Why Is My Cat Spraying and How Can I Fix It?
8 Reasons Why a Cat Sprays and What to Do About It
One of the most frustrating aspects of cat ownership can be when our beloved pet turns our house into their own personal litterbox. As much as we love our cats, having a house that reeks of cat urine is never a good thing. So, what are the reasons cats spray and what can you do about it? Let's find out.
8 Reasons Why Cats Spray
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Bad Litterbox Training
- Sexual Maturity or Immaturity
- Messy Habits and Poor Awareness
Cats Are Only Semi-Domesticated
Unlike dogs, cats are only a semi-domesticated species, and their behavior can be complex and completely baffling at times . . . but that doesn't mean there isn't hope. Below, I will explain all the common reasons why cats spray and what can be done about it. I will also give solutions that won't break the bank since we all know that pet ownership is an expensive endeavor. Even if you use a cheap fix, the cats aren't going to notice or care—they're too busy playing in the box the cat tree came in anyway.
1. Urinary Tract Infections
The first thing you want to do is to make sure your cat isn't spraying because of a medical condition. The most common medical reason a cat would suddenly start peeing in odd places would be a urinary tract infection. UTIs are most common in older male cats, but they occur in both male and female cats independent of reproductive status; they also occur in cats of any age.
Signs Your Cat May Have a UTI
- If your cat has had perfect bathroom manners for years and there have been no changes to its environment, then you may want to consider taking your cat to the vet for a diagnosis.
- Cats with urinary tract infections often like to pee on smooth, cool surfaces. This could be your bathtub, your sink, your kitchen counter, or anywhere else that is smooth and cool.
- If your cat appears to be straining to pee, yowling while trying to go, or is feverish, a vet should be sought out immediately. A UTI can kill a cat if it goes on for too long.
Take note that cats who get UTIs often get them over and over again. A change in diet may be needed to prevent future issues, and a keen eye will be needed to monitor your cat for future flare-ups.
2. Bad Litterbox Training
Most cats like a clean environment, and part of that is having a specified area—a litterbox to use as a potty. With that being said, cats are very individualistic creatures, and some of them never get this memo. It is a fairly common problem for rescued ferals to find the idea of a litterbox a bit confusing. Even worse still, these same cats can teach their kittens the same bad manners.
The Importance of Litterbox Training
Prevention is actually much easier than retraining. If you happen to be raising a litter of kittens, please consider keeping them in an appropriate space with their mom until they are weaned. This will allow only enough space for sleeping, eating, and using the litterbox, and will hopefully ensure that they learn what the litterbox is for. (This is not to say that you can't let them out for supervised exercise from time to time!)
What About Older Cats?
If you happen to have an older feral who is peeing outside of the litterbox and medical issues and household stressors have been ruled out, sometimes confining them to a smaller living space for a few weeks resolves the issue.
3. Sexual Maturity or Immaturity
Almost all unaltered male cats will begin to spray when they reach adulthood. It's not their fault—this is inherent in their biology and they are only doing what cats have been doing since the dawn of catdom. Males will spray to leave a scented calling card in case a female in heat comes into the area. (It's like the cat version of setting up a dating profile! It doesn't matter if there are no females in your home—a tom must live in hope!)
The Importance of Spaying and Neutering
Again, prevention is the answer. If you adopt a male cat that you do not intend to breed, please have him neutered before he hits a year of age (six months would be even better!).
Sometimes, unaltered female cats will display this same behavior, so make sure she's spayed as well. If you find yourself with an old cat who was neutered too late, you can still try to curb the behavior by washing down any marked areas really well. If the scent is no longer there, they shouldn't have the need to remark it. If the scent is still there, it won't matter if the cat is altered or intact, they will likely keep spraying on the spot.
Tips for Detering Spraying
Keep in mind cats actually detect scent better than dogs do, so the removal of carpet and the use of some pretty hefty cleaners may be needed. In the meantime, you may have luck spraying vinegar on and in the area. Most cats really don't like the smell of vinegar and may try to avoid the area.
Just like the tomcats in the previous paragraph, most cats mark something to claim their territory. This doesn't have to be about a mate, it can just be a big sign reading, "Private property, get out!" This is most often a problem when a cat who has been kept by itself for a number of years suddenly has to deal with the arrival of a new cat or kitten. Just think about that for a moment: How would you feel if you lived the good life completely alone, only to one day come home to some stranger living in your house that you couldn't get rid of?
Dealing With a Bully Cat
Another common scenario is with a multi-cat home and another cat who is, to put it lightly, a bit of a bully. At that point, it doesn't matter if they are used to living in a group home, the newcomer is just annoying and hostile, and who wants that? In these situations, I actually suggest finding the bully a more suitable home—it's not worth the stress to your older residents.
Try a Slow Introduction
This is not to say that new cats should never be introduced into a household, it only is to say that if you are going to do that, take the cats' feelings into mind, and do the introductions as slowly as possible:
- Start off with the new cat in a cage (accessible to the resident cat or cats).
