Stop That Smelly Spray! How to Curb Your Cat’s Marking Habits


Cat spraying is a common undesirable behavior that can be frustrating for cat owners. It involves a cat backing up to a vertical surface like a wall, piece of furniture, or tree, raising their tail, and spraying a small amount of urine. The urine often leaves an offensive odor and can stain furniture, walls, and other household items.

Cat spraying is different from urinating to relieve themselves in the litter box. When a cat sprays, they are depositing small amounts of urine around an area, marking their territory. It’s a normal feline communication behavior, but one that cat owners generally want to prevent inside the home.

Studies show that 10-25% of neutered male cats and 5-10% of spayed female cats spray urine. So it’s a common issue many cat owners have to address. The good news is there are ways to curb and prevent cat spraying with proper training, cleaning routines, or in some cases medical treatment.

What Is Cat Spraying?

Cat spraying, also known as urine marking, is when a cat backs up to a vertical surface like a wall, door, or furniture and releases a small amount of urine. This is different from regular urination where a cat empties their bladder normally in their litter box. Spraying is a normal territorial behavior for cats where they mark areas with their scent, but indoor spraying can become problematic for owners [1].

Some key differences between regular urination and spraying:

  • Spraying involves a small amount of urine, while regular urination involves emptying the bladder fully.
  • Spraying is usually on vertical surfaces while regular urination is in the litter box.
  • The posture is different – spraying involves backing up to the surface, while regular urination involves squatting.
  • Spraying deposits pheromones while regular urination is for elimination.

Understanding the difference between spraying and urination can help identify the cause of the behavior.

Why Do Cats Spray?

There are several common reasons why cats spray urine in the house:

Territorial Marking – Cats are territorial animals and will spray to mark their territory, especially if they feel it is threatened by other cats in the area. Unneutered male cats are more likely to spray for this reason.

Anxiety – Changes in their environment, new people or animals, or even loud noises can cause anxiety and lead to spraying. Providing environmental enrichment and minimizing stressors can help.

Medical Issues – Diseases like kidney disease, urinary tract infections, diabetes or arthritis can cause cats physical pain or discomfort when using the litter box. A vet check can identify and treat underlying medical problems.

How to Stop a Cat From Spraying

There are several effective ways to stop a cat from spraying inside your home:

Spay or Neuter Your Cat

One of the best ways to stop spraying is to spay or neuter your cat. Spaying or neutering will reduce the urge to spray while also providing other health benefits like preventing certain cancers and infections (source). Intact male cats are most likely to spray, so neutering is highly recommended.

Thoroughly Clean Soiled Areas

It’s important to completely remove cat spray odors, as this smell can encourage repeat marking. Use an enzyme cleaner and allow it to soak in for 10-15 minutes before scrubbing and rinsing (source). You may need to reclean several times to fully eliminate the urine smell.

Provide Adequate Litter Boxes

Make sure your cat has access to clean, appealing litter boxes in quiet locations. The general rule is one litter box per cat, plus an extra. Scoop solids out daily and change the litter regularly.

Use Synthetic Pheromones

Synthetic pheromone sprays and diffusers can help reduce stress and unwanted behaviors like spraying. These mimic calming cat pheromones and help make your cat feel more relaxed.

Treat Any Medical Issues

In some cases, spraying can be caused by medical problems like a UTI, bladder inflammation, or anxiety. See your vet to identify and address any underlying medical conditions.

Prevent Spraying

There are several things you can do to prevent or reduce spraying behavior in cats:

Provide enrichment – Make sure your cat has enough mental and physical stimulation. Play with interactive toys, provide scratching posts and cat trees for climbing and scratching, and rotate different types of toys to prevent boredom. A mentally stimulated cat is less likely to spray (Source).

Give them vertical space – Cats like to be up high to survey their territory. Provide cat trees, shelves, and other vertical spaces for cats to climb, perch, and scratch. Having access to vertical territory can dissuade spraying (Source).

Provide individual resources – Each cat should have their own food, water, litter box, scratching posts, beds, and toys. Sharing resources can cause stress and conflict between cats, which can lead to spraying. Having individual resources helps prevent this (Source).

Repel Stray Cats

There are a few effective ways to repel stray cats and keep them away from your property:

Use cat repellents – Certain scents deter cats from yards and gardens, including vinegar, citrus, coffee grounds, pipe tobacco, oil of lavender, lemongrass, citronella and eucalyptus. Create homemade sprays by mixing the scents with water and apply around the perimeter of your property. Reapply after rain (1). Plant aromatic herbs like rue, rosemary and Coleus canina which have scents cats dislike.

