Why Do Cats Spray?

Common
Normal

Introduction

You see that quivering tail, and you know you’re in for a mess. Spraying is the arch nemesis of cat parents. It smells, and it’s just plain gross. You’re probably thinking, “Fluffy has a litter box. Why go on the wall?” There are a few reasons why your cat might choose the corner, and the answers might surprise you.

The Root of the Behavior

“Marking their territory” isn’t just a saying; it’s a primary reason cats spray. This behavior is thought to be a primitive instinct among felines to keep other cats of the same sex at bay. Males are more prone to this type of spraying than females, but both sexes are guilty of this household offense. This type of spraying is normally done in an upright position rather than a squatting position.

Cats are picky when it comes to litter boxes. Too full, too cramped, or too dirty are all reasons why a cat might refuse its designated potty. Despite their tendency to spray, cats are generally very clean creatures, hence their propensity for grooming. Cats that “spray” from litter box issues are probably just urinating and may defecate outside the box too. Like dogs, cats will often return to the same place they’ve had an “accident” if the odor lingers, which can perpetuate the spraying.

Spraying is most common among intact males. The spraying is often a sort of mating ritual meant to attract females and discourage males from visiting their territory. Neutering can often nip this behavior in the bud, but sometimes the behavior becomes ingrained if they're intact for most of their life.

Spraying is sometimes a sign that bigger issues are at play. Sometimes, this can be as simple as a cat getting older and becoming incontinent or having mobility issues that make it hard to reach the bathroom.

Urinary problems can also cause improper elimination. Oftentimes, when a cat has a urinary tract infection or blockage, they'll urinate outside the box (usually in a place you can see). Some vets think it's a cat's way to let you know that something is wrong. This should be especially concerning if your cat doesn’t ordinarily spray or urinate outside of their designated area.

Encouraging the Behavior

The best way to encourage your cat to use the litter box is to keep their bathroom area clean and free of obstructions. You may need multiple litter boxes to keep your cat from having accidents if they are far away from the bathroom, particularly if you have an elderly feline or multi-cat household.

Praising your cat for pottying in the correct place can also help. Throw in a few treats and your cat will want to potty in their box more often. If you catch your cat spraying despite your efforts, tell them, "No!" firmly. Some pet parents also use a spray bottle with water to stop the cat if they catch them in the act.

Other Solutions and Considerations

  • If you suspect litter box problems might be the issue, try cleaning the litter box more frequently or invest in a self-cleaning litter box. For spatial issues, try switching the box for a different kind. Some cats prefer an open container, whereas others enjoy the privacy of a closed one. Too few litter boxes is another common problem in multi-cat households. You should have one litter box per cat even if your fur-babies tend to switch between them.
  • Prevent your cat from returning to the scene of the crime by using a urine-specific cleaning agent with enzymes to remove the smell. Remember that cats and dogs have a sharper sense of smell than humans, so your cat might still smell their scent even if you don’t. Beware of bleach and ammonia-based cleaners, though — these can mimic the smell of urine and might strengthen the attraction to that spot.
  •  Talk to your vet if your cat suddenly stops using their box or if they seem to be in pain or have trouble urinating. 
  • The best way to stop intact males from spraying is to get your cat neutered early before they become habituated to spraying. In most cases, neutering an older spraying-prone cat will fix the problem, but it's better to act sooner than later. 

Conclusion

Spraying is an inconvenient (and annoying) habit that many cats, unfortunately, pick up. The first step to eliminating the unwanted behavior is to figure out why it's happening and create a game plan. Hormonal and litter box-related spraying is usually a quick fix. A simple neuter procedure and a clean litter box will have your baby going to potty like a good kitty. 

Territorial and scent-related marking can be a bit tricky to resolve, but it's possible with some diligent cleaning and having the cat "fixed." Illness is always a cause for concern, especially when your baby isn't acting their normal self. Call your vet immediately if you suspect your cat has difficulty urinating or other signs of a UTI.