Why Is My Cat Spraying in the Litter Box?

What is spraying and why do cats do it?

Spraying, also known as urine marking, refers to when a cat backs up to a vertical surface like a wall, door, or furniture and releases a small amount of urine. It differs from urinating as the urine does not pool on the floor and cats may perform this behavior even if their litter box is clean.

Spraying is a territorial marking behavior that allows cats to claim an area as their own. It can occur in both male and female cats, whether neutered/spayed or not. Cats have scent glands near their tails and when they spray, it releases pheromones that mark the territory. Unneutered male cats tend to spray more frequently to attract mates.

Cats spray urine for several reasons like feeling threatened by other cats in the area, stressed by changes to their environment, or aroused by a nearby female in heat. It’s a way for them to communicate information and mark their turf. Understanding this natural feline behavior is the first step to curbing unwanted spraying inside the home.

When do cats spray?

Cats generally begin spraying urine when they reach sexual maturity. For male cats, this is usually between 4-7 months of age and for female cats 5-10 months of age [1]. Intact cats that have not been spayed or neutered are more likely to spray urine as a way to mark their territory and signal their readiness to mate.

However, spraying isn’t just due to reaching sexual maturity. Stress and anxiety can also cause cats to spray urine, even after being fixed. Major changes to their environment, introducing new pets, conflict with other cats, or a perceived threat can all trigger stress that leads to spraying [2]. It’s their way of coping and trying to feel more secure in their surroundings.

Lastly, competition with other cats, especially intact males competing for mates, will frequently lead to increased spraying to mark territory and show dominance. So cats in multi-cat households are more prone to spraying than single cats.

Do intact cats spray more?

Yes, intact (uncastrated) male cats are much more likely to spray urine than neutered males. The hormones related to sexual maturity cause intact tomcats to mark territory more frequently with urine spraying. According to research cited by the VCA Hospital, 77% of intact male cats were likely to spray, compared to just 10% of neutered males.

Female cats, especially when in heat, will also spray urine more often than spayed females. Intact females spray about 5% of the time, while spaying significantly reduces that urge. The hormones related to going into heat and mating cause more urine spraying from intact female cats.

Where do cats spray?

Cats usually spray urine on vertical surfaces and objects like walls, furniture, curtains, and doors (1). Rarely do cats spray inside their litter box, as the litter box is where cats go to urinate and defecate appropriately. When a cat sprays, they will back up to a vertical object, raise their tail, and spray a small amount of urine backwards while standing. Common areas for cat spraying include baseboards, walls, doors, windows, appliances, furniture, curtains, corners, and entryways to a room or the house (1, 2).

Cats like to spray on prominent objects that carry their scent around the house. By spraying on vertical objects and furniture, they are marking their territory in areas where they spend a lot of time (2). When a cat sprays in a home, it’s usually because something is causing them to feel threatened or stressed. This could be the presence of other cats nearby, changes to their environment, lack of enrichment, or conflict with humans or other pets in the household (1).

Why spraying is a problem

Cat urine contains ammonia that gives it a strong, unpleasant odor. According to Pet Urine Damage, cat urine odor is notoriously difficult to remove, especially if the urine has soaked into carpets, floorboards, furniture, and other porous materials. The smell is very unpleasant for humans. Aside from the smell, cat urine can also cause extensive damage to household items and building structures over time.

According to The Hidden Dangers of Cat Urine and Feces, the acids in cat urine can eat away at many materials, including wood, drywall, and concrete. Left untreated, the acids will erode surfaces and materials, leading to costly repairs and replacements. Fabrics and carpets are also vulnerable. The longer the urine sits, the more damage it can cause.

Therefore, cat spraying outside the litter box can create an unpleasant living environment for humans. It can also lead to expensive repairs if the urine is left to damage household items, floors, walls, and furniture over time. Controlling and preventing cat spraying is important to avoid these problems.

How to stop a cat from spraying

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

  • Get your cat spayed or neutered if they are not already. Intact cats are more likely to spray urine as a way to mark their territory. Spaying or neutering your cat will reduce this behavior in 90% of cats, according to Elanco.

  • Reduce stressors in your cat’s environment. Cats may spray out of stress, anxiety or territorial conflicts. Try giving your cat more playtime, affection and access to cat trees or perches to help them feel relaxed and secure, as recommended by The Spruce Pets.