Block access – Block off potential entry points like crawl spaces and block access to porch stairs or decks. Use chicken wire or lattice to prevent cats from being able to slip through or underneath fences. Cut back tree branches and shrubs near fences cats could use to jump over (2).



Clean Up Cat Urine

One of the keys to getting rid of cat urine smell is using the right cleaning products. Avoid using ammonia-based cleaners, as the ammonia smell can trigger more spraying from your cat. Instead opt for an enzymatic cleaner specifically formulated to break down pet stains and odors.

Enzymatic cleaners contain bacteria that feed on urine and feces, helping to eliminate the smell at its source. Some popular enzymatic cleaner brands include Nature’s Miracle, Anti-Icky-Poo, and Petzyme. Make sure to follow the product instructions closely.

Apply the enzymatic cleaner liberally to the soiled area, allowing it to soak in for 5-10 minutes. Use an old towel to blot up as much of the cleaner and urine as possible. Allow the area to fully dry before assessing if the odor has been eliminated. You may need to reapply the cleaner and repeat the process multiple times for old or stubborn stains.

Enzymatic cleaners are safe to use on most surfaces including carpet, upholstery, hardwood, and tile. Over time, they can help fully eliminate urine smells and stains with consistent use.

When to See the Vet

If your cat’s spraying behavior persists even after trying various techniques to stop it, take your cat to the veterinarian. Certain medical conditions like urinary tract infections, bladder inflammation, or kidney disease can cause cats to spray urine. These issues are often accompanied by other symptoms like frequent urination, blood in the urine, and vocalizing pain or straining while trying to urinate. A veterinarian can run tests on a urine sample to check for medical issues and provide treatment if necessary.

According to the Today’s Veterinary Practice, a veterinary visit can also rule out other potential medical causes like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, cognitive dysfunction, and neurological issues ( Treatment of the underlying condition may resolve the spraying.

Additionally, a very small percentage of neutered male cats and spayed female cats may spray due to residual effects of hormones. Your veterinarian can discuss medical options to address this.

Finally, a veterinarian can assess your cat’s overall health. Improving your cat’s wellbeing through diet, exercise, enrichment, and reducing stress may also curb the spraying behavior.

Rehoming a Cat

If your cat’s spraying behavior persists despite efforts to correct it, you may need to consider rehoming your cat. Rehoming a cat can be a difficult decision, but finding your cat a new home that is better suited to handle the spraying may be the most responsible option.

Before rehoming, check with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions causing the spraying. Ensure your cat is spayed/neutered, as intact cats are more likely to spray. Also consider trying synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway or consulting an animal behaviorist.

If rehoming is ultimately necessary, reach out to local animal shelters and cat-specific rescue organizations. Be upfront about the spraying issue to ensure the new owner is prepared to handle it. Consider having your vet provide background info to the new owner. With patience and honesty, you can find your cat a new loving home.

To rehome on your own, post on adoption websites like Adopt-a-Pet. Screen potential adopters carefully, visit their home, and charge an adoption fee. Follow up after adoption to ensure it’s going well. Never abandon your cat or give it away for free.

While rehoming can be difficult, remember it may be the best option to ensure your cat and new owner have a chance at success. Do your due diligence finding a good match. With time and the right home, even cats with troublesome behaviors can thrive.


In conclusion, cat spraying can be a disruptive and unpleasant problem for cat owners. However, with patience, understanding of cat behavior, and implementing the right techniques, it is possible to stop a cat from spraying. Here are some recap tips:

  • Identify and address the source of stress causing the cat to spray. This may be medical, territorial, or anxiety issues.
  • Spay/neuter your cat if not already done, to reduce spraying driven by hormones.
  • Clean soiled areas thoroughly with an enzyme cleaner to eliminate odors that may attract spraying.
  • Try synthetic pheromones like Feliway to soothe stressed cats.
  • Restrict access to previous spray zones and provide new acceptable scratching areas.
  • Consider medication if behavior modification techniques don’t work.
  • As a last resort, rehoming may be an option if the cat’s spraying is unmanageable.

While spraying can be difficult to control, be patient and consistent. With time and effort, it is possible for cats and owners to live together happily without this undesirable behavior.

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