Last updated: August 27, 2016
One of the most common reasons that pet owners surrender male cats to animal shelters is urine spraying. Even though cats only deposit a small amount of urine when they spray, the effects on a pet owner’s home and belongings can be devastating.
The good news is that the vast majority of cats never spray. And for cats that do spray, there are many effective methods for stopping the behavior. Understanding what causes a cat to spray is the first step toward preventing the problematic behavior.
What is Feline Spraying?
Cat spraying is a marking behavior in which a cat releases a small amount of urine onto a vertical surface such as furniture, doorways, and walls. Prior to spraying urine, a cat usually backs into an area and quivers his tail.
Many cat owners mistakenly believe that spraying is a litter box problem, but it’s actually a system of communication for cats. Scent is the primary form of communication for cats.
The urine of unneutered male cats has a very pungent odor, and male cats use spraying to mark their territory. Spraying is the means by which a male cat signals to other cats that a particular area belongs to him. It allows a male cat to identify his territory even when he is not present.
Pheromones, which are chemicals found in cat urine, are what cats use to communicate their reproductive availability to one another. Therefore, cat spraying can occur in both male and female cats during their mating season.
Young Male Cats and Spraying
Male cats typically start spraying when they reach sexual maturity. The age of sexual maturity can vary greatly, but it often occurs when a male is between 5 and 12 months of age.
Male cats that share a home with many other cats or live nearby other cats are more likely to start spraying at a younger age. Moreover, if your home is overcrowded with cats, you are much more likely to have a problem with your male cats’ spraying.
Urine spraying is not the only sign that your male kitten is becoming an adult. One symptom of puberty in male cats is frequent meowing and yowling. The sounds are his attempt to call an available female for mating.
Another sign that your male kitten is reaching sexual maturity is extreme restlessness and constant attempts to escape your home. His escape attempts are likely fueled by his desire to find a female cat for breeding.
Recognizing the symptoms of your cat’s reproductive motivation will help you to predict his likelihood to start spraying. Anticipating the onset of spraying can help you better prepare for or prevent the behavior.
Stress and Urine Spraying
Although spraying is most commonly used by male cats as a territorial and mating behavior, in some situations it may indicate that your cat is feeling fearful, stressed, or anxious. Stress spraying can occur in kittens prior to sexual maturity, and a kitten that is scared or panicked may spray urine when he is only a few weeks old.
Even slight changes to your household or schedule can cause anxiety in your cat and lead to stress spraying. Cats may feel stress in the presence of new pets, new people, or new objects in your home. Other causes of stress can include changing feeding times, moving a cat’s litter box, and moving a cat’s bed.
There are several reasons a cat may spray as a response to stress. Urine spraying can increase the self-assurance of a male cat and can also help him cope with stress. In addition, stress spraying can be a displacement activity, which is an unconscious behavior that occurs when an animal experiences high motivation for conflicting behaviors.
When Spraying is a Symptom of Illness
Sometimes urine spraying is a symptom that your cat is sick. Research shows that approximately 30% of cats that spray have an underlying medical condition, and illnesses of the urinary system are the most common culprits.
Cats frequently hide signs of pain and sickness so they don’t appear vulnerable to other cats. Urine spraying may be the only noticeable outward symptom that your cat is ill.
Other symptoms of urinary tract problems in your cat are failed attempts to urinate, genital licking, failure to use the litter box, crying, and urinating in the bathtub or sink. If you suspect that your cat is experiencing urinary tract problems, you should immediately contact your vet.
Urinary tract problems are not only painful; they can cause organ damage and even death. Serious damage can occur within a few hours, so you should never wait to see if the problems will resolve without veterinary intervention.
Cleaning Urine Spray Indoors
Cleaning up after your cat sprays is not only important for sanitation, but it is also necessary to prevent your cat from spraying in the same location repeatedly. Many products and techniques exist for cleaning areas soiled by sprayed urine.
One cleaning technique starts with cleaning the affected area with a laundry detergent that contains enzymes. The next step involves placing a mixture of 50% white vinegar and 50% water in a spray bottle and thoroughly spraying the soiled area with the vinegar solution.
Another cleaning technique requires that you first clean the urine-marked area with a pet odor remover. Follow the cleaning by covering the affected area with plastic such as a shower curtain liner so that your cat cannot smell his previously applied urine. This should deter your cat from spraying the cleaned, covered area again.
Cleaning with a product that neutralizes cat urine is another suggested technique. After cleaning, you can spray a synthetic pheromone product on the affected area to lessen the chance that your cat will spray in that location again.
How to Prevent your Cat from Spraying
Having a male cat that sprays in your home can be incredibly stressful. Spraying can damage your furnishings and the interior of your home, and it can cause your house to smell awful.
If your cat already engages in spraying behavior, having your cat neutered will reduce the likelihood that your cat will spray again. In fact, approximately 90% of neutered cats stop spraying. Most male cats never spray again after being neutered, and a few stop the behavior within a few months of the surgery.
For male kittens that have not yet reached sexual maturity, neutering will practically guarantee that the cat never sprays during his lifetime. Preventing spraying is preferable to trying to cope with a cat that sprays. Contact your vet for advice regarding the appropriate age to neuter your kitten. You will enjoy your pet cat more when he is not marking your home with urine.