Cat Behavior 101: What is Causing My Cat to Spray and How can I fix it?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get when people realize I’ve had an overabundance of feline knowledge and experience following me around. Most people think I can pull a really simple answer out of a hat and solve the problem but really spraying is a pretty complicated issue and can be cause by all sorts of things. Similarly the solution can be simple or complex. Generally speaking though most of these issues can be solved by the owner through the use of various inexpensive methods ranging from a new litter box to a clever use of vinegar. Below are some of the most common reasons cats spray within the household and some of the things you can do to prevent and possibly curb and cure these bad habits. I hope it’ll aid in some people’s search for the answer and perhaps allow some loved ones never to be put in a situation where re-homing becomes the only option. Also if this article fails to help please be aware that a visit to your local vet or feline behaviorist (yes they do exist!) may be all tha's needed to ease your kitty.
Urinary Tract Infections, Etc
Sometimes bad marking behavior can be medical instead of behavioral. If a cat uses its box perfectly for years and then suddenly starts slipping up this can be the cause. UTIs are most common in older male cats but can be seen in any cat of any sex and any age. These afflicted cats will often start to pee in really odd places, with the bathtub, counter, table, or other smooth cool surfaces being their favorite. They may also display other symptoms such as straining to pee, fever, or general changes in normal behavior. If you think this is your cats problem please bring them to the vet ASAP as it can kill them eventually. Most vets will prescribe an antibiotic and will recommend a change in diet to a specially formulated UTI prevention kibble. Please note that these cats must be monitored for the rest of their lives because UTIs can be a chronic occurrence. Also note other ailments may cause a cat to start peeing in odd places as well like kidney stones and general ill health. Please make sure to have your cat checked out before ruling this out.
Bad Litterbox Training
This isn’t a terribly common problem but it does crop up every once in a while in cats, usually in re-domesticated ferals, but not always. Bad litter box training can also be blamed on mother cats who teach their offspring their own bad habits. This problem is much easier to prevent then some of the other issues. If you are raising a litter of kittens, whether they be strays or purebreds, please consider caging the whole family for the first month to six weeks of the kitten’s life. The confined space generally ensures the mother will use the litterbox and the kittens will learn proper toilet habits. In an older cat this method can sometimes still be effective by caging the offender for a few weeks while scrubbing down any of their accident spots. Also please make sure this is the issue at hand as sometimes other problems may really be the cause.
Sexual Maturity & Spraying
If you adopt a young male cat and do not intend to breed him please get him neutered before a year of age (with six months being even better still!) Adult unaltered male cats will almost always spray. We have to understand this is how cats have communicated with each other for the entirety of their species' existence. Males will spray in the hopes a female in heat will come by, smell it, and stick around until they find each other. Females going through heat may also do this so please spay and neuter if you don’t want to breed! It’s the best prevention there is. Having said this, if your precocious kitty has already reached this stage in life and is making your house with the smell of their own aroma, there are things you can do to help. First of all get them spayed or neutered. This may stop some all together but more often then not if the scent is still in the house they’ll continue to mark the same spots. Sooo… do a really good scrubbing of all their favorite spots and make sure nothing is left behind. If this does not work try scrubbing it even harder and spraying some vinegar on the spot. Most cats really detest the smell and usually loose interest by avoiding the area. Never fear, the vinegar spray doesn’t have to be a permanent thing if the cat starts behaving itself.
