Cats Spraying Urine: Explanation & Prevention

Key takeaway

Cats spray urine for many reasons, including stress, to attract a mate, and to communicate. Spaying and neutering your cat may prevent the number of occurrences of spraying, but it may not eliminate the problem completely.

Cats communicate in many different ways. From rubbing their scent on you to meowing and hissing, they have a lot to say. One way cats communicate is by urine marking, also known as spraying. You may catch your cat in the act of spraying or feel a wet spot. Whatever the case, when your cat sprays, they're trying to tell you something. Are you listening?

Cats spraying urine is common behavior. It's a type of marking,1 similar to when a cat rubs themselves against objects and people. However, it's a more problematic form of marking for pet parents because it can be destructive to your home. Cats spray urine for several reasons, including communication, to attract a mate, to relay that they're in distress, or because they have a behavioral problem.

Understanding the common reasons your cat is spraying urine can help you prevent the problem and get them the help they need. So, if you've ever wondered, "Why is my cat spraying?" you've come to the right place. This article will discuss why cats spray urine and how to prevent this problematic behavior in the future. 

Why Do Cats Spray Urine?  

Cats urinating outside their litter box is a somewhat common behavior. Approximately 10% of all cats eliminate outside their litter box at some point in their lives.2 However, urinating outside the litter box and spraying are not the same. Urinating typically occurs on the floor, while spraying happens when your cat is standing up and urinating on something vertically. 

Approximately 10% of cats will urinate outside of their litter box at some point during their lives

Urine marking is a form of communication, so it's time to figure out what your cat is trying to tell you when they spray urine. Here are a few of the most common reasons why cats spray:

1. To communicate

As we've mentioned, spraying is how your cat communicates. They can communicate with other cats through different scents, allowing them to learn about each other and their environments.3 Typically, marking of any kind is a type of territorial behavior to tell other cats who is in charge. This behavior is most common in outdoor cats but is still an important part of their social structure. Indoor cats may spray when there are other cats in the house, but they can often spray when there are cats outside of the house to mark the house as their territory.4

If you have more than one cat in your house, you may notice one or both cats spraying to mark their territories. Cats may spray the areas where they spend most of their time, such as cat trees or near feeding areas. Of course, cats are unlikely to spray in areas where they sleep or eat, but they will likely spray nearby if they feel as though their territory is threatened by another cat. In addition, conflict between your two cats can cause one or both to begin spraying. While these social issues may go unnoticed by pet parents, they can cause behavioral changes in cats.3 

2. To solicit a mate

Cats may also spray to attract a mate. This behavior is most common in intact males, but females and neutered or spayed cats may also spray. When spraying, male cats attempt to use their scent to find a female cat that's nearby to mate with, which is normal behavior for outdoor cats. However, indoor male cats will spray to attempt to attract a mate, which can cause issues since they're essentially urinating around the house. 

Cat spraying behavior typically occurs when cats reach sexual maturity, around six months of age.4 Unless this behavior is curbed, they will continue to do it throughout their lives, especially if they smell a female cat nearby. One way to prevent this issue is to have your cats spayed and neutered, even though it may not prevent the behavior altogether, it will significantly reduce the possibility of them spraying.

3. When they're in distress

Sometimes cats spray urine when stressed due to changes in their routine or environment.4 While some cats may simply urinate outside of their little box, others may spray on furniture, doors, and walls. Unfortunately, every cat reacts to stress differently, and even small changes can trigger anxiety that causes them to spray. 

Cats can be stressed by anything, including: 

  • Other cats
  • Changes to their routine (like a new eating time)
  • Decorating the house
  • New babies or pets
  • Separation from owner
  • Strangers1

Reasons cats spray

Do Male And Female Cats Spray?

Both male and female cats spray, but it's most common in intact males because of the hormones produced in their bodies, but do male cats spray more than females? Only 5% of neutered females and 10% of neutered males urine mark after they've been spayed and neutered.3 In addition, intact cats have more odorous urine. Neutering can reduce the occurrence of cats spraying urine, but it won't stop it completely, especially because there are other factors that play a role in how often and when your cat sprays urine, such as stress.

