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Cats sometimes engage in a behavior called urine spraying
or urine marking. The cat stands, backs up to an object,
holds his tail up erect and quivering, and releases urine
out backwards onto the object. The urine sprayed differs
chemically from the urine cats normally release from a
squatting position because it also contains oily secretions
from the anal glands. Sprayed urine is extremely pungent.
Some people describe it as smelling like ammonia; others
say it has a heavy musky odor. Cats occasionally spray from
a squatting position.

Many cat owners confuse urine spraying with urinating
though they are quite different. Urine spraying is a
normal, innate territory marking behavior that has nothing
to do with your cat’s sanitation.


Why do cats
spray urine?

They spray during territorial disputes, during aggressive
conflicts, and during sexual encounters. The majority of
cats who spray just do their spraying outside. They
advertise their presence in a territory by spraying
visually conspicuous sites. Cats “time share” territories,
so the marks enable the cats to space themselves out so
that they don’t often meet. Some cats spray urine inside
their homes. Often indoor spraying results from conflicts
between cats in the home or from the resident cat feeling
threatened by outside cats.

Most often, cats who spray are reproductively intact males
(toms) but females do sometimes spray. Neutering is the
most effective way to curb spraying in a tomcat. In one
study, 77 percent of cats stopped or significantly reduced
spraying within six months of being neutered. Neutered cats
can spray as well. Ten percent of male cats neutered before
10 months of age will still spray as adults. In households
with numerous cats, at least one cat will likely spray,
even if all the cats are neutered.

What to

• Neuter or spay the spraying cat.

• Identify the reasons why your cat may be spraying. For
instance, if your cat is reacting to the sight of cats
outside, block your cat’s view. If your cat is reacting to
the scent of cats outside, possibly through a screen door
or from odors on your shoes, prevent your cat from coming
into contact with these scents. Keep the door closed and
remove shoes outside, before entering the home.

• Discourage cats from hanging around outside your house.
Motion-activated devices all function to frighten outdoor
cats away. Some devices can be used to keep outdoor cats
away from doors and windows.

• If your cat is spraying in one or a few locations, you
can make these areas less appealing, using some type of
booby trap. This is a motion-activated device that sprays
the cat with a harmless but unpleasant aerosol.
Alternatively, you can put out an “unwelcome mat” for the
cat by placing foil, plastic wrap, or upside-down vinyl
carpet runner where your cat sprays. Be aware that cats
often just choose a new spot to spray.

• You can also try eliciting a different behavior in the
sprayed locations. Place items that stimulate behaviors
incompatible with spraying, such as the food dish or toys,
in the spots.

• You can try placing a litter box in each location. If the
cat is spraying on the wall beside the litter box, try
attaching a liner on the wall and drape it down into the
box. Should the cat spray there, the urine at least will
drip down into the box.

• Spray Feliway™ in the areas where your cat is spraying.
Feliway™ is a synthetic pheromone designed to elicit calm,
friendly behavior in cats. Research supports the claim that
Feliway™ reduces indoor urine spraying. It was designed to
help reduce anxiety in cats, and thus decrease spraying.
Feliway contains pheromones like those normally found on a
cat’s face and chin. Pheromones are chemicals which are
used to communicate with other members of the same species.
You may notice your cat rubs her face and chin on vertical
surfaces. She is leaving a scent there which contains these
pheromones. The pheromones from the face have a calming
effect on other cats. When Feliway is sprayed onto multiple
vertical surfaces which your cat may spray, the cat
receives this calming effect, and in many cases, spraying
will be reduced.

• If the spraying is due to conflict
among resident cats, you should seek counsel on resolving
the conflict. You may need to separate the cats or at least
isolate the spraying cat until you are able to restore
harmony. If this is not possible, re-homing to reduce your
numbers may be the only viable solution. A spraying cat
might not spray at all in a new home with fewer cats.

• Drug therapy can help resolve a spraying problem. There
are numerous medications that have been demonstrated to be
effective in individual cases—e.g., the Benzodiazepines
(i.e. Valium), other anti-anxiety drugs (i.e. Clomipramine
or BuSpar), or progestins.

• Make sure you clean sprayed areas with an enzymatic
cleanser designed to eliminate odors. Don’t use ammonia or
chlorine: these products stimulate spraying.

• If you can do so safely, allowing the cat to spend time
outside sometimes results in the cat spraying outside the
home rather than inside. Building a large wire enclosure
for the cat outside may be sufficient to stimulate him to
spray outdoors.

What not to

Do not punish the cat by hitting, spanking, or slapping for
spraying. Similarly, do not take the cat to the area and
admonish him. This might well teach the cat to be afraid of
you. The cat may actually spray more if he is stressed by
the punishment.