Stop That Spray! How to Curb Your Male Cat’s Smelly Habit

Understanding Territorial Cat Spraying

Spraying urine is a natural territorial behavior for cats that have not been neutered or spayed. Unneutered males in particular will spray urine as a way to communicate with other cats and mark their territory [1]. Intact male cats have testosterone and other hormones that drive this territorial instinct to spray. Though the behavior can be unwanted by owners, spraying is not strictly a behavioral problem, but rather a natural communication method for cats.

Spraying allows cats to mark areas with their scent, helping them feel more secure in their environment. It serves several purposes like defining territory, promoting mating opportunities, and conveying information about themselves to other cats. Spraying is therefore an instinctive feline behavior and not typically a sign of misbehavior or spite in cats.

While 10% of neutered males and 5% of spayed females may spray urine [2], the behavior is much more prevalent among intact cats. Getting your cat spayed or neutered is often the first step in curbing spraying behaviors.

When to Seek Vet Care

If your cat begins spraying urine suddenly, especially if he strains or cries out while trying to urinate, it’s important to rule out medical issues first. According to the International Cat Care group, up to 30% of cats that spray urine may have an underlying medical problem like cystitis or bladder inflammation [1]. A 2011 meta-analysis also found that approximately 38% of cats that spray urine inside have some type of urogenital issue or crystalluria [2].

See your veterinarian right away if your cat is straining, crying out, or showing signs of pain when trying to urinate. This could indicate a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, inflammation, or obstruction that requires immediate treatment. Getting a prompt diagnosis and care can help resolve the medical issue and may also stop the spraying behavior if it’s related to the urinary problem.

Even if your cat doesn’t show obvious pain or difficulty urinating, it’s still a good idea to rule out medical problems as the cause of new or worsening spraying behavior. Your vet can check for UTI, crystals, diabetes, kidney issues, and other conditions that might contribute to inappropriate urination. Treating any underlying medical causes first can increase the chances that behavioral modification will successfully curb spraying behavior.


Getting your male cat neutered is one of the most effective ways to stop territorial spraying behavior. According to a meta-analysis of studies, the rate of cessation or reduction in urine spraying was significantly improved by 3.16 times for cats that were neutered compared to intact cats (Mills et al., 2011).

The best age to neuter a male cat is around 6 months, before sexual maturity sets in. Kittens as young as 8 weeks old can be safely neutered. Recovery time is usually very quick, with most cats fully recovered within 7-10 days after the procedure. Soreness, swelling, and discharge around the incision site are normal initially but should improve within a few days (PetMD, 2022).

While some intact male cats may stop spraying on their own after reaching 1-2 years old, neutering is still highly recommended. After neutering, it can take a few weeks for a cat’s hormone levels to decrease and for the spraying behavior to stop completely (Quora, 2021).


Mills, D. S., Ramos, D., Estelles, M. G., & Hargrave, C. (2011). A Meta-Analysis of Studies of Treatments for Feline Urine Spraying. PLoS ONE, 6(4), e18448.

When to Neuter Your Cat. (2022, March 18). PetMD.

After I neuter my cat, how long will it take him to stop spraying on our things? He is 6 years old. (2021, January 8). Quora.

Cleaning and Removing Cat Urine Smell

Eliminating cat urine smells starts with thoroughly cleaning the soiled areas. Once the area is clean, you can employ tactics to get rid of any lingering odors.

Start by blotting up as much of the urine as possible with paper towels. Then mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and saturate the area (1). Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes before blotting it up. The vinegar helps neutralize the ammonia smell in cat urine.

After blotting up the vinegar, sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda over the area and let it sit for 15-20 minutes before vacuuming it up. The baking soda will help absorb any remaining moisture and odor (2).

For carpets and upholstery, use an enzymatic cleaner formulated specifically for pet stains and odors. Enzymes help break down the compounds in urine that cause lingering smells. Lightly scrub the cleaner into the affected area and let it soak in for 5-10 minutes before blotting it up.

If the urine has soaked down into the carpet padding, you may need to replace that section of padding to fully eliminate odors.

Once the area is clean, allow it to fully dry before assessing for any remaining smells. Sometimes it takes multiple cleanings to get rid of a stubborn urine odor. Be patient and persistent!

Litter Box Location and Set-up

Having the right number of litter boxes placed in optimal locations can help reduce your cat’s urge to spray urine. The ASPCA recommends having at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra. Cats often prefer to urinate and defecate in separate boxes, so having multiple boxes allows them to relieve themselves comfortably without feeling the need to mark territory.

Litter boxes should be placed in quiet, low-traffic areas where your cat feels relaxed and not trapped. Avoid crowded hallways or laundry rooms near noisy appliances. Good spots are in spare bedrooms, a bathroom, or basement. Make sure your cat has easy access and multiple escape routes from the box if needed. Place boxes away from their food and water dishes.