How To Stop Urine Spraying & Marking 

Cat urine is incredibly odorous. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find the source of the urine if it has dried. Therefore, if your cat is spraying urine, you must curb the behavior as soon as possible to prevent the odor from taking over your home. Additionally, if your cat is spraying, it could be cause for concern, so during your journey to stop urine spraying, you may uncover behavioral issues that need to be treated. Here's how you can prevent cat spraying: 

Contact Your Veterinarian 

Talking to your veterinarian can help you determine the cause of your cat spraying and come up with the best solution to prevent it in the future. Depending on your cat's age and whether or not they've been fixed, your vet may choose to rule out underlying medical conditions. While regular urinating is different from spraying, cats may change their urinating posture to look more like a spraying posture when they experience discomfort. For example, many cats who look like they're spraying might be trying to urinate and have an underlying medical illness, such as feline lower urinary tract disease.1 If your vet suspects your cat has an underlying health problem, they will aim to treat the condition. As treatment begins, the signs, including a cat standing up to urinate or urinating outside the litter box, should disappear as the treatment becomes effective. If your cat receives a clean bill of physical health, your vet may suggest behavioral problems like stress or anxiety.

Clean Sprayed Areas

Clean sprayed areas as quickly as possible to keep your cat from revisiting and re-spraying the area. Additionally, urine can seep into carpets, furniture, and walls if you don't clean them immediately, it may be more difficult to remove the odor later. 

When cleaning wet cat urine, always blot the spot to absorb as much urine as possible to make cleaning and removing the odor easier. Rinse the area with water and use a wet dry vacuum to suck up any traces of urine. Then, soak the spot with an enzymatic cleaning solution and allow it to sit for as long as is stated on the instructions before soaking it up with a towel. 

You can also use a carpet cleaning machine on the carpet and furniture to make the process easier. Many carpet cleaning solutions are available to target pet stains and odors on floors and furniture. When cleaning cat urine, use mild fragrances or products designed for cat urine. Strong smelling cleaners can cause cats to spray again to re-mark their territory.3

Eliminate Foreign Objects

Cats may pee on new objects in the home that smell foreign to them. For example, if you recently picked up a new nightstand at a garage sale, it's possible another cat rubbed up against it or even marked it. In this case, your cat might be prone to spray it. However, cats may also spray completely new objects in the home because they're not used to them and don't yet have their scent.

Over time, your cat will likely rub up against everything in your home to leave their scent behind. However, when something new comes into the home that doesn't have their scent on it yet, they may choose to mark it. Getting rid of any new objects in the home can discourage spraying because cats won't feel the need to mark them.3 Of course, you can't always donate or throw away your belongings. If you notice your cat likes to spray foreign objects, you may have to be prepared to clean them until your cat believes they have thoroughly marked them. 

How to stop cat spraying

Neuter Or Spay Your Cat

Cats are typically spayed or neutered around five or six months of age, when they become sexually mature. However, if your cat is spraying and has not yet been neutered, it may indicate your cat has matured and is ready for the procedure. Neutering while your cat is still fairly young can prevent spraying in the future. 

Neutering and spaying are especially beneficial for cats because they prevent fighting, aggression, and unwanted pregnancies.1 Unfortunately, neutering and spaying is not always a complete fix; it can prevent behavior meant to attract a mate like spraying,2 but since there are many other causes of spraying, you may need to continue to work with your vet to completely prevent it in the future. 

Eliminate Stress

As we've mentioned, stress can cause cats to start exhibiting strange behaviors like spraying urine. However, many things can cause stress in cats, and some of them may seem minor to you. Luckily, you can combat stress in many ways, including:

  • Providing enrichment: Housecats need enrichment to prevent boredom and give them somewhere to focus any nervous energy. Additionally, enrichment can help tire your cat out to prevent them from experiencing as much anxiety. Many types of enrichment, including environmental enrichment, can help keep your cat physically and mentally active to reduce stress. Cat training, interactive toys, puzzles, and regular playtime together can keep your cat engaged in activities and less likely to experience behavioral problems. 
  • Minimize cat conflicts: If you have more than one cat, certain activities should be separated to prevent conflicts between them. Even if your cats get along fairly well, they may still become territorial. Therefore, you should keep bowls and litter boxes separate and ensure every cat has their own feeding and water bowls and litter boxes. This can separate cats during feeding times to prevent conflicts over food while ensuring your cats feel safe and comfortable urinating in their own litter boxes. You should always have one more litter box available than the number of cats in the household to help reduce stress.
  • Try medication: Marking in fixed cats is commonly a sign of stress, but unfortunately, you may not be able to eliminate all your cat's stressors because almost anything can cause anxiety. Additionally, some cats are more anxious than others. However, anti-anxiety medication may be able to prevent the issue of spraying while providing your cat with some relief because they'll feel less stressed.2 Of course, you must work with a veterinary behaviorist to ensure your cat is properly treated for their anxiety. 

