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Cat spraying: why cats spray and how to stop cats from spraying

Suppose you've noticed your cat partaking in some less than desirable toileting behaviour, marking walls, objects and anything in the environment with urine. Don't fret; this is not uncommon and usually has nothing to do with needing to go to the toilet. This behaviour could be cat spraying, otherwise known as cat urine marking, which you need to address.

So, what is cat spraying or cat urine marking?

Cat stands backed up near kitchen fridge looking back with concern

Cat spraying is a common behaviour in cats, mostly displayed when your cat is marking their territory or stressed. Changes to your pet’s environment, such as bringing home a new pet or baby, can also lead to cat spraying. There may also be new cats in the area or outside that your cat can sense, even when indoors. For some cats, stress can be caused by even the smallest changes, like moving a chair into a different place of the living room. Simply put, cat spraying is a cat’s way of communicating their unease or stress through a physical response, natural to their instincts.

If you notice this kind of behaviour, think about any major changes in your cat’s life that may have triggered the behaviour, and see if you can adjust anything to make the environment feel like its previous state. It may be a house move, furniture move, new cats in the home and anything in-between – unfortunately, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint.

Consider combating the behaviour by restoring your cat’s sense of territory and comfort, like allowing your cat to have specific spaces to roam in the house, purchase synthetic pheromone products to help ease any major transitions (imitating their pheromones) and always speak to your vet for further advice. Just remember, all cats are different and some cats are more prone to stress than others, so in some instances medicinal help may be required along with some behavioural modification/destination (for a generalised change in personality instead of just restoring sense of territory).

What if you can’t identify if the behaviour is or isn’t cat spraying?

In some cases, if you can’t identify an apparent reason why your cat’s spraying, it may be a symptom of some diseases such as bacterial bladder infections, urinary tract diseases or incontinence. More severe conditions that cause increased urination include kidney failure, liver disease, increased thyroid hormone production and diabetes. All these illnesses should only be diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian.

“It’s important to get a spraying/stressed cat checked out as soon as possible as they’re also very prone to a condition called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. Basically, their brain sending stress signals that would directly affect their urinary tract by causing benign inflammation. Left untreated, it can progress to more serious problems such as urinary tract infection, kidney problems and associated conditions,” says PETstock VET, Dr Natalia Li.

What does it look like when a cat sprays?

“In my experience, cat spraying is one of the most common presentations at behavioural consults/referrals in cats. It’s a urine-marking behaviour where the cat backs itself up against a vertical background and ejects a stream of urine towards that background or an object,” says Dr Li.

As mentioned by PETstock VET, Dr Natalia Li, cat spraying looks like your cat is going to the toilet but with a very particular action sequence. You may notice your cat intensely sniffing a specific area or object before backing up with a stiff tail and quivering before releasing urine. In some cases, your cat may also conduct a similar action, but without the direct vertical back-up.

Around the house, you may notice stains or markings on objects, clothing, and surfaces just like you would when any cat or dog has urinated in the home – just less of it, and often up against objects.

Do female cats spray?

Yes, female cats do spray, but they are less likely than their male counterparts. When female cats spray it’s likely they are experiencing stress and unease.

Do male cats spray?

Yes, male cats do spray and are more likely to do so than females. In some instances, desexing your male cat can help to reduce this cat spraying behaviour, but the underlying cause or issues still need to be addressed. The fact that male cats are far more likely to spray than females indicates a connection to sexual hormones playing a factor in the behaviour, just like desexing does for dogs.

How to stop cats from spraying

Cat hides laying down under chair looking intensely.

Unfortunately, there is no fool proof way of eliminating your cat’s spraying behaviour even if you try some of the most common methods; it’s also natural and shouldn’t be punished. It’s all about ensuring you make your cat feel as comfortable as possible in their environment and supporting anxiety.

“A vet visit is usually warranted for this issue as we need to rule out other pathological reasons why a cat is urinating inappropriately before treating it as a behavioural case instead of a renal case. Additionally, constant undesirable emotion can be an animal welfare issue, which may or may not lead to further pathological health problems,” advises Dr Li.

  • Firstly, it’s important to try and identify (if you can) the reason behind the spraying. If you can address the anxiety or stress with some small environmental adjustments, this should always be the first step, in conjunction with speaking to your vet.
  • If you have a multi-cat household, ensure you have at least 1-2 cat litter trays per cat. Make sure the litter trays are at least 1.5 times the length of the cat (from nose to tail base) both in width and depth.
  • Once your cat has marked their territory through spraying, make sure you eliminate the odour as soon as possible to deter your cat from spraying the same area.
  • Pheromones/pheromone therapy is a great way to address anxiety and stress for cats. Synthetic pheromones are in many products on the market, including the very popular Feliway, which replicates these pheromone signals. Feliway is often used to ease stress, reduce aggression, and ease your cat into a new home.
  • Depending on the severity of the spraying, your cat may require medication and pheromone therapy for the rest of their life. This decision should be guided by your vet only.

What should you do to clean up after cat spraying?

Woman cleans up mess on ground with spray and wipe, with small cat looking on.

Apart from wanting to keep your house smelling and feeling fresh without any hints of cat urine in the air, thoroughly cleaning after cat spraying will help deter and reduce the likelihood of your cat returning to the same spots. Making sure you clean up sufficiently will help your cat and the condition of your house in the long run.

As you can imagine, just like human cleaning products, there are quite a few options out there when it comes to removing urine stains and eliminating pet odours using sprays, solutions and powders. Make sure you read the product descriptions carefully to ensure you are combating the urine with these elements. And to deter further, you can purchase repellent sprays to apply after the cleaning process.

Keen to know more about cat behaviour and health conditions? Keep reading the Pet Smarts blog for everything cats and kittens.

 

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