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Why Cats Spray and How to Stem the Flow

Have a cat who sprays your carpet, furniture, our walls? Understanding why cats spray is the first step to solving the problem. Cats spraying is a natural behavior that drives pet parents crazy. Cats use urine to communicate with other cats as a sort of Pee-Mail message system. Feline urine contains scent chemicals including pheromones that tell other cats about sexual status, health, age, and other important information.

How Is Spraying Different from Elimination?

cat spraying problem

Cats urinate by squatting and emptying the bladder on horizontal surfaces. When they urinate in the litter box or outside in sandy soil, most cats also cover up the waste.

Soiling outside the box is not the same thing as spraying, and it happens for many reasons. Cats who miss the litter box also squat and urinate downward on horizontal surfaces like the carpet or your bed.
Urine spraying aims at vertical surfaces and requires a standing posture. To spray, the cat backs up to the target and stands almost on tippy-toes, and the very tip of the tail shakes a bit. Urine is sprayed backwards to scent the door, your new shoes, the side of your bed, or other likely surfaces.

6 Common Reasons Why Cats Spray

reasons cats spray

Intact or unneutered cats are more likely to spray urine, but some neutered cats do too. There can be several reasons why cats spray, and sometimes it involves a combination of factors.

  1.  Claims Ownership. Sprayed urine scent-marks the borders of a cat's territory to announce ownership. Intact male cats are the most common offenders and can be very diligent about baptizing their world with urine, but neutered cats also mark territory by spraying urine.
  2. Warns Intruders. Based on the status of the spraying cat, other felines recognize the territory is owned. The sprayed message encourages interlopers to avoid the area, trespass at their own risk, or challenge the other cat for ownership.<br />
  3. Invites Romance. The smelly tom cat aroma tells the world the intact feline Romeo is available for kitty dates. Intact girl cats also spray urine to show their interest and announce they are in heat and ready to mate.
  4. Relieves Stress. Because cats use urine to mark territory as owned and safe, urine acts as a kitty stress buster. That's why both intact and neutered cats often spray when their routine is disrupted. If you change your work schedule, go on vacation, start dating someone new, or leave for college, the spraying acts as a calming kitty cologne.
  5. Shows Frustration. While it's recommended we keep cats safely indoors, the reduced territory can lead to frustration. Cats spray out of frustration when they notice but can't chase away outdoor cats. Just seeing them outside the window or smelling the strange cat's urine can set off a spraying spree.
  6. Challenges Top Cat. In peaceful multi-cat households, felines share territory because  they like each other, Can avoid each other, or agree who gets top cat privileges. When they dislike, can't avoid, or challenge each other's authority, cats spray urine to argue the point. This often happens when young cats reach social maturity at 2 -  4 years of age.

How to Stop Cat Spraying

Some cats are determined to spray no matter what you do. You can reduce the chances your cat will spray with these tips.

stop cat spraying

  • Remove the Romance. Spaying and neutering cats removes sexual motivation for spraying. Surgically sterilizing your cats before sexual maturity reduces the incidence of spraying by 80% or more.
  • Calm with Pheromones. Artificial pheromone products come as sprays, collars, and plug-ins that tell cats to chill out and feel safe in their environment. That can greatly reduce stress-related urine spraying.
  • Neutralize the Stink. Once a cat sprays, he'll return to the scene of the crime to refresh the odor and spray again and again. Cats can detect urine even after you've tried to wash it away. Since urine glows under a black light, find all of the hidden targets and clean them up with a commercial enzyme-based odor neutralizer. Find outdoor stray cat spray on doors or below windows and indoor spots to reduce the cat's temptation to repeat the offense.
  • Move the Food Bowl. Cats won't spray where they eat. Once you've cleaned up the mess, try feeding your cat in front of the spray target to persuade him to hold his fire.
  • Deal with Strays. Cover windows with blinds or paper to block your cat's view of stray cats. A motion-activated sprinkler can shoo away unwanted furry visitors, too.

Urine spraying is natural for cats. They don't do it to get back at you or be mean. By understanding why your cat sprays and dealing with the triggers, you can stem the noxious fumes and reduce both your own and your pet's angst.

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