  • Thoroughly clean any areas where your cat has sprayed urine using an enzymatic cleaner, which helps eliminate the odor. Otherwise, the smell may encourage your cat to repeatedly mark the area, notes Brentford Vets.

  • Use synthetic pheromone diffusers or sprays in problem areas, which can calm and deter territorial marking. Consult your vet for recommended products.

By implementing these methods, you can stop unwanted cat spraying behavior and keep your home clean. Be patient, as it may take some time for the techniques to work. If the issue persists, consult your veterinarian to rule out medical causes.

When to see a vet

If your cat continues to spray even after being spayed or neutered, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian. According to https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/cat-spraying, persistent spraying after being fixed may indicate an underlying medical issue such as a urinary tract infection.

You should also make an appointment if there is a sudden change in your cat’s litter box habits, as this could signify a health problem. The source https://www.oldfarmvet.com/why-do-cats-spray/ notes that if a cat starts spraying frequently when they previously used their litter box without issue, it’s a good idea to have the vet check for issues like UTIs.

Some other medical conditions that may lead to spraying include kidney disease, diabetes, and cognitive dysfunction. So if the unwanted spraying persists even after trying various behavioral interventions, don’t hesitate to book a veterinary visit to rule out any health factors that could be contributing.

Litter Box Hygiene Tips

Proper litter box hygiene is essential to reduce unwanted behaviors like spraying. Here are some tips:

Clean the litter box regularly, preferably every 1-2 days. Scoop out solid waste and replace litter as needed. As per veterinarians, cats may detect odors before humans, so frequent cleaning is important [1].

Make sure the litter box is large enough for your cat. Your cat should be able to comfortably turn around and move inside the box. Larger cats may need bigger boxes.

Have enough litter boxes available, especially in multi-cat homes. The general rule is one box per cat, plus an extra. This prevents competition over resources.

Place litter boxes in quiet, easily accessible areas of the home. Cats prefer privacy when eliminating.

Use unscented clumping litter to control odors. Change out the litter completely every 1-2 months.

Wash the litter box with soap and hot water weekly to control smells. Disinfectants can be used if needed.

Alternatives to Litter Boxes

While litter boxes are the most common toilet area for cats, some cat owners look into alternatives that can help reduce litter tracking, smell, and mess. Here are some of the top alternatives to traditional litter boxes:

Pee Pads

Pee pads, also known as puppy pads, can be used in place of a litter box, especially for kittens or elderly cats who may have mobility issues. The pads consist of a super absorbent center surrounded by a plastic lining to prevent leaks. They can be thrown out and replaced once soiled. Some downsides are that cats may play with and shred the pads, and the plastic lining can create waste. Sources: https://cats.com/eco-friendly-cat-litter-alternatives

Litter Mats

Litter mats placed right outside the litter box can help capture loose litter stuck on a cat’s paws after using the box. This can reduce litter tracking around the home. Mats with higher lips or catch trays are ideal for catching more litter. They will need frequent cleaning and can still allow some litter to escape around the edges. Sources: https://welovecatsandkittens.com/cat-litter/cat-litter-alternatives/

Outdoor Enclosures

Allowing a cat access to a secure, fenced-in outdoor enclosure can provide an area for them to eliminate without needing litter. The enclosure should have places for the cat to dig and loose soil or sand that they can cover their waste. Be sure the area is fully enclosed and safe from predators. Clean waste frequently to prevent odor. This isn’t an option for apartments or busy areas. Sources: https://thedollarstretcher.com/frugal-living/cheaper-kitty-litter-alternatives/


Here are answers to some common questions about cat spraying:

Why is my cat spraying?

There are several reasons why cats may spray urine, including stress or anxiety, marking territory, sexual maturity if not spayed/neutered, or a medical issue like a UTI. Identifying the cause can help you address the behavior.

How can I stop my cat from spraying inside?

Solutions include spaying/neutering, addressing sources of stress, more frequent litter box cleaning, adding more litter boxes, trying different litters, and using synthetic pheromones. If it continues, see your vet.

Why does my neutered male cat spray?

Though less common, some neutered males may still spray due to habits formed prior to neutering, marking territory from outdoor cats, or stress. Work on reducing stressors and try deterrents.

My cat keeps spraying in her litter box – what should I do?

Frequent litter box cleaning is key, as cats don’t like smelly boxes. Try different, unscented litters. Add more boxes, in quiet locations. Make sure she feels safe approaching her box. If it persists, see your vet to rule out medical issues.

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