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Why Do Cats Spray & What Can Cat Parents Do About It?

Posted by Dr. Roth on

cat spraying with tail up in the living room

Cats don’t communicate in the same ways that people do. They can’t use words to get their messages across, but they do have other subtle and not-so-subtle ways of expressing their feelings. One way to let their pet parents or other animals in the house know what they’re thinking is to vocalize. Another way cats communicate is with spraying, or peeing on significant items in their territory.

While it’s normal for cats, it’s infuriating for pet parents. Understanding why a cat might be spraying and taking active steps to stop the unwanted cat behavior can help put a stop to it rather than reacting as a pet parent might towards a dog with scolding. 

Why Do Cats Spray?

Cats spray for a few different reasons:

Marking Territory

In many cases, spraying is territorial cat behavior. Even single, indoor-only feline households may deal with spraying. If cats smell “intruders” marking territory outside, pet parents may notice their kitties claiming their houses in response. 

Settling Conflict in a Multi-Cat Household

For pet parents with more than one feline in the home, spraying may be one (or more) cat’s way of establishing dominance, drawing boundaries, or settling disputes. 

Reacting to Changes in the Home

Significant household changes don’t just affect humans; cats notice when things are different, too. Major events like moving, welcoming a new family member, or home renovations can cause stress, which may then lead to spraying. 

Attracting Mates

While unneutered male cats are more likely to spray, both males and females will mark surfaces if they feel it's necessary. In some cases, males may spray to let nearby females know they’re available. Neutering a kitten can help stop the behavior before it starts. Some cats may still spray even after neutering, though, since the behavior was learned before the procedure. 

stressed cat meowing


Signs a Cat Is Spraying

Cats spray using their urine. Some pet parents may have a difficult time telling the difference between urinating in the home and spraying. Here are a few signs that likely indicate the latter:‌

  • The cat marks vertical surfaces (the wall, the side of the sofa, etc.) instead of pooling urine on the floor.
  • The cat’s still using the litter box as usual.
  • The cat stands backside to the wall (or another vertical surface) and tail straight up in the air.
  • The cat keeps going back to the same spot over and over, no matter how often a pet parent cleans it.

How to Put a Stop to Spraying

Spraying can be a pain, to say the least. Fortunately, there are things that pet parents can do to put a stop to it:

Clean Thoroughly

Pet parents can clean the area after their cats spray, but cats have sensitive noses. Any lingering scent can encourage a feline to continue spraying. Thorough cleaning with an enzymatic cleaner can help neutralize and eliminate the odor, and discourage future incidents. 

Keep the Kitty Mentally Stimulated

Cats who are bored or stressed are more likely to spray than those who aren’t. Pet parents can keep their felines mentally stimulated with plenty of playtime, training, interactive toys, and more. 

cat puzzle

Minimize Conflict in Multi-Cat Homes

For pet parents with more than one cat, minimizing conflict may help. Pet parents can provide their cats with their own individual food and water bowls as well as separate litter boxes in different areas of the house. 

Try Calming Pheromones to Manage Stress

For stressed cats, calming pheromones may help to reduce anxiety and provide a greater sense of calm that reduces the urge to spray or mark territory in the home.

feliway cat diffuser

Seek Professional Cat Advice

Spraying may be natural for cats, but it’s far from ideal for pet parents. For pet parents concerned about their felines' behavior, consulting a veterinarian or pet behavior specialist may be helpful. Cat parents can get advice and answers for all of their feline health questions from a qualified online vet. The vets at Fuzzy are available 24/7 with Live Vet Chat. 

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