Why Do Cats Spray

Why Do Cats Spray And What Can You Do About It?

We all love our gorgeous kitty friends, but they can have some rather stinky, stainy habits that are tricky to deal with. Spraying, is one of the most unwanted cat behaviors around, causing stress and hygiene issues for your family home. It usually isn’t a great habit for your cat either, sometimes coming from issues that suggest the cat may not be all that happy day to day. 

The good news is that when it comes to asking, why do cats spray? There are lots of reasons to explore, and there are lots of solutions to help you stop your furry friend from carrying on with this icky behavior.

Let’s take a look at why cats spray, and what you can do about it:

What Is Spraying?

When we talk about a cat spraying, we mean spraying urine. It is entirely separate from toileting behavior, which is where a cat squats and pees in their litter tray or in allocated spots provided by you. If a cat is toileting in the wrong spots, you should look into why this might be happening before retraining your cat to use the litter box. It could be worth speaking to your vet if your cat is senior, as they may be toileting in the wrong place because of incontinence issues.

It may also be worth considering your cat’s environment, as there may be a reason your cat is avoiding the litter box. If it isn’t changed regularly enough, for example, or they have to share it with multiple other cats, they might seek what they feel is a cleaner, safer spot to go to the toilet. This can be easily rectified with regular litter changing, and providing one litter box per cat in the household.

Otherwise, it may be entirely behavioral and a simple case of retraining.

This Youtube video has some helpful tips on training an adult cat to use the litter box. 

When it comes to spraying, the behavior is distinct and different from toileting. A cat who is spraying may only spray a small amount of urine on any one spot. They may spray on vertical surfaces, and shake their tail as they do it. This is totally normal behavior outdoors where it is done to mark territory by male and female cats. When it is done indoors though, it could be a sign something is wrong.

Why Do Cats Spray Indoors?

Urine spraying is a normal way a cat marks their territory with their scent. They rub their scent glands on territory they feel safe and relaxed, and they spray territory where they feel threatened. So when they are doing it in your house it may be that they feel threatened or unsafe and they then will repeatedly top up the scent when it fades, which is why there are ‘favorite spots’ for them to go in your house.

Here are some of the most common reasons a cat sprays in your house:

  • Your cat feels threatened by the home environment, new cats or other cats in the local area
  • Your cat is unwell
  • Your cat is stressed by something they worry is a threat
  • Your cat is stressed by a new baby or pet in the home
  • Your cat is stressed by moving house
  • Your cat is stressed because of house renovations

Usually, it is never only one reason that a cat sprays and it comes down to a combination of factors.

So when you wonder – why do cats spray in the home? It is often because of multiple reasons, and you may not be able to identify the exact cause.

How To Clean Cat Spray

Although we ideally want to get to the bottom of why a cat sprays, in the meantime it is important to keep on top of cleaning it up. It is smelly, it can stain and it makes for an unpleasant home. 

To clean cat spray:

  • Clean the spray up quickly so that it is easier to remove
  • Thoroughly wipe the area with warm soapy water and dab with kitchen towel to absorb as much urine as possible
  • Keep blotting the area and vacuuming to remove the spray
  • Repeat this process until there is no smell left
  • Try using a mixture of a cup of vinegar to two cups of water, a teaspoon of baking soda and a few drops of colorless dish soap to clean spots that are stubborn
  • Add baking soda to the washing machine when your cat has sprayed on something that can be washed in a washing machine
  • Air the room so that the smell can escape and to allow the stain to dry

It is important that when a cat sprays you never, ever punish them for it. Cats do not respond to punish-based training and this will only break and reduce your bond with them.

Do Both Male & Female Cats Spray?

Commonly, we assume that only male cats spray. Male cats are known to do it and you might wonder, do male cats spray because they are not neutered?

The fact is that a male cat who is not neutered may spray to mark territory and potentially guard females they want to mate with. However – do neutered cats spray? Yes they do! A male cat who is neutered can and will spray in the same way a non-neutered male cat will spray. It won’t necessarily stop the behavior, although it could help.

So we know male cats spray neutered or unneutered, but do female cats spray too? They absolutely do. The sex of the animal is unrelated. Why do female cats spray? Any of the reasons we listed above. They experience the same worries about their environment and other animals or humans regardless of whether they are male or female. 

How To Stop A Cat Spraying In Your Garden

How To Stop A Cat Spraying In Your Garden
If your problem is with neighborhood cats coming and spraying in your garden, it isn’t ethical or even legal in some places to do things like pouring water on them, placing shock fences or leaving poison out. It is also very cruel to leave chili or chili sauce in their favorite spraying spots as cats clean themselves everywhere and will easily get chili in their eyes. There are stories of cats gauging their eyes out to get the chili out, which is awful and not something we, as humans, should cause. 

Instead, if you want to stop a cat spraying in your garden a really good thing to do is scatter scents that they don’t really like in the areas they frequent. Cats have 200 million scent receptors compared to us humans, who only have 5 million. So if you leave a scent out that they do not like, they should respond to that by avoiding that area. Common scents cats don’t like are: 

  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon
  • Rosemary
  • Menthol
  • Thyme
  • Citrus
  • Geranium

By making the areas that a cat sprays smell like these things, you should be able to discourage their behavior. 

How To Stop A Cat Spraying In Your House

The very first thing you need to do if your cat is spraying in your house is to check with the vet that they are OK. Your vet can check for signs of infection or other issues that need to be resolved. 

Once your cat has the all-clear from the vet, the next step is to have a look, and a think, as to what could be making your cat feel threatened. Once you have figured out what the issue is you can remove that threat either by taking it away, or helping the animal feel safe in relation to that threat. This can be a complicated process, especially as cats are so secretive. However, if you ‘crack the code’ it gets much easier to then help your cat feel safe again. 

Common reasons a cat may feel threatened in the home are:

  • A new cat
  • A baby
  • Building work
  • New cats in the neighborhood
  • A ‘bully’ cat coming close to your home
  • Cats sneaking into your house
  • A new non-cat pet like a dog

If you have a look at where the cat is spraying that could indicate what their worry might be. For example; spraying near the cat flap could indicate other cats coming in, or near that entrance. They may also exhibit other behaviors like meowing a lot more, hiding in small spaces or wagging its tail in an agitated manner in certain situations. You really do have to be a cat detective and take note of every behavior to get a true picture of what is going on, and why this spraying is happening. 

Whether you identify the exact cause of spraying or not, the general changes you can make remain the same and include:

  • Providing your cat with a cat flap only they can use
  • Ensuring your cat has their own space away from stresses
  • Reducing conflict with other animals by providing extra litter trays, sleeping spots and food bowls
  • Playing with your cat more often
  • Discouraging other cats from your garden
  • Using devices like cat relaxer plug-ins

It may well be a labor of love getting your cat to stop spraying in the house. However, for a cleaner, spray-free house and happier cat, it is worth the effort.

If you make all the above changes and still find your cat is spraying, a cat behaviorist can help. They have the experience and knowledge to identify reasons that a cat may be behaving in this way, and methods to prevent it happening moving forward. 

Your Kitty Can Stop Spraying Again

With a lot of detective work on your part, you can help your cat avoid spraying, dirtying up your house and behaving badly. Soon enough, the family home will be clean and spray-free once again, leaving only room for purring and furry cuddles each and everyday.

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