Why Do Female Cats Spray? The Surprising Reasons Behind This Behavior


Cat spraying, also known as urine marking, is a natural territorial behavior in cats where they deposit small amounts of urine. Unlike urinating to relieve themselves, spraying is a way for cats to mark their territory and communicate information to other cats. While spraying is most common in unneutered male cats, female cats can spray as well. This article will provide an overview of why some female cats spray, even after being spayed, and offer solutions on how to curb this behavior.

Territorial Marking

Territorial marking is one of the most common reasons why cats, both male and female, will spray urine in the home. Cats have scent glands on their paws, cheeks, and tail area which they use to rub or scratch objects to mark their territory. Though both male and female cats will mark territory, unneutered males are more likely to spray urine to mark their turf and let other cats know they are around (County of Orange, n.d.). Female cats tend to be less territorial than males, but they will still mark territory through scratching, rubbing, and urine spraying.

Cats want to mark areas they feel ownership over, especially in spaces where they spend the most time like a favorite napping spot or area for food and water. Marking helps cats feel secure in their environment. Though cats mark territory to communicate with other cats, even indoor only cats will continue this natural marking behavior. A cat may increase territorial spraying if they see outdoor cats through a window or doorway.

Going Into Heat

When a female cat goes into her heat cycle, also called estrus, her body prepares for mating and reproduction (Pet Parents Brand, 2022). The estrogen levels in her body rise, and she becomes very vocal, restless, affectionate, and begins spraying urine more frequently. This spraying behavior is a way for her to attract male cats and let them know she is ready to mate.

According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, when a female cat goes into heat, she will yowl constantly at night when male cats are most active. She is calling out to let any intact males in the area know that she is ready to mate. The yowling can be loud, incessant, and annoying for owners.

In addition to yowling, female cats in heat will also begin spraying urine more frequently around the home. The urine contains pheromones that signal her readiness to mate. Cats have an incredibly strong sense of smell, so the urine pheromones grab the attention of male cats nearby. This spraying behavior can occur on walls, furniture, drapes, or anywhere in the home.

For owners, a female cat in heat spraying more urine can be frustrating. It causes bad odors and can damage household items and furniture. Understanding this natural mating behavior and taking steps to limit her spraying can help owners manage this time period.

After Being Spayed

Even after being spayed, some female cats may continue to spray urine. Spaying removes a female cat’s ovaries and uterus, eliminating the ability to go into heat and decreasing hormone levels. However, if a female cat developed the spraying habit before being spayed, she may continue this learned behavior afterward.

The hormones related to going into heat, such as estrogen, contribute to spraying behaviors. Therefore, spaying a female cat before her first heat offers the best chance of preventing spraying habits from developing. However, spraying may begin or persist in some cats after spaying, especially if the cat was not spayed until 6 months of age or older. At that point, the habit may have already become established.

According to research, around 5% of spayed female cats display spraying behaviors (VCA Hospitals). The surgery reduces hormones that influence spraying but does not completely eliminate the motivation if the cat has learned the behavior.

Stress and Anxiety

One of the most common reasons for cats spraying is due to stress and anxiety. Cats are very sensitive creatures and can easily become stressed by changes in their environment, introduction of new people or animals, conflicts with other cats, lack of stimulation, and more (AVSAB).

When a cat feels stressed or anxious, they may spray urine as a way to relieve their stress. The act of spraying releases feel-good pheromones that can help calm the cat. Spraying may also be a way for the cat to mark their territory and feel more secure when they are feeling anxious about their environment.

Common stressors that can trigger spraying include: introduction of a new cat or pet, moving homes, construction noises, changes in family members or schedules, conflicts with outdoor cats coming near windows or doors, and more. Cats that are anxious may spray urine along windows, doors, walls, furniture, or other sites to make themselves feel more comfortable.

To reduce stress-related spraying, it’s important to identify and address the source of stress. Providing a consistent daily routine, keeping litter boxes clean, giving the cat “safe zones” to retreat to, using pheromone diffusers/sprays, and giving the cat adequate playtime and enrichment are some ways to keep cats happy and reduce anxiety-related spraying behaviors (Comfort Zone). Consulting with a vet or cat behaviorist can also help uncover the stressors triggering the spraying.

