Urinating in the house is one of the most common behavioral problems in cats. Sadly, it is also the reason that a lot of cats get handed in to animal shelters. There are many different reasons why cats may urinate in the house, and spraying is just one of the types of problems that we can see.
We will look at urine spraying, how it differs from other types of house soiling, why it happens, and what you can do to stop or prevent it.
What Is Urine Spraying?
“Spraying” is a particular kind of urination, which is a little different from how a cat normally pees.
When a cat sprays urine, they will do it on a particular upright object or surface – not on the floor. They turn their back to the object, raise their tail, and push the urine out forcefully. This will cover the object in a fine layer of urine.
Spraying is often done in “high-traffic” areas – places where humans and cats like to pass through on a regular basis, like hallways or doors. It may also be targeted at items that are often warmer than average (like a toaster or electronic equipment), or at items that smell new or different (like bags or shoes).
This is different to normal urination, where the cat will squat down to pee, so that their back end is close to the floor while their front end remains upright. They ideally should do this in a litter tray or outdoors, but sometimes cats will do it on the floor, or another flat surface like a table or kitchen counter.
Why Do Cats Spray Urine
Urine spraying is normal, natural behavior for cats – the issue comes when they try to do it in the wrong place!
In the wild, cats usually live alone, and they have their own territories. Urine spraying is used as a way of marking this territory. It may be used to warn off trespassers, or to attract potential mates.
Domestic cats will spray urine for the same reasons. Un-neutered cats are far more likely to spray urine, as it’s something they do to try and attract a suitable mate.
Do Neutered Cats Still Spray?
Yes – around 1 in 10 neutered male cats, and 1 in 25 neutered females, will continue to spray urine. This is thought to happen either because the cats are anxious (and are trying to re-enforce their territory), or because they are very confident and wish to display this.
Anxiety and Urine Spraying
Anxious cats may spray around the house to make it smell more like “them” (or at least their urine), which will help them to feel more secure.
Confidence and Urine Spraying
Confident cats will sometimes spray around the house as a way of marking their presence. This is not thought to be done to threaten other cats but simply to announce they are nearby and that this is their territory.
Other Reasons for House Soiling
It is important to remember that not all house soiling incidents are urine spraying. Cats may also soil in the house for other reasons, including:
In these cases, the urine is not sprayed onto an upright surface or object but rather deposited onto a flat surface such as the floor or a table. Cats will also squat, rather than stand, when passing the urine.
How Can I Stop My Cat from Spraying?
There are several things you can do to try and reduce how often your cat sprays.
If your cat is un-neutered, then neutering them is likely to reduce or stop their spraying completely.
If you are unsure whether your cat is neutered, or if you think they are neutered but are still displaying sexual behavior (such as calling in female cats) then speak to your veterinarian for advice.
Cats are naturally drawn to areas where they have previously sprayed by the smell of old urine. This means it is important to clean any sprayed areas thoroughly, with the right kind of cleaners.
Chlorine-based detergents are good for hard surfaces. Biological washing powder is also good for removing the proteins contained in urine, but this should be followed by isopropyl alcohol to get rid of the fats. Avoid ammonia-based cleaners, as they smell similar to urine and so may make things worse.
There is some evidence that providing good litter trays can help to reduce urine spraying, especially with female cats.
Many cats prefer trays without hoods or coverings, so if you are struggling with house soiling then avoid these kinds of trays.
If you have more than one cat in the house, then a common cause of spraying is tension between cats. This can be difficult to resolve, and often it is best to consult a specialist in feline behavior for advice.
Other cats in the neighborhood can also cause issues. Make sure that no strange cats can access your house through open doors, windows, or unsecure cat flaps. If other cats come into your garden, your cat may be stressed by seeing them. Try using some temporary frosting over the lower parts of glass doors or windows to block their line of sight.
Pheromones are natural hormones that can be used to help cats feel more secure and to reduce tension between cats. Diffusers like Feliway ® can help create a calmer and more inviting atmosphere.
There are many different calming supplements available for cats, which can be bought without the need to see a veterinarian. While there is no direct evidence that these work to reduce urine spraying, they might be helpful in some situations.
There are some cases where making these changes, and consulting with a behavioral specialist, does not resolve the issue of urine spraying. In these situations, veterinarians may prescribe medication to help. These are normally anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications, but your vet will be able to discuss the specific options with you.
You should never punish your cat for urine spraying. This will not help to reduce it, and will often stress them and make the situation worse.
Urine spraying is a natural behavior, but it can be very frustrating if it is done in the wrong places. Any cats can spray urine, even those who have been neutered. There are many different changes you can make at home to try and reduce how often your cat sprays, but you may need to seek advice from a behavioral expert to make sure that they are effective. Occasionally, cats who spray will benefit from treatment with prescription medication. However, the good news is that in most cases, it is possible to reduce or even stop the spraying behavior if the right measures are put in place.
Featured Image Credit: anlomaja, Shutterstock