Using the right litter substrate can also help. Avoid scented litters, as the perfumes can deter cats. Stick to finer, clumpable unscented litters made of clay, wheat, corn, or pine. Try different textures to see which your cat prefers. Keep the litter clean and refreshed regularly.

With the right number of boxes, optimal placement, and preferred litter, you can minimize the triggers that lead cats to spray urine as a way to mark their territory.

Stress and Anxiety Triggers

Cats are creatures of habit and can be easily stressed by changes to their environment. Common triggers for stress-related spraying include:

  • Introduction of a new cat or pet into the home (
  • Construction, remodeling, or guests causing increased activity and noise
  • Changes to their routine, feeding times, litter box location, etc.

Signs your cat may be stressed include increased vocalizing, hiding, aggression, urinating outside the litter box, and obsessively grooming. To reduce stress-related spraying:

  • Use synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway to help calm cats
  • Keep feeding times, play routines, and litter box locations consistent
  • Give your cat safe spaces to retreat when needed
  • Slowly introduce changes and new people/pets over a period of weeks

Creating a predictable, low-stress environment can help prevent anxiety and territorial spraying in cats.

Cat-Proofing Your Home

One of the most effective ways to stop a cat from spraying inside is to cat-proof your home. This involves identifying and blocking off areas that your cat likes to spray. For example, you can place furniture or storage boxes in front of walls or corners that have been sprayed. Restrict access to spaces under furniture too, as cats often like marking these spots. Using baby gates, pet gates, or even cardboard can help block territorial cats from entering problem areas.

You can also use deterrents like aluminum foil, double-sided sticky tape, or citrus-scented sprays to make spraying spots less appealing. Try lining windowsills, table edges, and the tops of shelves with foil or tape. The texture and smell help discourage your cat. Just be sure to replace the foil or tape regularly, since cats can get used to it over time. Feliway or citrus-scented sprays can also help deter spraying behaviors when applied around the house. They give off a smell that cats don’t like.

Be sure to provide enough vertical and horizontal scratching surfaces too, like cat towers, scratching posts, and scratch pads. This gives your cat positive places to scratch and mark territory instead of your furniture and walls.

Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training is the most humane and effective way to modify cat behaviors like spraying. This involves rewarding your cat with treats, praise, petting or play when they demonstrate the desired behavior. For example, you can give your cat a treat immediately after they use their litter box to reinforce that behavior. Clicker training pairs an audible “click” with the reward to mark the exact moment your cat does the good behavior.

Avoid punishing or scaring your cat when they spray, as this can increase stress and anxiety. Yelling, hitting, or rubbing their nose in their mess does not address the underlying cause. Cats do not understand punishment after the fact. Focus on rewarding them for using their litter box instead. Patience and consistency are key when positively reinforcing good litter box habits.

For more on positive reinforcement training techniques, see and

Prescription Medications

In some cases, prescription medications may be recommended by your veterinarian to help reduce urine spraying behavior in cats. These are typically used in conjunction with behavior modification training when environmental changes and pheromone therapy alone have not been successful.

Some of the medications that may be prescribed include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac) – This selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor can help reduce anxiety and calms cats.
  • Buspirone – This anti-anxiety medication has been shown to reduce urine spraying within 2-4 weeks in some cats.
  • Clomipramine – This tricyclic antidepressant has been widely studied and may be effective in reducing urine marking.

Your veterinarian will determine if prescription medication could be beneficial for your cat’s specific situation. These drugs should only be given under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, with regular monitoring for side effects. Behavioral modification training may still be needed alongside medication.


When to Consider Rehoming

Rehoming a cat should always be a last resort if all other techniques to stop spraying have failed. While inconvenient for owners, urine spraying is a natural feline behavior and doesn’t necessarily mean a cat is “bad” or at fault. Rehoming can be very stressful for cats, so it’s important to weigh this option carefully.

Factors to consider before rehoming due to spraying:

  • Has your cat been spayed/neutered? Intact cats are more likely to spray.
  • Have you tried anti-anxiety medications prescribed by your vet?
  • Is there an underlying medical issue causing the spraying? Your vet can help diagnose.
  • Have you tried pheromone diffusers like Feliway to help calm anxiety?
  • Does your cat have enough vertical territory and scratching posts?

If rehoming ends up being the only option, choose the new home carefully. Rehome directly with a person rather than surrendering to a shelter. Ideal homes would not have young children and would have time to dedicate to a slow introduction process. Be transparent with potential adopters about the cat’s spraying history.

With preparation, patience and care when selecting a new home, most cats can go on to live happy, non-spraying lives with their new families. But every effort should be made to prevent rehoming in the first place.

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