The Truth About Feline Urine Marking

What is Cat Spraying?

Cat spraying is when a cat backs up to a vertical surface like a wall, piece of furniture, or other object and sprays a small amount of urine. It’s different from regular urination when a cat squats to pee on a horizontal surface like a litter box or the floor. Spraying is a normal feline behavior that marks territory and communicates information to other cats (Source).

Cats spray for a variety of reasons. Unneutered male cats and unspayed female cats who are in heat are more likely to spray, especially when competing for mates. But neutered cats also spray to mark their territory or when they feel anxious or stressed. The scent from the spray signals the cat’s presence and can convey social status or sexual availability (Source).

Reasons Cats Spray

There are several common reasons why cats spray:

Territorial marking – Cats are very territorial animals and like having their own space. Spraying is a way for them to mark an area as theirs and ward off other cats. It can occur if another cat is intruding on their territory or if they feel their territory is threatened in some way [1].

Sexual maturity – Once cats reach sexual maturity, usually around 6 months of age, they may begin spray marking for reproductive purposes. Unneutered male cats in particular are likely to spray to advertise themselves to potential mates [2].

Stress/anxiety – Stress, anxiety, and major changes in a cat’s environment or routine are common triggers for spraying. It can be their way of coping with unfamiliar or stressful situations [3].

Medical issues – In some cases, medical problems like urinary tract infections or neurological conditions can cause inappropriate urination and spraying. A vet check can help rule out underlying medical causes.

Is it Urine?

Cat spray contains urine, but also has a unique chemical composition compared to regular cat urine. The major difference is that cat spray contains a higher concentration of pheromones, which are chemicals produced in an animal’s body that transmit scent messages to other animals of the same species.

Specifically, cat spray contains a pheromone called felinine at much higher levels than regular cat urine (Miyazaki, 2006). Felinine is what gives cat urine its distinctive odor. Cat spray can contain up to 10 times more felinine than normal cat urine (Wikipedia).

In addition to higher felinine content, cat spray may contain other pheromone compounds like acetylfelinine, felinylglycine, and 3-MBG that regular cat urine does not have in significant amounts (Wikipedia). The unique chemical profile of cat spray allows cats to send territorial messages to other cats.

Effects of Spraying

Cat spraying can have several unpleasant effects in the home. The most obvious is the strong, pungent odor produced by cat spray. According to VCA Hospitals, cat spray contains pheromones and has a particularly acrid ammonia-like smell that can be difficult to remove from fabrics, carpets, and walls

In addition to the odor, cat spray leaves visible stains. The urine can soak into soft furnishings, mattresses, carpets, drywall, and wood. Per PetMD, the stains may be light yellow to rusty brown in color depending on the cat’s diet They can be extremely difficult to remove, especially if allowed to set in.

Spraying may also pose some health risks. According to WebMD, the behavior can spread feline calicivirus and feline immunodeficiency virus if an infected cat sprays urine and another cat comes into contact with the spray It can also contribute to urinary tract infections or bladder inflammation in cats that over-groom themselves after spraying.

Stopping Cat Spraying

Stopping a cat from spraying can involve several approaches including spaying/neutering, cleaning with enzymes, using pheromones, and prescription medications.

Spaying or neutering your cat is often an effective way to reduce or stop spraying behavior, especially in male cats. According to the ASPCA, neutering can decrease spraying in 90% of male cats.1 Spaying female cats can also reduce the urge to spray.

It’s also important to properly clean any areas where your cat has sprayed urine. Cat urine contains pheromones that can encourage repeat spraying. Using an enzymatic cleaner breaks down the pheromones and helps remove stains and odors. Products like Nature’s Miracle are enzymatic cleaners made specifically for cat urine.

Synthetic pheromones like Feliway can also curb spraying. These pheromones mimic cats’ natural facial pheromones and create a calming effect. Using pheromone sprays, diffusers, or collars may stop stress-related spraying.

For ongoing issues, your vet may prescribe medication. Drugs like Prozac and clomipramine can reduce spraying in cats with anxiety or compulsive disorders related to the behavior.

