- Cat spray can help mark territory and attract mates, so it’s an important part of feline behavior.
- Cats may start spraying indoors if they feel stressed due to other animals or limited resources.
- Blocking access to “hot spots” and adding extra bowls, litter boxes and perches can help.
Do your cats like to claim patches of your home for themselves by backing up against your walls and spraying them with their signature scent?
Spraying can be helpful for cats, even if it’s a smelly nuisance for you – spraying is a form of urine marking that helps your cat communicate with other felines.
It is not the same as regular urine, as the urine your cat releases while spraying contains additional communication chemicals. These chemicals contain key information about your cat, such as what territory it owns and how long it has lived there.
If you have a sprayer (or two) on hand, don’t despair. Read on for five reasons why spraying happens, plus tips for stopping the behavior – and keeping your walls and belongings clean and dry.
How to tell if your cat is vaping or urinating
“You can tell the difference between spraying and regular urination by observing the behavior itself or by looking at the urine pattern left behind,” says Joey Lusvardi, certified cat behavior consultant and founder of Class Act Cats.
Signs that could help you identify the spray include:
- The amount of urine remaining: When your cat sprays, he usually doesn’t completely empty his bladder. So the amount of urine they leave behind will generally be smaller.
- The way your cat pees: Cats usually squat to urinate. But a spraying cat will back up towards a surface and pee with its tail erect. Their tail may also shake.
- Where your cat pees: If you don’t catch your cat in the act, you’ll usually find the spray on vertical surfaces rather than in a puddle on the floor. If you can smell urine but can’t see it, a black light might help illuminate trouble spots.
- The smell of your cat’s urine: Speaking of smell, the spray has a pungent odor which helps distinguish it from regular urine – lucky for you.
The driving force behind spraying is a bit more complicated. But cats often spray for sexual, behavioral or medical reasons. Your cat may be spraying because:
1. They are trying to attract a mate
The chemicals in spray urine contain information about your cat’s reproductive readiness.
To put it simply, intact cats — meaning cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered — often spray to let other cats know they’re ready to mingle.
Both intact males and females may spray to attract mates, although males are the most common culprits.
According to Lusvardi, cats that spray for breeding reasons might do so more often during “breeding season” — when female cats come into heat.
The breeding season can vary depending on where you live, but usually occurs during the warmer months. Also keep in mind that cats can go into heat several times a year, especially if they live in a warm indoor environment.
What to do next: Neutering or castration can stop spraying in 90% of male cats and 95% of female cats. So if you recently adopted an intact cat, getting it fixed could help avoid spraying altogether.
2. They don’t want to share with another cat
Spraying doesn’t always mean your cat wants to attract a mate. In fact, it often means the opposite.
If you recently introduced another cat to the house, your cat might not like sharing its resources with someone new – and it might start spraying to mark its territory.
“Think of cats as kids: while they’re certainly capable of sharing, they often don’t want to, even with close friends,” says Beth Brown, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and owner of Ear to Tail.
Other signs that your cat is feeling stressed around your new addition include:
- Hissing and growling
- Prevent the other cat from entering spaces
What to do next: Try giving each of your cats their own set of resources in different places around the house, so they don’t have to share. This includes separately:
3. A neighbor or a stray cat stresses them out
Even if your cat is an “only child”, they can still spray to mark their territory.
Strange cats hanging around your yard can prompt your cat to spray, especially if the other cat is an intact male or a female in heat, Lusvardi says.
Your cat can spray at entry points to its territory, such as doors and windows, to send a message to other passing cats.
What to do next: You can try restricting your cat’s access to areas where he usually sprays.
For example, if your cat mainly sprays near your bedroom window where he can see your neighbor’s cat hanging out, try to keep the bedroom door closed, so he can’t smell or see the other cat. in the first place.
If that doesn’t work, you can try safe cat deterrents to keep intruders out of your yard. Since cats have sensitive noses, scattering or spraying strong-smelling substances might help keep them away. Examples include:
- Repellent sprays for cats based on coyote or fox urine
- Orange or lemon peel
- coffee grounds
- The vinegar
- Certain herbs, such as lemongrass or rue
4. Their litter box is too small
If your cat mostly pees near the walls or surfaces near their litter box, the problem may not be a behavioral issue, but a problem with their box.
According to Brown, some cats may accidentally urinate on walls or surfaces near their litter box if it’s too small for them. But if you discover the urine on a vertical surface instead of a puddle on the floor, you might mistake it for a spray.
What to do next: To avoid potential accidents in the bathroom, Brown recommends choosing a litter box that’s at least 1.5 times your cat’s length.
That said, urinating outside the box can also indicate a medical problem – so if a new box doesn’t solve the problem, you might want to schedule a vet appointment.
5. They have a medical condition
No specific medical condition directly causes the spray, but a medical condition can make your cat anxious – and cats sometimes spray when stressed.
Conditions researchers commonly associate with spraying include:
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney problems
- Endocrine disorders
What to do next: If your cat suddenly begins to spray, a trip to the vet could reveal any underlying issues stressing your cat.
Beyond spraying, other behavioral changes to watch out for include:
- Acting withdrawn or hiding more than usual
- Increased aggressiveness
- Weight gain or loss
- Loose stools
- Change in grooming habits
If your cat has a medical problem, you’ll need to fix it first, otherwise you probably won’t notice any improvement in spraying behavior, according to Lusvardi.
A cat spraying inside the house isn’t just an odor problem, it could also mean your cat is feeling stressed or has an underlying medical issue.
“Cats aren’t stubborn: They don’t just choose to spray around your house because it amuses them. They do it because it’s a form of communication they have,” Brown explains.
Anytime your cat suddenly changes her behavior or stops using her litter box, a good first step is to call your veterinarian.
Also remember that neutering and neutering will stop spraying 90-95% of the time. So, getting your cat fixed quickly could help save your business from a pungent “shower.”