Cat spraying or ‘Vertical Urine Marking’, is something that cats do to mark their territory. Typically a ‘tom cat’ behavior, it a behavior that neutered male cats (even some female cats) can exhibit.
Is it really cat spray?
Not all pee is created equal; there is a difference. If your cat is standing, usually backed up against a vertical surface and usually with tail straight up and quivering/shaking slightly, this is spraying. If your cat is squatting and peeing a large amount on a flat surface, that is what veterinarians call “inappropriate urination”. In appropriate urination is usually not a territorial / marking issue. You should have your cat checked by a veterinarian to be sure there is not a medical reason why they are peeing outside the litter box.
Where would a cat spray?
Any vertical (straight up and down) surface can be fair game for a territorial cat. Typically cats will pee up against walls, but other common areas include the side of a couch or bed, stacked books in a bookshelf, shoes, backpacks, against a chair leg, on empty boxes…the list goes on.
How do I know if my cat is spraying?
If the area is fresh, you might not know right away. Fresh urine does not have much of a smell. Of course, if you see your cat backed up against a vertical surface and his tail is up and quivering, that is a strong clue.
If fresh, the area will be warm and wet. Depending if your cat drinks a lot of water or not, the urine will either be clear or a shade of yellow. Usually there will not be a large amount or urine; perhaps the same amount as you would get from one or two pumps of a spray bottle.
When the urine is a few days old, you will start to know it is there if you didn’t already. As the water in urine evaporates, the other biological components will be left behind. The urine will turn dark yellow or amber in color, and start getting sticky and form crystals. And the smell will get stronger and stronger. It will be a very unpleasant smell that some describe as ‘skunky’. If you get close enough to it, the smell can be bad enough to make you gag.
Why is my cat spraying?
Cats spray urine to mark their territory, as do many other animals. Although cats mark their territory in two other ways (rubbing their faces against things and using their claws to mark), urine spraying is the most difficult for humans to live with.
Cats will spray for many different reasons:
- a new pet added to the household (or a new cat in the neighborhood that your cat can see/hear/smell through the window)
- preparation for moving house
- changes to the cats environment (someone moving in or out, or renovations)
- conflict/stress between pets
How do I get the cat spraying to stop?
Because spraying is caused by stress, getting the spraying to stop will usually not happen overnight.
- If your cat is intact (not fixed), get him neutered. He will live a longer, healthier and happier life than if he is being ruled so strongly by his hormones.
- Clean all areas that the cat has marked with an enzyme cleaner. Other cleaners might make the area look clean on the surface, but only enzyme cleaners can remove all of the components of the urine (including the bacteria) which will continue to smell and cause your cat to continue marking.
- Create a soothing environment for your cat. This might be difficult (as you will probably be frustrated by the urine marking) but remember that your cat is an animal and is acting instinctively. If you yell or punish your cat, that will make him more stressed which will cause him to spray more.
You will help reduce your cats’ stress by cleaning the soiled areas with an enzyme cleaner, keeping pet conflicts to a minimum and reducing disturbing noises or visual stimuli. You can also help by giving your cat more interactive time doing things they like, such as brushing or cuddling or playing and giving them more toys or scratching posts to keep their minds occupied. A bored cat gets into more trouble than a busy cat.