If your cat is exhibiting behavioral problems, it may be time to talk to a professional. A veterinary behaviorist can help you determine the cause of your cat's anxiety or stress and find the best treatment plan. 

You should never punish your cat when spraying, especially if they're stressed. Yelling or any other negative reinforcements may exacerbate the issue, causing them to spray more often. 

FAQs 

Is cat peeing the same as spraying?

No, cat urinating outside the litter box is not the same as spraying. Although when your cat sprays, it is urine. Cats that are urinating outside of the litter box may also use their litter box. Meanwhile, those urinating outside of their litter box typically avoid it.2 When your cat pees, they squat down. However, when they spray, they're standing up, which is why if you smell cat urine on furniture or walls, it's likely due to spraying. Therefore, if you know your cat is urinating in their litter box, they likely don't have a litter box problem; instead, they're marking.2 

To determine if your cat is urinating or spraying, consider: 

  • Location: When cats pee, they don't lift their legs like dogs. Therefore, urine would not be on walls, furniture, or other vertical surfaces unless it was sprayed.2 If your cat sprays in front of you, you might see their body twitch or see the urine spray onto a surface. However, your cat may spray when you're not home, indicating separation anxiety. 
  • Quantity: When cats urinate in their litter box, they're emptying their bladders. However, when they spray, there is less volume of urine.2
  • Odor: When cats spray urine, the odor is stronger because it contains chemicals.2 If your cat has had litter box issues before, you may know the smell of their urine on the carpet. However, cat spray urine is more pungent, and most cat parents will be able to tell the difference, especially depending on the location of the urine. 

If you determine your cat is not spraying but peeing instead, it could be due to litter box issues, stress, or health concerns like a urinary tract infection (UTI). Taking your cat to the vet as soon as possible can help you diagnose and treat any medical issues that could be causing them to urinate outside the litter box. However, if your cat is spraying, it's less likely a medical condition and could have something to do with either stress or hormones, depending on whether or not your cat is fixed. 

Why did my cat start spraying?

There are many reasons why a cat might start spraying. If your cat is spayed or neutered, you must consider any environmental issues that can cause them to be territorial or stressed. For example, if you recently brought home a new kitten, your cat might become stressed and feel the need to mark the home to let the other cat know their social status. 

Most cases of spraying are due to stress, especially if you have an adult cat that has never sprayed before. Unfortunately, the cause of their stress is not always easily identified because even a subtle change you don't notice could be the culprit. 

If there have been no changes regarding strangers, new pets, or situations your cat has never experienced, they may be marking to mix their scent with yours. Cats may mark new objects, especially if those objects smell like other animals, so if you just brought home a new couch or dresser, your cat may spray it to mark it as theirs. 

How do I stop my cat from spraying?

The best way to prevent your cat from spraying is to determine why they're spraying. Cats can spray for various reasons, so discussing the issue with your vet may be beneficial to rule out litter box issues and health conditions. Once your cat gets a clean bill of physical health, you can begin to tackle any stress they have, even though this can be difficult because it's not always easy to tell what's causing your cat distress. 

Your cat may spray if you've recently changed anything about their environment or routine. However, they may spray if you bring new people and pets into the home. Therefore, you may need to work with a vet behaviorist to help you tackle cat anxiety to prevent your cat from becoming stressed, ultimately preventing them from spraying. 

Gray cat relaxing on yellow couch

Final Notes 

Cats spray urine for several reasons, including communication, to attract a mate, and when they're stressed. While intact cats are more likely to spray, neutered and spayed cats may spray to communicate with you or tell you they feel anxious. Spraying is a behavioral problem, but it can be prevented with destructive behavior treatment

Dutch makes it easy to give your cat the treatment they need from the comfort of your own home. With our online vet care, we can help your cat live a healthier, happy life. Talk to a Dutch-affiliated vet today if your cat is spraying. We can help determine the cause by ruling out medical issues and discussing your cat's behavior before coming up with a prevention plan to help reduce your cat's stress and stop them from spraying. Dutch veterinary care connects you to a licensed vet to help you get the solutions you need to cat behavioral problems. 

References

  1. “Spraying.” International Cat Care, 5 Oct. 2018, https://icatcare.org/advice/spraying/.

  2. “Urine Marking in Cats.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/urine-marking-cats.

  3. “Cat Spraying: Why It Happens and What to Do about It.” WebMD, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/cat-spraying.

  4. “Cat Spraying: Why Cats Do It and How to Stop It.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/cat-spraying.