Why Do Cats Spray in the House?

Urinating on the floor when the litter box is not clean is not spraying.
Urinating on the floor when the litter box is not clean is not spraying. (Image: onur ersin/iStock/Getty Images)

Cats use urine marking, also known as spraying, as a form of indirect communication. The urine that your cat uses to mark his territory is heavily scented. It conveys a message to other cats who may be in the area that the sprayed area is your cat's turf. You can take measures to stop your cat's spraying, but there is no guarantee that you'll be able to completely eliminate the undesirable behavior.

Understanding Urine Marking

A cat's spray is more strongly scented than his normal urine because it contains pungent chemicals cats use as a method of nonverbal communication. Cats use urine marking to convey that they have claimed a specific area as their personal territory. Urine marking is your cat's way of notifying other cats that come into the area that the area has already been claimed and who the claimant is. The spraying can also let potential mates know that the feline in question is looking for a mate.

Determining Whether Your Cat Is Spraying or Urinating

Urinating and spraying are similar gestures; it can be a bit confusing to identify whether your cat is having a problem using the litter box or if he is spraying. The position your cat is in when he urinates outside the litter box is one of the more telltale differences between spraying and ordinary peeing. Cats who squat and pee on horizontal or flat surfaces are probably just peeing. Cats who spray tend to do so by lifting a leg and deposited urine on vertical surfaces, such as walls. The amount of urine also tends to be less when a cat is spraying than when he is peeing.

Prevent Your Cat From Spraying

Have your veterinarian rule out any possible medical problems that may be prompting your cat to spray. If your cat has a clean bill of a health, you can start working on making changes within your home environment to discourage the behavior. Neutering or spaying your cat is one of the most effective ways to put a stop to spraying behavior. If your cat has not been fixed, one of your first steps in stopping the spraying should involve scheduling a surgical appointment with your veterinarian.

Conflict with other cats in the home can also contribute significantly to your cat's spraying. Provide plenty of resources within your home to adequately accommodate all of your cats. This means extra litter boxes, food dishes, water dishes and treats. If plenty of resources are available, your cat may feel less territorial about your home. If your cats are constantly fighting, you may need to separate them to reduce the amount of stress the interaction is causing. Stress can trigger a cat to begin urine marking.

Cleaning Up After A Spraying Cat

Thoroughly clean and disinfect any area of your home where your cat has sprayed his urine. You can use specialized cleaning products called enzymatic cleansers that neutralize the urine odor. You may want to remove items that your cat sprays frequently from your home, or block his access to those items or areas.

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