- Watch their behavior. Are they hissing? Spitting? Puffing up their hair?
- Leave the new cat in the cage until the resident cat(s) stops doing the aforementioned behaviors.
- When everyone seems comfortable, let the new cat out of the cage into only one room of your house.
- Observe the reactions and move on from there slowly.
Try Using Feliway to Reduce Unwanted Behavior
Now, if you are in a situation where prevention is too late, there are still things you can do: Furiously clean the sprayed spots and invest in a can of . Feliway is a synthetic scent that is completely odorless to humans. It mimics the smell of a cat's facial pheromones. Cats have scented glands behind their ears, and when they rub their heads on things, they mark it as their own territory. Feliway comes in a spray which can be applied manually to problem spots, or it can be used in a diffuser that you plug into the wall. Feliway
Transfer Scent With a Cloth
If you really don't have the money or prefer a more natural method, you can collect your cat's scent yourself on a damp washcloth by stroking it behind the ears, and then transfer that scent onto the problem areas around your house with the towel. This takes time and a lot of repetition; at the very least, do this once a day (the more the better).
5. Messy Habits and Poor Awareness
Just as with any species, some cats can be virtual geniuses, while others can leave a lot to be desired in the brains department. I had a cat once who was so unintelligent, she'd just stare at you with a blank expression all day, and you could almost hear the static running through the space between her ears. Every time she used the litterbox, she'd literally back up until her rear was hanging over the edge. She'd leave a fresh turd on the floor just outside the litterbox every time and then scratch and paw at the sand to cover up a treasure which never made it into the box.
Get a High-Walled Litterbox
Be patient with these messy creatures . . . this is not an act of malice, they really are just operating on autopilot. I found the best way to deal with this issue was to make a high-walled litterbox so that my cat couldn't hang her rear over the edge. The photo below shows a nice DIY example made from a tote.
Would you believe me if I said that cats can exhibit similar behaviors to obsessive-compulsive disorder (at least in the sense of hyper-cleanliness)? Some cats just have to have a clean litterbox, period. And if they don't get what they want, they'll just turn your living space into a litterbox until you get the hint. These cats usually need their box cleaned at least once daily, if not after every use. They are as picky as they come and will have you wrapped around their little paws! Lucky for us, self-cleaning litterboxes and toilet training do exist!
7. Major Changes
Cats can get very set in their ways, and changes to their environment can be very stressful to them. Things like a new dog, a new baby, sudden loud noises, or a move to a new location can upset them greatly, and they can start marking as a way to comfort themselves and confirm that they do have territory.
If at all possible, prevention is best. When you bring a cat to a new home, try using Feliway plug-in diffusers to ease the transition (mentioned above). I am also a big fan of getting a cat used to a kennel or cage—some place it feels safe to go to when changes in the environment are a problem. This type of setup (with a comfy bed, food, and toys) can keep them safe and happy and be advantageous in the following scenarios:
- when fireworks or festivities are going on outside;
- when guests are over (to prevent them from running around or running away);
- when a new dog or baby is being introduced to the household; and
- when they are acclimating to a new location.
Comfort is key here, and if your cat is relaxed, he or she will be much less likely to spray.
Part of the reason people like cats so much is they are very similar to us in many ways. Sadly, this doesn't just count for their intelligence and playful manners, but also in the way that they age. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, senility kicks in, and our geriatric pets lose their way. It's a sad descent, but if you have a cat that is getting up there in years that is suddenly acting oddly, senility is likely the reason why. This is especially true if it is accompanied by other signs of senility like wandering the house at all hours yowling at nothing or just acting bizarre.
How to Combat Aging
My first cat lived to be fourteen, and the last year of her life she was clearly going out of her mind. She stopped pooping in the box, and for no reason started using the middle of the floor for a potty. It's a hard and heartbreaking situation because there is no way to reverse this age-related progression.
I can't offer much help if you are in this situation, but if you happen to have younger cats, please know that keeping a cat's mind and body active in their younger years has great preventative qualities when it comes to aging. An older cat who is still playing with toys and is not obese is far less likely to suffer from age-related problems. Besides, playing with your cat, hiding their food in treat balls, and interacting with them more has to be one of the happiest remedies to any of the issues we discussed today!
My Fur BabiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Consider the Many Causes and Do Your Research
Spraying is a big issue, but it can be combated with knowledge. Today, we learned that unaltered adult male cats are by far the most guilty of any of the categories. This is something to consider when adopting a cat, but you must also consider the cat's breed.
Some breeds have a pretty bad reputation for marking, especially hybrid breeds like Bengals and Savannahs. These breeds have wild cats in their recent family trees, which makes this very undomesticated behavior all the more likely. Even so, hybrids aren't the only breeds that are said to be problematic. Even the wistfully beautiful and very domesticated Egyptian Mau sometimes gets a reputation for this ungainly behavior, and they are not the only ones! So, do your research, and in the end, we hope you and your kitty will spend a happy life together.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.