Urinary Tract Infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) can sometimes cause a female cat to spray urine while standing up. UTIs cause inflammation and discomfort in a cat’s bladder and urethra, which can create a strong urge to urinate frequently. The pain and constant need to pee can lead a cat to spray urine in places other than her litter box, as she associates the box with discomfort. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the urine a cat sprays when she has a UTI can have a similar odor to regular spraying.

Cats with UTIs may display other symptoms like blood in the urine, excessive licking of the genital area, crying out while urinating, and frequent trips to the litter box. If a female cat starts spraying urine around the house, it’s important to take her to the veterinarian for an examination. They can run tests on a urine sample to check for infection and prescribe antibiotics or other treatment if needed. Clearing up the UTI will likely stop the spraying behavior.


Inadequate Litter Boxes

One of the primary reasons for a female cat spraying outside of the litter box is having an insufficient number of litter boxes available. According to Preventive Vet, the general rule is to have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. So for a single cat household, there should be at least two litter boxes. If there are not enough litter boxes, a female cat may spray outside the box to mark territory and claim areas for herself.

Litter boxes that are too small, dirty, or improperly located can also cause a female cat to spray. Cats are very fastidious creatures and want a clean, private place to do their business. If the boxes are not cleaned daily or smell dirty, a female cat may avoid using them and spray elsewhere instead. Litter boxes should be large enough for the cat to comfortably turn around and dig inside. They should also be located in quiet, low-traffic areas of the home to provide privacy.

By providing adequate litter boxes that are cleaned frequently, kept in spotlessly clean condition, and located in suitable areas, cat owners can help prevent spraying outside the litter box due to insufficient facilities. Female cats want to use the litter box, so making the litter box accommodations ideal for their needs and preferences is key.

New Cat in Home

Bringing a new cat into a multi-cat household can certainly trigger territorial spraying as the resident cats feel threatened by the newcomer (1). Cats are very territorial creatures and when a new cat enters their space, they will want to mark their territory even more to establish boundaries. The smell of the urine tells the new cat that this area is already claimed (2).

To reduce this territorial tension when introducing a new cat, it’s important to go slow with the integration by keeping the cats separated at first. Allow them to get used to each other’s smells and sounds before actual interaction. Exchanging blankets or towels between their spaces helps them get accustomed to the other’s scent. Using pheromone diffusers can also help both cats feel more relaxed. Slowly allowing supervised interactions can help form positive associations. Providing ample territory and resources for each cat, like food bowls, beds, and litter boxes, avoids competition (3).

New visitors to the home can also trigger a cat’s need to mark territory. Make sure to give your cat access to hiding spots and vertical territory when guests come over to help them feel less stressed. New furniture, carpet, or flooring can also stimulate spraying as the cat tries to cover up the unfamiliar scents.


There are several things cat owners can try to stop female cats from spraying:

  • Provide more litter boxes – Having at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra, can help reduce territorial marking. Boxes should be spread out in different areas of the home.
  • Address stressors – Look for any sources of stress like new pets, construction, changes in routine, etc. and try to minimize them. Give your cat more playtime and affection.
  • Try synthetic feline pheromones – These can help cats feel more relaxed and secure. Popular brands are Feliway and ComfortZone.
  • Clean soiled areas thoroughly – Use an enzymatic cleaner designed for pet messes to fully remove the smell. This helps prevent repeat spraying.
  • Consult your vet – Schedule an exam to rule out medical issues. Your vet can also prescribe anti-anxiety medication if behavioral approaches aren’t working.

Being patient and addressing the underlying motivation for spraying is key. Punishing cats or using unpleasant deterrents often makes stress and spraying worse. Seek help from your vet if you’re struggling to curb the behavior on your own.

When to See the Vet

Some spraying by cats is normal, especially if they are unaltered, but sometimes spraying can indicate an underlying medical issue. According to Preventive Vet, it’s a good idea to take your cat to the vet if the spraying started suddenly or has become much more frequent.

Old Farm Vet recommends bringing your cat to the vet as soon as possible if the spraying happens more than once, even with a clean litter box. The vet will be able to rule out issues like urinary tract infections, bladder stones, diabetes, kidney disease, or other conditions that could cause discomfort and lead to spraying.

Battersea advises arranging a thorough health check with your vet if your cat starts spraying. Any changes in behaviour like increased spraying may indicate pain or illness in cats.

Overall, while some spraying is normal, a sudden increase in frequency or spraying combined with changes like inappropriate urination warrant a veterinary visit to rule out underlying issues requiring treatment.

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