Dealing With Cats that Spray


Spraying and urinating outside the litter box is the number one reason that people surrender their cats to shelters or abandon them somewhere.  Around 12 million kittens and cats are euthanized every year. If 2/3rds of them is due to spraying and urinating outside the box, then it is our responsibility to find a solution and end this killing.

Why Cats Spraymain coon

There are several reasons why cats spray and contrary to what many believe, female cats engage in this behavior as well as males. However, it is the young adult, unneutered male cats that are most often guilty of spraying. When a cat backs up to a wall with an erect tail, you can bet it is about to spray urine. According to Dr. Kathryn Primm, owner of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, TN, “Spraying can be actual marking or it can be a cry for help from medical issues”. This is why it’s important to make an appointment with your cat’s veterinarian to rule out any medical issues.

Marking Territory

For the most part the main purpose for spraying in an intact male is the marking of one’s territory. The female cat that sprays does so when she is very young and usually when she hasn’t been spayed. Both sexes can begin spraying as early as eight weeks of age. Female cats spray in order to signal to the males that she is in heat. The cat’s spray is not just urine but also contains the pheromones that attract the opposite sex.

Not Neutered or Spayed

Statistically, almost 90% of all intact male cats spray, but only about 5 to 10% of the females do. If you get your cat neutered, there will only be a 10% chance that he will do so. However, if either the male or female begin spraying before they are neutered or spayed, it will be that much harder to cure them of the behavior. It is just much more difficult if you have them fixed after they have already begun spraying behaviors. The best solution is to prevent your cat from spraying by having them neutered or spayed as kittens. Usually you can do this as early as four months old, and it is best to do so. Contact your veterinarian for the appointment.

Stress and Anxiety

The other reasons for spraying in both sexes include medical issues and an inordinate amount of stress in the cat’s life. It is the cat’s way of saying to you that there is just too much change and stress in their current lives. Any major change can cause this stress response. If you move, if you add or subtract an animal from your household, or if you add or subtract a person, you might get this response.  Dr. Brittney Barton, founder of HEAL Veterinary Hospital, says she has seen one scenario happen quite often. “The story goes like this: A client loves cats and already has two of them. They adopt a third cat and begin the introduction into the home. Usually one of the original two cats will feel threatened. In order to “stake a claim” this cat will begin marking areas they want as their own (like the owner’s bed, a corner of one room, the sofa, etc). The issue is that once the feline urine is present, the other cats in the house may follow suite and try to carve out an area all for themselves. Chaos ensues.”

Even if you have always been a multiple cat household, one variation in one cat’s demeanor or place in the hierarchy can cause another to start spraying. Try to determine the cause of stress and eliminate it in order to eradicate the spraying. Your odds of having a cat spraying increases as you increase the number of cats in the home. If you have two cats you have a 25% chance that one of them will spray. If you have 10 cats your odds of having a sprayer increases to 100%.The more cats you have the more territorial disputes you are going to have. Intact cats involved in territorial disputes will be likely to mark what they consider to be their territory.

Showing Dominance

Finally cats will mark their territory if they are the dominant, confident cat in the household. The dominant cat will often leave his mark along the perimeter of the room to show that the entire room is his range. Intact dominant cats will spray if they win a fight or force another cat into submission. Then spraying becomes their sign of victory.

Non-confident cats will also spray but for very different reasons. They might do so to show the dominant cat that they are passive or submissive. It might also be an act of passive aggression in hopes of avoiding a fight with the dominant cat. The less dominant cat might also use spraying as a way of gathering and leaving information for the dominant cat.

Spraying versus Inappropriate Urination

In addition to spraying there is also a behavior called Inappropriate Urination. We spoke earlier about how to tell when a cat is spraying. If on the other hand your cat digs at the litter or floor, circles and then squats, but misses the box, that is likely inappropriate urination.

Inappropriate urination can be caused by kidney or urinary tract infections, dirty litter boxes, declawing, or stress. You should see a vet as soon as inappropriate urination is noticed.

How to Stop Spraying

Take your cat to the vet the very first time you notice him or her spraying. If there is not a medical problem and the cat is spayed or neutered, there are other things you can do.

Put sticky paper around the edges of the wall where he is spraying. When he goes there to do it again, the stickiness on his paws can deter him. You could use double stick tape for this also. Cats do not like the way the stickiness feels on their paws.

Maintain a routine with all your cats in respect to feeding times and watch that other cats are not causing him any stress. Routine is important for cats. They thrive on it. Without it they can feel stressed, which can lead to spraying.

Place a scratching post on a screened in porch or in the cat’s room. Pour a large amount of cat nip on the scratching post. Anytime you see your cat moving to the wall to spray, physically move him to the scratching post. This will not only distract him but also calm him and break the habit or cycle of spraying.

If nothing else works you need to return to the vet and have a complete blood work done to be sure there is nothing wrong. If your vet determines the problem is anxiety you might want to put him on anti-anxiety drugs. This can help keep him calm and eliminate the spraying.

The first line of defense against your cat spraying is to spay or neuter them at an early age. Make sure they are really spraying and not having inappropriate urination. If they are spraying take them to the vet to see if there is a medical reason for their behavior. If there is not a medical reason take steps to curb the spraying behavior so that you and your cat can live happily together.

Photo:  Courtesy of Thinkstock

Nicky LaMarco has been a freelance writer since 2001. Nicky is an experienced ghostwriter and copywriter. She also writes for a variety of magazines. Nicky lives in Maine with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. Learn more about her at