This behavior is most often seen where a cat who lives alone for a number of years suddenly has to deal with the introduction of a new cat. The old cat may accept the newcomer or they may feel threatened and start marking your entire house making it abundantly clear that this turf is theirs and theirs alone. Things can get worse if the new comer decides to challenge the original cat by spraying the same spots in defiance. Again this is better prevented then cured. Before the introduction of a new cat in your house spray the perimeter of your house with FeliWay. This is a product you can get at any pet store, most feed stores, and online. It’s fairly cheap and to the other cats it will smell like the scent of another cat’s head marking (this is when cats rub their heads on things – this is a declaration of ownership!) This should encourage the cats to mark by head rubbing instead of spraying and should ease the tension. If the territory belongs to a phantom cat there will be no dispute between the real cats. Also make sure that there are more litter boxes available when introducing a new cat, and scratching posts are abundant. Scratching is another way of marking territory and given the proper context can be a lot better an option. Finally consider introducing the new cat in a cage. This should ease the new cat (which will feel more comfortable prtected within their cage) and let the old cat get to know them without the stress of throwing them into their already established territory. As the cats get used to each other let the newbie out f the cage into a single room and gradually increase the area of free roam. This should make the territory disputes minimal.
Cats are generally smart but as in all creatures there’s always a few duds. I’ve had a few cats, both male and female, who would get into their litter box and proceed to back up and pee or poo over the side of it and onto the floor. This really is a genuine accident and not an act of spite so please don’t take it as such. The resolution to the problem is very simple, buy a litter box with high sides. Sometimes these can be hard to find so in a pinch go to Wal-Mart or someplace similar and invest in a properly sized Rubbermaid or dish bin. They work just as well.
Some cats will start to use your entire house as a litter box if you don’t keep their litter box to their specifications. Some are so OCD about this they’ll actually make their owner clean the box every day. Keeping the litterbox really clean generally dissuades them from acts of spite so make sure to try that, and don’t let your own idea of clean and dirty fool you. The cat has his or her own opinion on the matter! Self-cleaning cat boxes may be something to look into for particularly picky cats.
Changes in the Enviroment
Cats generally start to spray when they encounter a stressful situation. Sometimes changes in their environment can be a trigger for this. The biggest change in environment would be a move to another location. This could easily stress a cat out. In fact some cats become so used to their environment that they’ll go back to it even in the event of catastrophe. Case in point I knew a lovely couple who had two indoor cats. One day they had the great misfortune to have a house fire that destroyed the whole building. They were able to grab both cats before making their own escape but once outside one of the two leapt out of their owner’s arms in a state of panic and ran back into the burning building where it died. Sad story but it proves a point. When moving to a new location try putting the FeliWay along the perimeters of the house, this is a pheromone that should also calm the cat in a situation like this. Also if your cat is the type to get over stimulated easy make the transition a slow one and consider using a cage for awhile, just as if you were introducing a new cat. Other changes in environment can be the sudden appearance of loud noises (dogs barking outside, repair men working on the sidewalk, etc.) These need to be sorted on continuing basis but it’s always a good idea to leave a cage, crate, or box somewhere the cat really likes to sleep. This will help them feel secure.
Senility is one of the hardest issues to deal with in cats. This was my introduction in the world of bad cat behavior when my thirteen year old domestic shorthair started to act a little weird. Over the next year she got progressively worse and stopped responding to her diabetes medication before we had to put her down. One of her odd behavior was pooping in the middle of the floor for no apparent reason. She’d always pee in the litter box but for whatever reason she seemed to get confused while doing number two! We consulted a vet and found out she was just going a little loopy in the head. Senility can’t be cured however it can be prevented! If you have cats of any age please play with them often, give them new toys and new things to explore, and make sure they get exercise and mental stimulation on a frequent basis. This doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor., A new toy could be a box or a ball of tinfoil to bat around the house. Cats who live energetic rich lives are much much less likely to become senile in older age. And if you have one of those fat cats that just likes to laze around and do nothing… consider hiding it’s food in small portions around the house. This will make sure it’s using it’s brain and moving around a bit!
Along with intact male cats being the most prominent offenders of indoor spraying some breeds have also garnered this reputation. Hybrid breeds such as Bengals and Savanahs are closer to their wild counterparts and this can make a dormant behavior pop up actively in their genes. Other very domesticated breeds may also have a penchance for bad marking behaviors so please when seeking out the right breed for you make sure to figure this one out. It's much better to start with a low maintenance breed to get enough practice for a high maintenance breed in the future!
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