Litter Box Issues

Litter box issues are a common cause of cat spraying. Some key litter box problems that can lead to spraying include:

Inadequate Number of Boxes – Cats may spray if there are not enough litter boxes available. The general recommendation is one litter box per cat, plus one extra. For example, a household with 2 cats should have at least 3 litter boxes available in different locations of the home. ASPCA

Health Problems – Medical issues like urinary tract infections, kidney disease, diabetes or arthritis can make it painful for a cat to use the litter box normally. A vet checkup is recommended to rule out health problems if litter box issues arise. SFGate

Litter Preferences – Some cats are picky about litter type, box cleanliness, box location, etc. Observing the cat’s preferences and making appropriate changes may resolve spraying. Cats generally prefer unscented clumping litter that is scooped daily. Advanced Pet Care Clinic

Stress and Anxiety

One of the most common reasons for cat spraying is stress and anxiety. Cats are territorial creatures and when they feel threatened, they will spray urine to mark their territory and feel more secure. There are several situations that can cause a cat stress and prompt spraying behavior:

New Environments: Bringing a cat into a new home with new sights, sounds, and smells can be very overwhelming for them. The unfamiliar environment causes anxiety and they will spray to try to make it smell more like home.

Other Cats: If a new cat is introduced into the home, this can stress out the resident cat who feels like their territory is being invaded. Spraying is a way for cats to mark their turf when they feel it is being encroached upon. Even seeing outdoor cats through a window can trigger spraying.

Lack of Attention: Cats are very affectionate creatures and need attention and bonding time with their owners. If a cat feels neglected because their owner is away often or not providing enough playtime and affection, the cat may spray out of stress and anxiety from the lack of attention. Make sure to dedicate special one-on-one time with a cat each day to help relieve stress.

To help a stressed, anxious cat that is spraying, try to identify and eliminate the source of stress. Provide a quiet, soothing environment and plenty of affection. Using synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway can also help calm and comfort cats.

Medical Causes

There are some medical conditions that can cause cats to spray urine inappropriately. According to WebMD, issues like kidney disease, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and diabetes are linked to cat spraying behavior.

UTIs occur when bacteria gets into the urinary tract and causes inflammation and discomfort. The urgency to urinate frequently can cause a cat to spray in unwanted places. Treating the UTI with antibiotics prescribed by a vet will eliminate the bacteria causing these symptoms.

Kidney disease impairs the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine, resulting in the production of large volumes of dilute urine. Cats with kidney disease may spray urine around the house because they can’t make it to the litter box in time. Providing easy access to multiple litter boxes can help.

Diabetes causes excessive thirst and urination. According to Preventive Vet, diabetic cats may spray urine because their bodies are producing more urine than their bladders can hold. Getting diabetes under control with insulin therapy can reduce spraying behavior.

Territorial Spraying

Territorial spraying is when a cat sprays urine on vertical surfaces like walls, furniture, and drapes. It is a normal feline behavior that is used to communicate information about the cat’s territory. According to the ASPCA, cat-to-cat conflict is one of the most common reasons for territorial spraying, and it’s usually anxiety-based rather than intolerance-based[1]. Territorial spraying is more common in the following situations:

  • Unneutered males: Unneutered male cats are more likely to spray than neutered males, as they use it to mark their territory and advertise their availability for mating.
  • Multi-cat households: When multiple cats live in one territory, they may spray to establish boundaries and claim specific areas as their own. This is an anxiety-driven behavior in response to perceived threats from other cats.

According to the Veterinary Partner, territorial marking is a normal feline communication behavior, but inappropriate indoor spraying needs to be addressed[2]. It’s important to understand the underlying motivation for spraying and make changes to reduce stress and anxiety.

Preventing Cat Spraying

There are several effective ways to prevent and stop cat spraying in your home. The most important is to get your cat spayed or neutered if they are not already. According to the ASPCA, spaying or neutering your cat is the most effective way to curb spraying behaviors. When cats reach sexual maturity, they start spraying to mark their territory and attract mates. Spaying or neutering prevents those hormones from triggering this behavior.

Using synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway can also help prevent spraying by making cats feel more relaxed and secure in their environment. Feliway mimics natural facial pheromones and signals to your cat that they are in a safe territory. Spraying or diffusing Feliway around your home helps curb spraying behaviors.

Providing enough environmental enrichment is also key. Make sure your cat has plenty of scratching posts, cat trees, toys, and interactive playtime. When cats are bored or frustrated, they are more likely to spray. Keeping them mentally and physically stimulated will help curb the behavior. Offer new toys frequently and play with interactive toys like wands and lazers. Catnip can also help keep cats entertained.

Lastly, keeping litter boxes clean is crucial. Cats want to avoid soiled areas when spraying to mark territory. Ensure you have enough litter boxes placed in quiet, low traffic areas. Scoop daily and change the litter regularly.

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