the offending cat for a week or longer before she accepts that cat back into the fold. And this is after a 15 minute visit with the vet! That is a reflection of how strong of a role scent plays in a cat’s life.

Cats Communicate Using Scent

Cats rub against their humans, against each other, and against objects in the environment to leave their scent and communicate with other cats that this is their territory. Scent glands located in their cheeks, paws, and flanks leave scent behind as they rub against furniture, door jambs, each other, and our legs.

In multi-cat households, all of this rubbing marks territories and creates bonds between the cats. When cats in the household approach each other, they smell each other, recognize one another, then may start grooming each other. This reinforces the bonds between them and decrease any tensions between them.

Cats may also mark their territory by scratching. In addition to the destruction that they cause through this behavior, they are also leaving scent behind.  They have scent on the pads of their feet and scratching transfers scent.

Cats need to have something to scratch. They need to be redirected to scratch on scratching posts or cardboard scratchers to satisfy their need to scratch and mark their territory without destroying your furniture, the woodwork, and your purse.

Urine Spraying and Squatting as a Means of Marking Territory

When a cat stands near a wall or other vertical surface and urinates, he is spraying, or marking territory. Marking territory is also accomplished by urinating on horizontal surfaces, such as furniture or items that are on the floor.

I have a cat that will mark on any plastic bag that happens to fall on the floor if it is not picked up quickly. He will also spray on trash bags. I think it has something to do with the smell of the plastic. These marking activities are not related to problems with using the litter box.

Your cat could be suffering from a medical problem such as a urinary tract infection or a urinary blockage.  A cat with these problems, may spray or squat to urinate in front of you and meow to get your attention. Other tactics include urinating in the bathtub or sink. Your cat will need medical attention to treat these problems. Both conditions are painful, but a blockage can be fatal in a very short time.

Spraying Due to Mating Behaviors and Stress

Your unaltered male cat’s marking can also be due to mating behaviors. The best solution to this is to have the cat neutered as soon as possible. This should solve most marking behaviors. The best solution with males is to neuter them before marking becomes an issue, by no later than five months of age.

Cats also mark territory due to stressors in their environment. Stressors can include many situations that change in your cat’s environment, such as new pets, owners on vacation, and stray cats roaming into your back yard. When cats are anxious due to changes in routine or environment, one of their defense mechanisms is to  mark territory. This accomplishes two things for the cat. He is telling you that he is stressed and he is relieving his anxiety by staking his claim to his territory.

Multicat Households are More Tricky

You may have some detective work ahead of you in a multicat household unless you catch your sprayer in the act. You can isolate each male in turn, which may backfire. If stress caused the problem, isolation may eliminate the stress and the spraying. Another method is to add an animal safe fluorescent dye to one cat’s wet food and use a black light to track the urine spray to try to determine whether that cat is marking.  If this doesn’t work on the first round, after the dye clears his system, work with the other cat in the same way.  This is not an exact science since just doing the isolation may change the behavior of both cats.

Make Changes to the Environment

The first thing that needs to be done is to clean up the mess and eliminate the cat urine smell.   Spray is unsightly against a wall and furniture and carpeting will harbor the smells. The cleaner should be something gentle because strong cleaners may encourage your cat to spray to remark his territory.

Try to block your cat’s access to his favorite marking areas. If there areas can’t be blocked, you may need to repurpose them, for example, by feeding your pet in those areas, playing, or giving treats there. This will help him not to associate the area with marking.

A tactic that I use is to keep items that my cats like to mark off the floor. This includes groceries in plastic bags that I am trying to empty after shopping, purses, suitcases, and items visitors bring in with them.

Try to Eliminate All of the Obvious Stressors

Eliminating stress due to looking at animals outside the house  can be accomplished by blocking your pet’s access to windows that look out to areas where these animals can be seen.  Blocking the noises from animals outside can be blocked with music.   If your cat becomes anxious while you are making all of these changes, you may need to take him to the vet to get some medication for his anxiety, since high anxiety can cause more spraying.

A positive environmental change that can be made is to start using Feliway pheromone products in the home. These are artificial cat pheromones that are released through a special heated plug-in dispenser. The pheromones decrease stress for your pet to help decrease marking activities and to decrease anxiety.

It isn’t easy to stop the spraying. Working with your pet and consulting with your vet will get you on the right track to eliminating this difficult problem. Both you and your cat will be less stressed.

Please leave me a post and let me know how this is working with your pet.

Best wishes.


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